The Jersey Journal

Warren Zapp, environmental crusader for Liberty State Park

Services for Warren C. Zapp, 79, a founder and tireless advocate of Liberty State Park, will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Greenville Memorial Home, Jersey City. He died Thursday at Greenville Hospital, Jersey City.

Though he distinguished himself at home and at work, Zapp, a lifelong Jersey City resident, will be best be remembered for his role in keeping the former railroad wasteland that was to become Liberty State Park from being bought up by oil and coal industrialists.

Zapp, his wife, Audrey, and another Jersey City environmentalist, the late Morris Pesin, worked tirelessly to preserve the park as government-protected land. The two families would "go down in history for creating and maintaining a people's park," Congressman Robert Menendez (D-Union City). Few people, he said, can claim their life's work will "face the test of generations."

"We lost an environmental champion with the passing of Warren Zapp," said Hudson County Executive Bob Janiszewski. "The park will stand as a perpetual memorial to his commitment."

Janiszewski recalled how Zapp was rarely seen without a camera slung over his shoulder. "There he was-capturing nature on film in the heart of one of the most densely populated urban areas in the country," he said.

Zapp's photos were an integral piece in the fund-raising for Liberty State Park. Zapp presented them to heighten awareness of Jersey City's natural beauty, as well the need to preserve it. Among his photographs were shots of children playing in the spray of fire hydrants, and countless landscapes with cityscapes as backdrops. After seeing the pictures and hearing the Zapps' compelling arguments to turn the land into a public park, officials from the state and the Department of the Interior eventually backed the project and agreed to lend the necessary money.

Zapp then documented the park's transformation by photographing the various stages of its development. The photographs were eventually displayed in a one-man exhibit at the Capital Rotunda in Trenton.

"It's hard to de-couple Audrey and Warren," said Greg Remaud, president of the Liberty State Park Conservancy. "Had they not been involved, there would be more commercial development, fewer birds, fewer trees and fewer natural vistas."

Zapp's presence was also felt by Jersey City's fire department, who named him honorary deputy chief in 2000 in recognition for his role as the department's official historian. Over the years, Zapp kept track of the notable deeds of firefighters and built a photo archive. He was appointed the department's official fire photographer in 1959. Numerous local newspapers, as well as national publications, such as Firefighters magazine, published his work.

He was the last surviving charter member of the Gong Club, now a nationwide service organization that assists firemen in the active line of duty. In 1950, the group started shuttling food and supplies to weary firefighters at the scenes of blazes.

To his wife, Audrey, Zapp was an individual who devoted his whole heart to his passions, be it military service, the fire department, photography or nature. "He was a man with many faces," she said, "with many dreams, and with vision."

Zapp was a Marine veteran of World War II, and received a Purple Heart Medal for his valiant service in the South Pacific. He worked in the quality control department at Western Electric, Kearny, for 25 years, retiring in 1972.

"He was an outstanding gentleman," said longtime co-worker, Grace Stenlake. She recollected how Zapp distinguished himself by his kindness and grace. "Everybody was so impressed with him. They'd say 'Oh, here comes Warren.' I don't think he had one enemy." In addition to his wife, Zapp is survived by a son, Rennie; and two grandchildren, of Boulder, Colo.