By Sabina Mollot
When the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association was formed half a century ago, it began as many civic organizations do — as a response to a perceived threat to the community that the residents were willing to fight. In this case, the interloper was Beth Israel, which was expanding its footprint at the time, buying up brownstones in the Stuyvesant Square neighborhood to raze and turn into larger buildings.
Rosalee Isaly, the president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, who’s been involved in the group’s efforts since 1970, said neighbors were concerned about the expansion impacting their quality of life, especially when the hospital received a federal grant to turn an empty lot at the corner of Second Avenue and 17th Street to build a 40-story building to house its staff. The group, initially just three couples (including husbands who worked as attorneys), fought this tooth and nail.
Eventually that street corner became home to the significantly smaller Hospital for Joint Diseases, and Beth Israel built the 24-story Gilman Hall on First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town to house its residents. (Gilman has since been emptied and sold to a California-based developer as part of the hospital’s downsizing plan.)
As for the three couples from Stuyvesant Square who made up the founding members of the SPNA, they were John and Mary Tommaney, Adrian and Marisa Zorgniotti and James and Carvel Moore. Isaly, who now owns and manages a couple of local properties and is also an artist, joined the SPNA upon moving to the neighborhood when she was a newlywed. She’s lived there since then with the exception of a few years in the 1970s when she and her family lived in Paris.