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McKinstry: Hey, Legoland, you're in Yonkers!

Builders compete for a full-time job at Legoland

Builders compete for a full-time job at Legoland Discovery Center in the Legoland Discovery Center Master Model Westchester Builder contest at the Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. (Nov. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

For years, I rarely told people I was from Yonkers.

I never lied, though a little arm-twisting would reveal that euphemisms came into play when I described my hometown: southern Westchester, north of New York City, south of Bronxville, McLean Avenue or near Woodlawn.

Anything but Yonkers.

It was mostly a defense against the snarky comments, rolled eyes and bad jokes that came at the city's expense.

That's why it really doesn't surprise me that a British group rebuffed the state's fourth-largest city when it named its new indoor amusement park Legoland Discovery Center Westchester at Ridge Hill.

Now that's euphemistic.

This makes Yonkers the only host city around the world not mentioned in the Legoland Discovery name.

There's Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta, Legoland Discovery Center Kansas City, and even Legoland Discovery Center Oberhausen in Germany.

Yonkers isn't much different, it seems.

So city leaders are trying to legislate a little respect. The City Council on Tuesday called on Legoland to "proudly display" Yonkers in its marketing and advertising material after it opens up next week.

It's a symbolic move, but it seems that set has already been built.

The dis is nothing new. There's a long history of snubs in this city. "Hello, Dolly!" was a musical based on Thornton Wilder's play, "A Merchant from Yonkers." The production, which won 10 Tony Awards in 1964, went with a universally appealing name. When Wilder revised the original play in 1955, even he went with a more marketable title: "The Matchmaker."

For years, Sarah Lawrence College said it was situated in Bronxville. Olympic gold medalist Lea Loveless was reportedly from Crestwood, one of the city's nicer neighborhoods. And Lady Gaga, during a TV appearance with Jay Leno, went so far as to say that the "worst rumor" about her was that she was from Yonkers.

Somehow, I find that hard to believe. (Gaga's from Manhattan.)

For me, the frustrations started decades ago when someone asked me where I was from. When I said "Yonkers" I got a snipe about the city's embarrassing problems, stemming from a housing and school desegregation battle with the federal government. The case started in 1980 and continued for about three decades. National headlines implied that we were a city of racists and just didn't have our act together.

There were also state control boards, the Son of Sam (he lived here), and the dude from the 1986 Lotto commercial who called it "Yaaaaankuuus." I don't think the city's name has been pronounced right ever since.

But the city also has plenty to be proud of: Neil Simon got lost here, figuratively speaking; Ella Fitzgerald, the "first lady of song," lived here; and Mary J. Blige proudly embraces her roots here. As does Stew Leonard -- who announces his Yonkers location in advertisements with gusto -- Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway and any number of other businesses, especially those along the waterfront. In addition, Bill and Hillary Clinton have dined at Peter Kelly's X2O Xaviers on the Hudson restaurant at the Yonkers Pier.

"Yonkers is more funky, edgy and hip," City Council President Chuck Lesnick told me this week, comparing it to Brooklyn. "Pride in the community is growing."

It's true, there's a revival going on, especially along the waterfront. To know this place is to love it (while simultaneously hating it a bit, too). Maybe I've grown nostalgic. I pretty much consider my years here as a gritty badge of honor. My wife says it's part of my Yaaankuuus charm.

Whether Legoland Discovery Center Westchester at Ridge Hill ever changes its name is really moot. The official name is too long anyway. Most people will probably just say they're going to Legoland in Yonkers.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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