Leif Ericson Park
Leif Ericson Park is a long, narrow park in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, which “features a Norse theme in honor of Leif Ericson and the local Scandinavian-American community” (NYC Parks). By the turn of the 20th century, the neighborhood had a large Norwegian population, and in 1925 community leaders convinced City Hall to turn the five blocks from 4th Ave. to Fort Hamilton Parkway between 66th St. and 67th St. into a park. In the 1930s, the park was extensively developed by the New Deal.
In October 1934, the Department of Parks announced the addition of two play areas to the park, which would “double the existing area in this park available for play.” This made “thirty modern, completely equipped recreational plants opened to the public by the Department of Parks during a period of less than three months.” In January 1935, the city opened another section of the park containing “a wading pool, complete playground apparatus and a recreation building between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and a formal park extending to Fort Hamilton Parkway.” The opening ceremonies included speeches by local Norwegian leaders and the playing of both the American and the Norwegian national anthems. In 1936, a new playground opened adjacent to the Leif Ericson Park on Eighth Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets, containing “baseball and other adult facilities which were not included in the Leiv Eiriksson development.”
Although these press releases do not explicitly mention New Deal agencies or federal involvement, researcher Frank da Cruz explains here that almost all New York City Parks Department projects between 1934 and 1943 were accomplished 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. In a 1939 study, The Works Progress Administration in New York City (pp. 101-102), future Columbia University professor John Millett also describes deep WPA involvement: “The city Parks Department planned all work-relief activities in city parks and decided what work should be carried out at any one time. All projects and jobs were, of course, approved by the W.P.A., which furnished the labor and much of the supplies for the work.” Robert Moses, who presided over the Parks Department, did not always like to publicize the role of the federal government in making the work possible, due to long standing tensions between him, President Roosevelt and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, but he did give the New Deal programs credit in his 1970 autobiography, Public Works.
From these sources, it can be confidently stated that from 1934 to 1938 all New York City parks projects were completed in whole or in part with New Deal funding and/or labor, except in the rare cases where the Parks Department information explicitly says otherwise. Even when park building declined in 1938-1943, more than 100 more park projects were carried out with New Deal aid. There were several New Deal agencies involved in parks projects, beside the WPA: the Civil Works Administration (CWA)(1933-34), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was launched in April 1935 (renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939) and quickly became the main source of relief funds and labor for the NYC Parks Department. 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.”
Leif Ericson Park - NYC Parks Department of Parks, Press Release, October 8, 1934 Department of Parks, Press Release, January 11, 1935 Department of Parks, Press Release, May 4, 1936 New York City Parks Department New Deal Projects 1934-43
Project originally submitted by Frank da Cruz on August 20, 2016.
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