History of Arbab Rustam Guiv Darbe Mehr in the Greater New York Area
“This place would become a center of our social and religious activities, where we can have a library, a place for worship and where we can have religion classes. We feel that such a place Is a necessity and without which it will be extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to maintain our identity in this country.
We are making a small but first nep to a very desirable goal. In the tradition of Zoroastrian charity let us all contribute whatever one can, as often as one can, to this special fund. The goal we have set for ourselves, though modest for most communities, for us because of our small size seems at present like a dream. But on the fulfillment of that dream depends the very survival of our community.”
The above plea, was made by the office bearers of ZAGNY to their members in June 1974. With a miniscule membership consisting, mostly of young professional people with school-going children just beginning to establish themselves in a new land, the dream seemed an impossible one. After a year, we had fifteen hundred dollars in our special fund. That was just about enough money to buy one square foot of land in Manhattan: But somebody up there moves in mysterious ways, and the Association eventually realized it’s goal.
The beginning of the story of the Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in the New York area is a tale of three Rustams. The first was the late Rustam Kermani, a man who made his fortune dealing in Persian carpets. In 1974 one of our members, Farokh Patel, obtained a donation of $50 from him for the special fund. A year later, Patel and Naval Sidhwa, then vice-president of the Association, approached Kermani to see if he would consider giving a larger donation to the special fund created to make the dream of a Darbe Mehr. However, Kermani said his funds were committed to charitable causes in the Middle East and. specifically to the building of an elementary school in Kerman. He instead directed them to Dr. Rostam Sarfeh in New York. Dr. Sarfeh was a physician who till 15 years before had practiced in Iran where he also started the magazine Hukt (Good: Words).
On Jamshedi Nav-roz in 1975 Sarfeh attended the ritual Jashan and dinner hosted by the Association. The gathering of 200 Zoroastrians from Iran, India and Pakistan bore evidence that the community in the three states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were not lacking in spirit and were trying to establish themselves in this country. Sarfeh wanted to write about the association in Hukt. He was planning a trip to Iran, and armed with the constitution, by-laws, the annual report and the treasurer’s statement he left to spread the word. At a party in Teheran he spoke about the achievements of the Greater New York Association and the desire of its members to have a permanent home. Present at the function was a man who seldom attended parties, Arbab Rustam Guiv. Arbab Guiv was the doyen of Iranian Zoroastrians. A millionaire businessman, his greatness was not in his wealth but the use he had put it to. His charity reached not only the Zoroastrians of Iran and elsewhere but also other communities.
After listening to Sarfeh, Arbab Guiv offered to buy a place in the New York area for the Association. He asked Sarfeh to convey the offer to the Association and send him an estimate of the amount required. Characteristically Sarfeh chose Ervad Pervez Patel, who serves as priest to the community, to break the good news to the directors of the Association.
The Board of Directors and Dr. Sarfeh estimated that a suitable center could be bought for about $110,000; about $4,500 would be required in addition for maintenance expenses. These figures were sent to Guiv in early June and he graciously agreed to pay $110,000 and an extra $4,500 annually. He requested that all haste be made so that he could see his gift realized as soon as possible.
The directors and members of the Association hunted for a suitable place. As all of them were employed full-time elsewhere, the task of locating a property had to be done in the evenings and on weekends, often driving a hundred miles to check out a site. About 35 properties were inspected by nearly all the directors. The work was done cheerfully and with considerable good will.
In New York City they only found property which was dilapidated or in deteriorating neighborhoods. A 13-year old church building was found by Patel in Clark, New Jersey. The locality was good and the price reasonable. However it was not centrally located. In mid-August Arbab and Madam Guiv visited New York.
Guiv was keen to see the three pieces of property selected. On seeing the Clark Church he decided to buy it and an adjoining house and made an offer of $150,000 for the three-and- a-half acre Clark properly. The owners then demanded $170,000. This news was relayed to Arbab Guiv who had returned to Tehran and he graciously offered to pay the price. But the offer was refused and the chapter on this property ended.
During this time the directors, some members and Sarfeh had been actively looking for a suitable property and a large, old house in New Rochelle which was being used as a school had been settled on. The building required considerable repair and renovation. After the building was bought for $92,000, Arbab spent another $150,000 to renovate the place. The advantages of this place were, that it was surrounded by a considerable area of land, was in a good locality, and was zoned for the kind of activities we intended to use it for. It was more or less centrally located and approachable by public transportation from New York City where some of our members who did not have cars live. And so the Association’s dream came true. But they always believed it would. As the first plea for funds noted with striking pre- science, “We have a history of survival against fantastic odds, both in India and in Iran, and with the help and guidance of Ahura Mazda, we will do the same here too and prosper.”
Opening of the Darbe Mehr
The Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple was formed as a religious corporation under Section 10 of the Religious Corporations Act of New York State to own the property in New Rochelle, with Arbab Guiv, Dr. Rostam Sarfeh, Mr. Erach Munshi, Dr. Lovji Cama, Mr. Framroze K. Patel and Ervad Pervez Patel as the first Trustees. The Arbab Rustam Guiv Darbe Mehr was inaugurated in December 1977, in the presence of Arbab and Morvarid Guiv, Dr. and Mrs. Sarfeh and a majority of the active members of the community. A Jashan ceremony performed by all the priests from the New York and Philadelphia area began the ceremonies, which were followed by speeches by Arbab Guiv, Dr. Sarfeh, Mr. Erach Munshi and others. The Guest of Honor was Mr. Nani Palkhiwalla, Indian Ambassador to the USA and Professor Stanley Insler of Yale University was the keynote speaker. Thus the first Arbab Rustam Guiv Darbe Mehr in North America was established.
The Darbe Mehr was managed on a day-to-day basis by ZAGNY, while there was a supervisory Board of Trustees of the Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple, DMZT, (the official owning Trust). Three trustees were appointed by Arbab Guiv, and after his death by the Arbab Guiv Trust in California. The remaining three trustees were appointed by ZAGNY. This arrangement was in contradiction to the Religious Corporations Law under which the DMZT was constituted. Even so, these trustees were able to write the constitution and by-laws of the DMZT. The Darbe Mehr became the home of ZAGNY and the first Zoroastrian Community Center in North America. It was the first place in North America where Zoroastrians could gather to worship, to reinforce their identity, to meet regularly for religious classes, perform Navjotes and Weddings and celebrate the festivals of Nowruz and Papeti.
Iranian Zoroastrian Influx
After 1980 there was a large influx of Iranian Zoroastrians, who emigrated from Iran and settled in the tri-state region and became members of ZAGNY. The differences in language, customs and even festivals between the Iranian and Parsi community lead to some dissension even though two Iranian Zoroastrians were co-opted onto the ZAGNY board during two terms. The Iranian Zoroastrians felt that their own association would better serve their needs and the Iranian Zoroastrian Association (IZA) was formed in 1986. IZA shared the use of the Darbe Mehr with ZAGNY, though initially, the management of the Darbe Mehr remained with ZAGNY. Some- time after the passing away of Arbab Rustam Guiv, the Guiv Foundation discovered that the New York Darbe Mehr, by the nature of its incorporation was owned by the community, and demanded that ownership of the Darbe Mehr be transferred to the Foundation. They filed a quitclaim suit against the Trustees of the Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple with ZAGNY as codefendant. Since the Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple (DMZT) had no funds other than the property itself, ZAGNY became the main defendant. After 5 years of litigation and appeal to the Supreme Court of New York State, the court’s verdict was in favor of DMZT as the legal owner of the Darbe Mehr property.
New Zoroastrian Temple and Cultural Center (NZTCC)
During this time of uncertainty, when the future home of ZAGNY was in jeopardy, a committee was formed to collect funds for a New Zoroastrian Temple and Cultural Center (NZTCC). This committee of about 10 individuals under the leadership of Mr. Erach Munshi, Dr. Farokh Tarapore and Mr. Farrokh Deboo was able to collect nearly $300,000 and pledges for another $150,000 but was not able to meet the goal of nearly $1,000,000 which would have been necessary for completion of the project, within the three year time limit which the committee had set for itself. At the same time, the final decision of the courts regarding the legal case was handed out and with the ownership of the Darbe Mehr secure, enthusiasm in terms of additional donations for a new Darbe Mehr decreased considerably. The funds collected were returned to those who wanted them back, though many donors left their donations with ZAGNY, to be used for different purposes. The interest collected in the NZTCC account could not be legally returned to the donors. The money left with ZAGNY was sufficient for a complete renovation of the Darbe Mehr, which was completed by the ZAGNY Board under the able leadership of Mr. Astad Clubwala on Jamshedi Navruz, 1994.
With the ownership of the Darbe Mehr firmly established, the Darbe Mehr Trustees (because the DMZT trustees had not been elected according to the Section 10 of the Religious Corporation Law, the original trustees were legally deemed to still be the trustees) decided to correct the situation of election of trustees and to provide a proper role for both ZAGNY and IZA in the management of the Darbe Mehr. At a meeting of the Trustees and the Boards of ZAGNY and IZA a formula was worked out, by which representation on the Board of Trustees and the cost of running the Darbe Mehr would be divided between ZAGNY and IZA in proportion to their dues paying membership. The proportion worked out to be 5:1 ZAGNY:IZA, and was to be reviewed and changed if necessary every three years, with a minimum representation of one trustee from the smaller association. The election of trustees was by open election from the congregation as required by Religious Corporations Law. This arrangement has worked out exceedingly well for both communities and there is now no source of friction between the Parsi and Iranian communities. The first elected Board of Trustees of the Darbe Mehr, (1994) Lovji Cama, Astad Clubwala, Yasmin Ghadially, Homi Gandhi, Noshir Langrana and Ardeshir Kiamanesh, rewrote the DMZT constitution and By-laws in conformation with the Section 10 of the Religious Corporation Act. The DMZT now plays an active role in the management of the Darbe Mehr, while the boards of ZAGNY and IZA arrange functions at the Darbe Mehr.
Search for a New Darbe Mehr
Towards the end of the 20th Century, DMZT trustees were facing many different problems associated with the building at New Rochelle that is more than 100 years old. As much as the community loved the old DMZT building and its history with our community, the realization came that the building is too old, too small and requires too much attention and expense for the limited purpose it serves. To many of us this realization hit home, when the fire department in New Rochelle insisted on the 99-person occupancy limit. This meant that 80% of the community which used to show up at the Darbe Mehr only twice a year at the two big functions of Navruz and Pateti would never have reason to step into the Darbe Mehr. That would mean that the majority of the community would lose their connection with the Darbe Mehr and perhaps a reason to support it. Thus obtaining a new Darbe Mehr property or expanding the existing Darbe Mehr became an important objective. In March 1999, the Boards of Directors of the DMZT, IZA and ZAGNY agreed to jointly work together to evaluate all alternatives including the purchase of a new facility to serve as a religious and cultural center for our expanding Zoroastrian community.
A New Temple Project committee was formed and delegated to evaluate the needs of the community, select new sites and raise funds. The New Temple Project committee was very busy for several months in performing their assigned tasks. After proper consideration of all the options and the costs involved in the options, it became obvious that the community would be better off with a new building rather than trying to renovate and expand the New Rochelle property. A second option was to find a larger existing building suitable for the community needs.
A few ground rules were formulated among the DMZT, ZAGNY, and IZA boards. They included the present DMZT would not be sold until a new one was bought, so that the community would not be without a place of worship and congregation, Arbab Rustam Guiv’s name would be transferred to the new DMZT, in recognition of his seminal contribution to this community, and at the new DMZT, the current relationship between ZAGNY, IZA and DMZT would not change. That is, DMZT would own the property and ZAGNY and IZA would use it and continue to finance its cost and upkeep. The trustees of the DMZT would continue to be elected as they are now. In the unlikely event that a new organization had to be created to own the new property, it would operate in a similar fashion to the DMZT.
Z-LAND LLC, donates seed money for a new Darbe Mehr
A group of Zarathushti families from our community decided to be proactive by providing seed money to buy a suitable property. The partnership called Z-Land, LLC was formed and funded in the last quarter of 1999. Fourteen families contributed 10 to 20 thousand dollars each to make a total contribution of $220,000. They included Homi & Ellen Byramji, Lovji & Mehru Cama, Edul and Niloufer Daver, Homi and Villy Gandhi, Toos & Hira Daruvala, Darius and Linda Jamshidian, Kaikhosrov and Piroja Irani, Maneck and Jasmin Kotwal, Noshir and Dinaz Langrana, Gev and Aban Nentin, Dinshaw and Shernaz Patel, Shiroy and Jeroo Ranji, Dara and Freny Sagar and Zubeen and Anahaita Shroff. The intention of the Z-Land members was that Z-land would assume all the initial risks and not use the community’s funds. The assets of ZAGNY, IZA and DMZT would not be used until Z-Land had purchased a suitable property and donated it to the community. Finally, Z-land, LLC would dissolve itself after its donor role was completed. A diligent search for suitable property was spearheaded by Rusi Gandhi and Minu Dutia who after looking at about 10 different properties identified a three and half acre of land in the vicinity of Pomona, NY. After considerable negotiations a contract was signed to purchase the property, but the land turned out to be two-third wetland and Z-Land withdrew from that contract.
The New Darbe Mehr – Pomona, NY
In September 2000, the Pomona property was brought to the attention of Z-Land by Minu and Behroz Dutia and the New Temple committee members felt that it was reasonable and merited further consideration. While this property was not thought to be ideal, it had great potential and would be of immediate use to the community, as it is zoned for religious purposes. When IZA/ZAGNY board members and the DMZT trustees saw this new property they agreed that while the property had several pros and cons it was a reasonable decision to purchase the property. The Z-Land members again pooled their resources and pledged even more money from their pockets. The down payment of $60,000 for signing the contract on this property was made by the Z-land sourced funds. It was understood by the Z-Land donors that if the contract did not go through for whatever reasons, Z-land would bear the loss of its funds and not the community. When the decision was made to purchase the Pomona property, it was followed by a tremendous effort by a handful of community members to collect almost $1,000,000 in 3 months.
The majority of the community responded wholeheartedly and dug deep into their pockets and supported the project with their donations and financial pledges. The DMZT trustees called a special meeting, on December 10, 2000 at the Pomona Property. Each member of the community was asked to vote on each of the following three Resolutions:
Resolution 1: That the DMZT Trustees be and they hereby are given the authority to sell the existing temple facility at 249 Weyman Avenue, New Rochelle, New York for consideration of not less than $350,000, less brokerage commissions and expenses, and on such other terms as the Trustees may consider appropriate and that they take such other actions necessary to secure a purchaser and effect such a sale.
Resolution 2: That the proceeds of any sale of the facility at 249 Weyman Avenue be used exclusively to renovate, maintain, operate, improve, pay any debt or other expenses, or otherwise contribute to the new DMZT facility.
Resolution 3: That the DMZT Trustees be and they hereby are given the authority to purchase, and to take such other actions necessary to effect such purchase, including incurring debt using the current DMZT asset as collateral, the real property located at 106 Pomona Road, Pomona, New York for a purchase price of $1.2 million plus closing costs.
- The RESOLUTION #1 passed with 155-yes, 27-no and 0-abstain.
- The RESOLUTION #2 passed with 151-yes, 31-no and 0-abstain.
- The RESOLUTION #3 passed with 149-yes, 31-no and 2-abstain.
All three resolutions passed with more than the two-third required vote.
On that day, the following presentations were made:
- DMZT chair Lovji Hakim / Welcome, outline agenda
- Ballot Committee Noshir Baria / Balloting process remarks
- New Temple initiative Gev Nentin / Opening remarks
- New Temple initiative Zubeen Shroff / Overview
- The Pomona property Shiroy Ranji / Due diligence reports
- New Temple Initiative Toos Daruvala / Fundraising committee
- Legal Committee Anahaita Kotval, Martin Cornell / Legal matters
- ZAGNY Homi Byramji / Board of Directors support
- IZA Shirin Kiamanesh / Board of Directors support
- Zland Lovji Cama / Donors perspective
- Youth Spenta Cama / Youth members perspective
- DMZT Trustees Noshir Langrana / Solicitation for support
December 10, 2000 became a historical event for the DMZT / IZA / ZAGNY organizations, when the tri-state area community showed great interest and desire to move ahead with plans for the purchase of a new property at 106 and 104 Pomona Road, Pomona, New York 10970, Village of Pomona Tax Assessment Lot as Section 04-59A and 59B, Zone R-40 for our future generation. One hundred and eighty two (182) voting age Zoroastrians attended this event and gave an overwhelming support for this purchase.
Several people were actively involved with fund raising and coordination with the sellers to complete the purchase. Numerous difficulties arose along the way with the seller’s application with the Attorney General’s office and with another interested party wanting to purchase the property. While some of these delays were merely bureaucratic delays, there was a period of time when it was not at all clear that the purchase would be successfully completed. These obstacles were overcome and the closing for the purchase was completed on March 16, 2001. On behalf of the community, Lovji Hakim, Chairman of the DMZT Trustees, signed for the purchase of the property in the presence of Anahaita Kotval and Gev Nentin.
The property of almost 4 acres consisting of the main building and a separate smaller building at 106 Pomona Road and an adjacent property at 104 Pomona Road was purchased for $1,214,980 including closing costs, thanks to the tireless efforts of many individuals especially Zubeen Shroff, Anahita Kotval, Shiroy Ranji and Toos Daruwala and the generosity of our largest donors Homi and Ellen Byramji, Hira and Toos Daruvala, Zubeen Shroff and Anahaita Kotval, Satish and Phiroza Modi, Gev and Aban Nentin, Faridoon & Mehraban Zartoshty and the Incorporated Trustees of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hong Kong, Canton and Macao.
With the community’s purchase of the Pomona property completed, the DMZT Trustees then commenced the sale effort of the New Rochelle Darbe Mehr. With expert and relentless effort by Lovji Hakim as chairman of DMZT, the sale of the New Rochelle Darbe Mehr was negotiated for a selling price of $610,000, significantly more than the $350,000 passed in the original Resolution voted by the community. The New Rochelle Darbe Mehr was sold to the New Rochelle congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. DMZT Trustees had to overcome a major hurdle to the sale, with the Mt. Tom Day School, Inc. who initially demanded a release from DMZT for the “right of first refusal” in any negotiations to the sale of the DMZT property. After months of difficult negotiations, DMZT trustees settled with a counter offer of $10,000 to Mt. Tom Day School and signed a “Mutual Release” as successor in the interest of Pehle Co. (an original party at the time the DMZT property was first purchased). Without this settlement with the Mt. Day School the DMZT property could never be sold. The other main hurdle was to obtain the Approval from the New York State Attorney General’s office to sell the DMZT property, a religious corporation of the State of New York under Article 10 of the New York Religious Corporations Law. Attorney General’s approval was received only after many months of special meetings called by DMZT Trustees for the congregation to vote upon the sale.
At a duly called meeting of the members of the DMZT Temple on December 16, 2001 and by posting on bulletin board from December 2, 2001 to December 16, 2001 the following Resolutions were offered and duly seconded and adopted by a unanimous vote of the Trustees present at the meeting and a Quorum of the membership present or voting, with 362 members voting for and 2 members against to wit:
Whereas, Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple, wishes to sell part of its property to wit: 249 Weyman Avenue, New Rochelle, NY to the New Rochelle Congregation of Jehovah’s Witness and to utilize the net proceeds there from for the religious purposes of the Congregation; and Whereas, Darbe Mehr Zoroastrian Temple, has determined it is in the best interest to sell its property to wit: 249 Weyman Avenue, New Rochelle, NY and to use the funds derived from the sale of said land to renovate, maintain, operate, improve, construct New building, pay any debt or other expenses or otherwise contribute to the New Temple property located at 106 Pomona Road, Suffern, NY; and Whereas, the Board of Trustees of the Congregation deems it advisable to accept the $610,000 which it believes in good faith to be fair market value.
Lovji Hakim signed the Residential Contract of Sale on July 12, 2001 on behalf of DMZT trustees. The Closing of the property took place on July 12, 2002. The net sale amount was $569,164.00 ($610,000 less closing costs of $41,315). DMZT had originally acquired the property on May 4, 1977. The net proceeds were utilized as per the resolution and contributed towards the New Darbe Mehr property. It is worth mentioning that negotiating skills of Lovji Hakim was primarily responsible for extracting significantly higher sales prices than previously anticipated.
The DMZT Trustees all together worked diligently on this project and relied on the expert legal counsel and advice from DMZT Attorney Mr. Troy C. Blomberg and Ms. Anahaita Kotval with the assistance from several other individuals on this sale. The Trustees also endured the difficult task of cleaning the property prior to the sale and thanks many individual volunteers for their dedication and hard work.
The Prayer Room
As was the case in the New Rochelle Darbe Mehr, a room was set aside in the Pomona Darbe Mehr and renovated by a group of volunteers to form a Prayer Room where members of the community and Priests congregate to pray. This Prayer Room serves its religious purpose in the absence of a local Agyari.
Darbe Mehr Renovations
Many renovations have been done to the Pomona property, among them are establishment of a prayer room, the painting of the interior, improved and more contemporary lighting, installation of a shower, roof repair, a new kitchen, new air-conditioning system and repair and painting of the exterior of the building. Some of these improvements are a donation by a very generous IZA member Mr. Parviz Najmi.
The initial history is from an article in Parsiana, in 1976 written by Lovji Cama, the rest is from the ZAGNY website with suitable modifications/additions.
Complied by Lovji Cama, June 2011