Mires (History/Rutgers Univ., Camden; Independence Hall in American Memory, 2002) delivers an amusing account of the intense, if not world-shaking competition for the U.N. headquarters.
When the first serious discussions began in 1944, diplomats paid little attention to locating the headquarters, although most inclined toward America (including the Soviet Union, anxious to keep it far away). Today, few consider the U.N. the enforcer of world peace, but that was a common hope as World War II drew to a close. As such, boosters envisioned their city as the “Capital of the World,” which would also enjoy the economic benefits of hosting a large institution and its staff. A scattering of enthusiasts buttonholed delegates at the spring 1945 San Francisco conference that wrote the U.N. charter, but an avalanche descended on London six months later to lobby diplomats engaged in nailing down its organization. Mires devotes most of the book to unsuccessful candidates ranging from Chicago and Philadelphia to Niagara Falls, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Tuskahoma, Okla., which deluged officials with sales pitches, posters, brochures, photo albums and futuristic architectural drawings. New York remained aloof from the hard sell but took for granted that any great international organization belonged there. It helped that powerful figures such as Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller took an interest and even more that Nelson’s father donated land along the East River now occupied by the U.N. buildings.
Although little was at stake and everyone knows the outcome, Mires works hard and mostly successfully to hold her readers’ interest in the energetic, often-quaint public-relation antics of the 1940s.