Pictures of Columbia's 1968 Student Takeover
All hell broke loose when the University made plans to build a gymnasium (pic) in Morningside Park, on the border with Harlem. Half of the gym would have been open to the Harlem community, but since this would have been the lower and smaller part of the gym, in the climate of the 60's this was perceived as racist and soon students were protesting "Gym Crow." Despite the goodies being offered to the community, there was no way around the fact that a piece was being taken out of a public park to make way for a mostly private building.
After a famous student strike (click here for a reminiscence by famous communitarian philosopher Amitai Etzioni) that shut down the University, the administration won the legal fight but eventually just gave up anyway. Demolition scars are still visible on some rocks in the park today. Columbia (pic) eventually built the gym on its own campus, and it is not open to the public. You can read a Barnard professor's extensive history of the 1968 radical episode by clicking here. Another personal reminiscence about these days is here. A Newsweek cover of these events.
In Columbia's defense, it must be acknowledged that the proposed site was just a small part of the park, mostly a rather unusable rocky slope that wasn't giving anybody much use the way it was, and public parks are used all over the city for private purposes, as at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park, that don't even have a public component. The use of violence to protest parks policy as if it were a moral issue on a par with the Vietnam War was a wild 1960's excess that nobody in their right mind would consider today. Both the university and the community nowadays wisely seek cooperation and consensus, not conflict, in dealing with each other. May the bad old days never return.
Preliminary excavations for the gym are clearly visible at lower right in the picture below. This area was physically reclaimed and overgrown years ago now, so there is little to see there today.