Columbus Park, located in Manhattan’s Chinatown, was one of the city’s earliest major parks. By the early 1930s, it was quite rundown. New Deal programs greatly remodeled and upgraded the park and its facilities. In October 1934, the Department of Parks announced the opening, presided over by Mayor LaGuardia, of the newly remodeled Columbus Park, saying: “This old park with its fine big trees formerly included a small play area, which was in reality only a broken surfaced area containing poorly arranged rusted swings and slides. It has been replanned to double the size of the play area and provide an orderly arranged resting place for adults at the north end. The playground section which occupies two-thirds of the park area includes a large wading pool, outdoor apparatus, and a large game field. A recreational building will also be provided in the future.” An earlier release described the changes to the “adult” portion of the park in more detail: “The design has been changed to provide a larger area to contain plantings of trees, shrubbery and grass. All existing facilities and plantings will be used as far as possible. A large flagpole will be erected in the square facing the pavilion… Numerous benches and drinking fountains will be placed throughout the park.”
The opening of the park also included the “unveiling of a statue of Christopher Columbus in the section of the park back of the New York County Courthouse. This statue of white marble was carved by Miss Emma Stebbins in Rome in 1867 and was presented to the City of New fork in 1869… A fluted circular pedestal of white limestone has been designed and erected by the Park Department.”
The new recreation building mentioned opened in November, 1936. It contained “comfort stations for boys and girls, a mothers’ room and a large play room.” This building continues to serve as the park’s comfort station.
Although these sources do not explicitly mention federal involvement in the park, researcher Frank da Cruz explains that almost all New York City Parks Department projects between 1934 and 1943 were carried out with New Deal funds and/or labor. Federal funding for laborers, materials, architects, landscapers and engineers employed on Parks projects is acknowledged in about 350 press releases from 1934 to 1943. A December 1943 Parks Department press release summed up the massive amount of work accomplished on playgrounds alone with federal funding in the New Deal era, saying, “In 1934 there were 119 playgrounds in the five boroughs, 67 of which have been reconstructed. There will be, with this new addition [of a playground on Brinckerhoff Avenue in Queens], 489 playgrounds in the park system.”
Several New Deal agencies were involved in parks projects: the Civil Works Administration (CWA)(1933-34), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939). After its launch in April 1935, the WPA quickly became the main source of relief funds and labor for the NYC Parks Department. Given the early date of the initial park improvements in 1934, the CWA was most likely one agency involved in improving these facilities, while the WPA most likely played a role in building the park’s 1936 recreation building. Other agencies would have filled the gap between the time of the CWA’s closing in summer 1934 and the WPA’s launch almost a year later.
New York City Parks Department New Deal Projects 1934-43 Department of Parks, Press Release, August 23, 1934 Department of Parks, Press Release, October 8, 1934 Department of Parks, Press Release, November 7, 1936 Columbus Park - NYC Parks
Project originally submitted by Frank da Cruz on August 29, 2016.
We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.SUBMIT MORE INFORMATION OR PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS SITE