Holding Out at Zuccotti Park Is a 44-Year-Old Tradition

Resistance runs deep at Zuccotti Park. You might even say it’s in the ground. The protesters clinging tenaciously to that little parcel in Lower Manhattan owe a big spiritual debt to Chock Full o’ Nuts.

In 1967, William Black, the Chock Full chairman and founder, refused to surrender the long-term lease for his luncheonette at Broadway and Cedar Street, what is now the southeast corner of the park. His obstinacy set back completion of the park by 13 years and was so celebrated in its day that it became a case study in “Holdouts!” (McGraw-Hill, 1984), by Andrew Alpern and Seymour Durst.

Talk about tenacity. Mr. Black, who died in 1983, was renowned for his ability to hold up development projects by clinging to the retail leases on his luncheonettes, which were once commonplace around the city. He would have argued that he was protecting a New York institution. Those on the other side of the bargaining table saw him more as an implacable opportunist.

“We wouldn’t go into an assemblage area where his restaurant had an important position because we wouldn’t feel we could complete the assemblage,” Mr. Durst said in 1983, when he was president of the Durst Organization — a real estate company that typically doesn’t shy from battle.

Mr. Black seemed to have a lot of leverage in 135 Broadway, at Cedar Street, with a lease running to Jan. 1, 1980. His shop occupied the base of a 14-story building that was needed to complete a three-block property assemblage, north and south of Liberty Street, for the 1 Liberty Plaza office tower.

The developers, the United States Steel Corporation and Galbreath-Ruffin Corporation, had agreed to build a park on the block south of Liberty Street. In exchange, city officials authorized them to build a larger tower on the north block than zoning rules would have ordinarily allowed. (My colleague Lisa W. Foderaro described the tradeoff succinctly.)

Mr. Black was offered a new site for his luncheonette, at 115 Broadway. He refused.

He was offered a place for his luncheonette within the 1 Liberty Plaza project. He refused.

He was offered a $1 million buyout (not an inconsequential sum in 1967), according to Mr. Alpern and Mr. Durst. Again, he refused.

Perhaps he thought his intransigence would make the developers agree to further concessions if they were prohibited by city officials from going ahead with their tower until they finished the park.

But the City Planning Commission gave them a way out: construct the new building, start the new park, tear down all but two stories of 135 Broadway and allow Chock Full to run out its lease, then tear down the remainder of 135 Broadway and finish the park.

“This scenario was played out,” Mr. Alpern and Mr. Durst wrote, “and in 1980 the Chock Full o’ Nuts 135 Broadway store was no more — and William Black had little in his pocket to show for it.”

But does the story really end there? Perhaps Mr. Black foreshadowed the struggle playing out at Zuccotti Park with the closing line of his Chock Full theme song: “Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.”

Take that, 1 percent.

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