The United Nations Headquarters has been a landmark on the eastern side of Manhattan since the mid-20th century. However, the organization has over the years occupied various spaces in the New York area, including one in Lake Success, Long Island before the headquarters were built. Seventy years ago yesterday, the United Nations moved indefinitely to New York City from Nassau County and has held various summits, conferences, and meetings to solve world problems and work toward peace.

Although the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan was not completed until October 9, 1952, United Nations employees officially vacated their Long Island headquarters in Lake Success on May 18, 1951. The Security Council conducted day-to-day activities there before joining other bodies of the United Nations, such as the General Assembly, in Flushing Meadows. The Economic and Social Council had occasionally convened in Lake Success as well. United Nations employees conducted conferences and discussed major world issues there until the headquarters opened at the current location in Midtown, Manhattan.

Historic photo UN headquarters at Lake Success
The UN Headquarters at Lake Success. Photo from United Nations archive.

Due to expiration of the United Nation’s lease at Hunter College (then in the Bronx at what is now Lehman College), they needed to move to another location until their permanent headquarters were completed. The headquarters at Lake Success in the Sperry Gyroscope Corporation Headquarters would fill this need. The United Nations spent $325,000 a year on the property since moving into the space on August 28, 1946. On move-in day, the security council discussed the Balkans. Following that moment, 8,265 more meetings would occur in Lake Success.

View of parking lot at Lake Success UN Headquarters
Photo from United Nations archive.

In order for the United Nations to move into the corporation headquarters, the citizens of Lake Success had to show their approval through a vote. 188 citizens showed up, with 118 voting yes and 70 voting no. From this moment on, citizens of Lake Success, along with tourists, would welcome the international organization to Long Island.

UN Headquarters at Lake Success.
UN Headquarters at Lake Success. Photo from United Nations archive.

Tourists would often visit the headquarters in Lake Success. After taking the E or F train the the 169th Street station in Jamaica, tourists could catch an hourly bus to the Long Island headquarters. Long Island Rail Road options existed as well. Days when Eleanor Roosevelt or the Russians were on the premises were the most popular.

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Declaration of Human Rights at UN Headquarters at Lake Success. Photo from United Nations archive.

Nevertheless, on the days when the coveted figures were not present, delegates proceeded with their day-to-day discussions. As important topics, such as the state of independent nations, were discussed, secretaries, machinists, and darkroom technicians respectively conducted communications and performed maintenance on the headquarters. The Security Council was the most prominent United Nations body on the property.

Members of the United Nations Secretariat walking toward the entrance of the North building at Lake Success headquarters. Photo from United Nations archive. 

Nevertheless, as the United Nations moved out of the Sperry Gyroscope Corporation Headquarters, Sperry employees eagerly jumped into their old spaces. Sperry had allowed the international organization to occupy some of its space because the war had rendered their plant nearly vacant. After 2,500 trucks carried out the contents of the United Nations, Sperry workers settled in at the abandoned cubicles. Without any pomp and circumstance, according to a photographer present, the delegates and employees quickly left, only leaving behind some signs in different languages.

Moving van at Lake Success UN headquarters
At Lake Success, the first moving van is loaded with office furniture from Lake Success to the new headquarters. Photo from United Nations archive.
First Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly
First Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 at Lake Success. Photo from United Nations archive.
UN Delegates Lounge
UN Delegates Lounge. Photo from United Nations archive.
Bar in the Delegates Dining Lounge
Bar in the Delegates Dining Lounge. Photo from United Nations archive.
Information booth at Lake Success. Photo from United Nations archive.
Information booth at Lake Success. Photo from United Nations archive.

Sperry regained complete control of its headquarters at 2 p.m. on May 18, 1951. Until the company closed in 1986, it would produce electronics and equipment for the American people. The building it once occupied alongside the United Nations, specifically the Security Council, is now a condominium and office center. Aspects of the building are also devoted to the Northwell Health Center and a fitness center.

UN Temporary Headquarters in Flushing Meadows
UN Temporary Headquarters in Flushing Meadows. Photo from United Nations archive.

The UN was based in Flushing Meadows until 1952, and would remain in the city that never sleeps. Cities like San Francisco and Boston wanted to house the global organization, but the United Nations ultimately decided on Manhattan. After the Rockefellers donated land that had previously been overrun by slaughterhouses, a team of architects imagined and built the headquarters on the plot. Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier were some of the notable architects from the team.

Previously, the United Nations had stayed in many temporary spaces throughout New York. When founded on October 24, 1945, the organization did not have a permanent home. The United Nations Security Council would spend time at the Henry Hudson Hotel in 1946. Later, the Advisory Committee spent time in offices at Rockefeller Center, which was built by the architect for the current United Nations Headquarters, Wallace Harrison. Bodies of the organization also occupied space at Hunter College (in the Bronx) and the New York City Building that was constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair (now the Queens Museum), Throughout its time in Flushing Meadows, the United Nations would welcome nine countries into its organization.

General Assembly in Flushing Meadows
General Assembly in Flushing Meadows. Photo from United Nations archive.

The final official United Nations meeting that occurred in Flushing Meadows included a discussion about Anglo-Iranian oil disputes, and the next General Assembly meeting that would occur in Paris. Members of the Security Council held this discussion briefly in Flushing Meadows, eager to begin their career in Manhattan.

Although many are aware of the glory of the United Nations Headquarters, few know the amount of time the Security Council worked from Lake Success. As employees awaited the completion of their conference rooms and offices, New York City waited for them and their picturesque occupation on the East River.

Next, check out the top 10 secrets of the United Nations in NYC!