United Nations in the Black Hills

During the winter of 1945-46 delegates from around the world were gathered in London to create an updated League of Nations and select a home for its headquarters. It was a foregone conclusion that the site would go to the United States, which had emerged from World War II as the world’s first superpower. But exactly where in this vast continent should it be placed?

Rapid City promoter Paul Bellamy knew exactly where: the Black Hills of South Dakota! He formed a site committee to lobby the fledgling organization and even persuaded UN delegates to inspect the Imperial Valley, just south of Rapid City and near the Stratobowl. One of these, Boston Brahman Dan Cheaver, believed the South Dakota location provided the perfect setting for the contemplative body he envisioned. CBS News commentator, Edward R. Murrow, agreed: he quoted his friend Paul Bellamy on the air, stating, "He said the delegates would think clearer out in the Black Hills."

The South Dakota site was seriously considered among candidates which included Geneva, Brussels and the late FDR’s family estate at Hyde Park, New York, and ended up on the list of five finalists. But in the end, the Rockefeller family rendered the question moot by donating prime Manhattan property for the headquarters site. Most South Dakotans went about their business, and with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders reflected that we didn’t need all the growing pains, crime and corruption that would have been an inevitable outgrowth of the selection. But Cheaver always maintained that there was no danger of the area turning into a mini-New York.

Defenders of the decision, point to the absurdity of placing a high-rise Secretariat building in a beautiful mountain valley, but Cheaver believed that the pastoral setting would have inspired a Frank Lloyd Wright-style structure more suitable to the site. He envisioned a deliberative body on the order of a think-tank, which he believed would have thrived in the serenity of the Black Hills. Instead, the metropolitan setting - far from being a retreat - has encouraged empty posturing by its delegates and a figurehead organization lacking the authority or stature to fulfill its utopian promise.

How would the selection of the Black Hills as the permanent location for the United Nations have affected the area?

Was Dan Cheaver right, or would there have been other ramifications?

 

SIDEBAR:

Statistics compiled by the New York City Mayor’s Office in 1995 suggest the economic impact of the United Nations, which might have been South Dakota's. The report uses the phrases "vital role" and "profound economic and social impact" to describe "New York’s position as one of the world’s largest and most robust centers of international trade".

• direct jobs: 16,400
• direct salaries: $850 million
• direct spending: $1.5 billion
• number of tourist visits annually to U.N.: 400,000
• more than 2,500 international firms are located in NYC
• approx. 400 foreign banks are located in NYC

total annual economic impact (direct + indirect): $3.3 billion