Oct. 3, 2016, By Hannah Wulkan
A site many long feared would be developed will instead become a city park, preserving its legacy as one of the last depression-era playgrounds left in the city, announced Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer today.
The former Phipps Playground, located at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street, has been vacant for about 30 years. Though eyed for development back in 2013, the community and Landmarks Preservation Commission shot down the proposal, keeping hopes alive for a public park.
Van Bramer has helped fulfill that hope, securing $3 million to acquire and renovate the park, which is currently owned by DBH Associates, a development company.
“This is a very, very close knit community, we know our neighbors, and we have a strong sense of identity, what’s right for our community,” Van Bramer said. “I believe that everyone here feels lucky to live in Sunnyside and Woodside, and we’re going to make sure that generations that come after us also feel very lucky to call themselves Sunnysiders and Woodsiders,” he added.
DBH bought the site from Phipps Houses in 2007 with the intention of developing it, and in 2013 proposed a plan to bring an aluminaire house constructed in 1931 to the lot, which would essentially be a vacant sculpture, and build eight accompanying residential units.
Community uproar, including opposition from Van Bramer, Congressman Joe Crowley, Senator Mike Gianaris, Community Board 2, and ultimately the Landmarks Preservation Commission, shut down the project.
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the Parks Department are currently negotiating with DBH to buy the property, and the sale will likely close in the coming months. Once it is finalized, the park will go through the standard review, design and construction phases, likely taking several years.
“We hope that this will be kept as an open space for the use of the community and all the future children, adults, and seniors as well,” said Gerry Perrin, a lifelong resident of Phipps Houses who played in the playground while growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.
He also showed off photographs of himself and other children playing in the playground 70 years ago.
Herb Reynolds, of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, recalled petitioning on behalf of Van Bramer’s campaign in 2009 and speaking to a woman who said she would like to see the playground be revitalized. “I thought, honestly, that is the biggest pipe dream I have ever heard, but yes go right ahead, let’s do it.”
Since 2009, Reynolds said, he and other community members have sought private funding to revive the playground and have fought off developers aiming to build on the lot.
Now, he said, the site will be a public park for the first time ever and “a garden oasis where we can come… and all of our neighbors young and old can learn to appreciate the natural world.”
“This is a model community in the city of New York that I think neighborhoods all over the city of New York aspire to be what we here in Sunnyside and Woodside know is a working neighborhood and community,” Van Bramer said. “This park, which was once a pipe dream as Herb said, is now on its way and on target for becoming a public open space for this community”
Though there are still quite a few steps before the park is completed, Van Bramer promised a positive outcome for the project. “We’re going to stay on it, as all of you have learned I never give up, I fight really hard, even sometimes against really powerful forces, and we win, we win for this community,” he said.