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Queens Chronicle

Parks to honor Oats with ‘Dave’s Garden’

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Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2009 12:00 am

The Parks Department will honor Flushing Meadows Park activist David Oats by naming a rose garden there after him.

Oats, of Forest Hills, who died at the age of 58 following complications from an illness in 2008, was president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World’s Fair Association, a group he founded 40 years earlier.

Patricia Bertuccio, a Parks Department spokeswoman, said on Tuesday that “Dave’s Garden” would be located between the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere, both from the 1964 World’s Fair. Borough President Helen Marshall is funding the endeavor.

“This will be a fitting, lasting and living memorial to a great advocate for our borough’s flagship park for which he had a great love,” Marshall said. “He cherished its legacy and sought to protect its future. We are happy to do this and thank the Parks Department for its cooperation and support to get this memorial done.”

Similar Parks installations with a plaque cost around $10,000.

“The location is perfect,” said Greg Godfrey, who succeeded Oats as president of the park watchdog group. “It is in the center of everything he worked on and is very fitting and proper.”

In his later years, Oats kept an eye on the tall state pavilion’s lights, 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 destroyed 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, now the Queens Museum of Art. He wanted it known to all as the first headquarters of the United Nations. It was there that statehood was voted on for Israel.

Although Oats often played an adversarial role with the Parks Department, officials there knew his intentions were heartfelt, according to one official.

As a young boy, Oats had been befriended by Robert Moses, who had turned the former ash heap into the site of two World’s Fairs. As he often told it, Oats had tried to sneak into the fairgrounds when it was under construction 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 stayed friends throughout Moses’ life and it was the master planner who urged the young man to start a watchdog park group at the age of 18. When Moses died, he left the Queens man memorabilia from the 1964 fair.

Oats remained a strong advocate for Flushing Meadows and wanted to preserve what was left from the two fairs. In particular, he was furious about the neglected New York State Pavilion and the destruction of the 1939 Aquacade building.

According to the world’s fair association’s website, theparkwatchdog.org, Oats was instrumental in preserving Willow Lake as a wildlife sanctuary and bringing the U.S. Open to Flushing Meadows.

No date has been given for the garden dedication.

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