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.