Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
Is it true that the United Nations had headquarters on Long Island?
The short answer: Yes. Except for the General Assembly, the United Nations operated all of its branches out of a Lake Success weapons factory from 1946 to 1952.
The long answer: Imagine that: A peacemaking organization, in the aftermath of World War II, discussing the fate of the world in a weapons plant. The place was nicknamed the “peace factory.”
The Sperry Gyroscope Corp. manufactured weapons at the 2,118,000-square-foot property in Lake Success. The entire facility was used for production during World War II. But by 1946, with the war over, Sperry Gyroscope scaled down. About 600,000 square feet of unused space was offered to the United Nations.
The UN’s previous headquarters at Hunter College in the Bronx — which is now called Lehman College — had become too small for the growing organization. The General Assembly moved to a former ice skating rink in Queens. All other branches, including the UN Security Council, moved to Long Island.
At the factory, manufacturing spaces were converted into conference rooms and hundreds of offices. Flags were flown outside to represent the participating nations. The Lincoln Warehouse Company, a Lake Success moving business, transported about 50,000 files, equipment and pieces of furniture for a nearly complimentary price: $1. It was a show of “faith” in the UN, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
There was just one problem: With the UN on its way in, the redesign of the facility was not yet complete.
Newsday reports from the time described the ensuing chaos.
When the headquarters opened on Aug. 28, 1946, Newsday reporters took a tour of the four-story building. It took 20 minutes to get from the basement to the third floor. The trip required “crawling through scaffolding, climbing over mounds of sawdust, broken glass and plaster, and dodging blobs of paint.”
With the makeover of the offices still underway, and with continued production of weapons elsewhere in the factory, the facility was noisy.
But that wasn’t even the worst part. The factory building was too big. The 1,500 delegates and their staff could not find their way around.
UN personnel asked for directions in the hallways in “no fewer than 21 languages,” according to the Newsday article. Search parties were sent for missing delegates who wandered too far. One reporter likened the halls to the Catacombs of Rome.
Conveniences, however, were provided for the UN A medical staff of multilingual doctors was on site “just in case a patient is unable to describe in English what’s bothering him,” Newsday said. The UN hired 40 guards who cooperated with the Nassau Police Department.
Despite the disorganization in its first days, the young UN still got its work done. On May 14, 1948, the Security Council voted to establish the State of Israel. In June 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, the Security Council voted in favor of sending a military force to the area.
Ultimately, however, the UN’s days in Lake Success were numbered.
Sperry Gyroscope eventually needed the manufacturing space again, and the UN had plans to move the entire organization to a glass tower in Manhattan, in what is now its present-day headquarters. The offices and conference rooms that were built four years before were reconverted into manufacturing space.
The UN was fully out of the Sperry Gyroscope plant by 1952.
The plant along Marcus Avenue is now occupied by several businesses, including Northwell Health and an LA Fitness.