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Local Effort Underway to Name Former Phipps Playground After Fallen FDNY Firefighter With Sunnyside Roots

Foreground: Michael Davidson, who died at 37 after responding to a five-alarm fire in Harlem earlier this year. Background: The former Phipps Playground site.

Aug. 24, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez

An effort to name an upcoming public playground after a deceased FDNY firefighter with roots in the neighborhood is steadily picking up speed.

A group of Sunnysiders, with the help of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, are calling on the city to name the former Phipps Playground at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street to Firefighter Michael Davidson Playground.

Davidson, who grew up in Sunnyside’s Phipps Houses and later moved to Long Island, died in March at 37 years of age after battling a large fire in a Harlem movie set. His highly-publicized death came as the city was in the midst of approving the Phipps Playground site—a private lot that hasn’t been used in decades—into a public park.

Now that the park has gone through its necessary approvals, and with the city closing in on its purchase soon, a group of locals are seizing the opportunity to honor Davidson and his family by naming his childhood park after him.

One Sunnysider at the forefront of the effort, 60-year-old Eileen Connolly, fondly remembers Davidson as a child, when he and her two children would play at the Phipps Playground. She lived in the Phipps Houses in the 80s, and was next-door neighbors with the Davidson family.

“Michael has a direct connection to the park,” Connolly said.

She said the opportunity to name the park after a local hero is “too precious to let go”, and would follow the tradition of having area parks and other locations named after fallen first responders.

“I cannot think of anybody more fitting to have the park named after than a man who died in the line of duty, leaving behind a beautiful wife with four children,” Connolly said. “We’re recognizing one of our own.”

Connolly, along with others, has also reached out to Van Bramer about the effort, who is now in talks with the mayor and the Parks department about the naming.

“The playground coming back to our community is a great victory, but let’s also rename it after a local hero,” Van Bramer said.

The council member said he attended Davidson’s funeral, and was touched to learn of the fallen firefighter’s love for the neighborhood and active involvement in the community. Naming the new playground after him, Van Bramer said, is only fitting.

“I believe [the city] is very open to this,” Van Bramer said. “They have not made a final determination, but needless to say, have a great deal of respect for this effort and Davidson’s sacrifice. I’m hopeful they will make a final determination to do this with us very shortly.”

Davidson’s family, in addition, has given the effort their blessing. Connolly said Michael’s mother, Paula Davidson, cried when she first heard of the idea. “She was moved,” Connnolly said. “Absolutely moved.”

Connolly and her neighbor, Jamie McShane, have also started an online petition to gather support for the effort. More than 500 people have signed the petition since it went live yesterday morning.

The former Phipps Playground, one of the last Depression-era playgrounds around, has successfully passed its public review process to turn the private lot into a park. The city is expected to close in on the property’s purchase by the end of the year, according to Van Bramer.

The council member has allocated $3.5 million to the park’s acquisition and renovation, with the park soon set to go through its design phase.

While a date for the park’s construction and opening is still up in the air, it could take at least two or three years before the new park opens to the community.

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I agree about the Firemen’s parking vertical illegally at the tip of the park triangle. I drive down the block often. No matter if you are using the side road of the triangle with the stop sign or the standard road, the illegally vertical cars/vans with Firemen passes, block the view of the merge. There is going to be a serious car accident and a possible pedestrian hit if the Fire House. If there is an accident, the Fire House, 108 Pct, Van Bramer (who is all about pedestrian and bike safety) are responsible. JVB needs to have a talk with the Captain of the Fire House and the 108 Pct and CB2 before there is a terrible head on collision.

Conercern neighbor

Anyone living on 50st between 43rd Ave and skillman Ave notice anything unusual last night like a house party where cops were called and a gang of 30 or so teenagers ( from the hood ) hanging out and drinking beer ? What happen to our neighborhood???

Tommy O

A house party that got out of control? Get a grip. When I lived in the building above the Aubergine (a skanky deli was where the Aubergine stands now) we threw many parties. The neighborhood is not a morgue and young people throw parties once in a while. Sounds like you need to move to a retirement community.

Al Cohol

Next time call me. I like beer. And what’s the “from the hood” crack? This is my hood.


Hopefully it is looked after better than the John Dowling Park has been, It is embarrassing what has been let happen to that lovely little memorial space.


Around Downey Park, where is the 108 Pct. ticketing the illegally parked firefighters’ cars who park vertical at the end of the triangle and completely block vision of the oncoming traffic at the stop sign? Where is the Captain’s leadership in the firehouse towards neighborhood safety? Also, the new corner No Parking Sign on 51 street and Skillman Avenue by the Laundry has now become another Firefighter’s reserved parking spot with a pass in the window during the evenings.


How about the 108pct start ticketing the illegal cars who aren’t firefighters parked at the triangle instead of bothering the men and women who protect our beloved community. People sneak their vehicles in their spots at all hours of the day and night and leave the firefighters with no where to park to go to work. It’s not fair to them.

Pat MvGroin

Anonymous: Seriously? The article is about a firefighter who grew up in the neighborhood and died while protecting NYC and all you do is complain about parking? Get a life

A neighbor

The Davidson’s are a wonderful family. Their sacrifice should be strongly noted so it will be long remembered.


A wonderful and positive tribute started by the Phipps residents. The fact that he played at the location itself as a young child makes this not only a tribute but so heartfelt and personal to the family, friends, and neighbors on the block then anything else would ever could be. BRAVO!


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