The Parks Department has announced that it will honor the late Flushing Meadows Park activist David Oats with the dedication of a rose garden there named after him on July 14 at 1 p.m.
Oats, a resident of Forest Hills, died at the age of 58 following complications from an illness in 2008. He was president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World’s Fair Association, a watchdog group he founded 40 years earlier.
The garden will be located between the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere, both structures from the 1964 World’s Fair. Borough President Helen Marshall is funding the project and is expected to attend the ceremony. Similar Parks Department installations cost around $10,000.
When the garden was announced late last year, Marshall called it “a fitting, lasting and living memorial to a great advocate for our borough’s flagship park for which he had a great love.”
Greg Godfrey, who succeeded Oats as president of the association, said the location was the perfect spot to honor him. “It is in the center of everything he worked on and is very fitting and proper,” Godfrey added.
In his later years, Oats carefully monitored the lights on the state pavilion’s tower, which served as a beacon for airplanes heading to and from LaGuardia Airport. He had a running battle with park officials when the lights were not working, which was more often than he felt was acceptable.
Oats was also concerned about parkland being abused during the annual U.S. Open, when the city allows cars to park on green space throughout Flushing Meadows. And he was also lobbying to have a marker placed on the New York City Building, built for the 1939 World’s Fair, which is now the Queens Museum of Art. He wanted it known as the first headquarters of the United Nations. Statehood for Israel was approved there.
As a young boy, Oats had been befriended by Robert Moses, the gruff visionary who turned the former ash heap into the site of two World’s Fairs. As he often related, Oats had tried to sneak into the fairgrounds when it was under construction in the 1960s and was stopped by security guards who brought him to Moses for a lecture.
Instead, Oats managed to charm the brusque Moses, who took him under his wing. They remained friends and it was the master planner who urged Oats to start a park watchdog group at the age of 18. When Moses died, he left him memorabilia from the 1964 fair.