Much-Improved Mathews-Palmer Playground Officially Reopens

Elected and city officials, children, and community members from block associations and Community Board 4 celebrated the official opening of Mathews-Palmer Playground. | Photo by William Alatriste, NYC Council

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The spiffy silver caboose rocked back and forth as children’s cries of joy could be heard.

The railroad car was a nod to Mathews-Palmer Playground’s past, fittingly, as on Tues., July 31, its present began — the playground was officially reopened.

It has been a long track to the opening of the renovated $2.5 million playground, which has been years in the making and took the community, block associations, Community Board 4, elected officials, and the city’s Parks Department working together to make happen.

“What a good day,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, at the afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Johnson sketched out a history of the playground — located on W. 45th St. between Ninth and 10th Aves. — that the city acquired in 1936. Its name honors two women: May Mathews, a longtime social worker at the Hartley House, and Alexandra Palmer, a longtime Hell’s Kitchen resident and advocate for the park, according to Johnson and the Parks Department’s website.

In 2012, Christine Quinn — the then-speaker of the City Council who represented Hell’s Kitchen — allocated $1.8 million for the reconstruction.

The community, Johnson said, contributed ideas to the park’s future.

Speaker Corey Johnson found time to have fun at the newly renovated playground’s official opening, where he announced an additional $10,000 to support community programming for the playground and to hire a playground associate for the coming year. | Photo by William Alatriste, NYC Council

Chana Widawski, a member of Hell’s Kitchen Commons and the West 45th/46th Street Block Association, helped organize a “Design Your Park” day so the community could provide input and make suggestions. Several Hell’s Kitchen block associations have worked toward the restoration of the playground.

The project went through the design phase from March 2013 to July 2016, then through the procurement phase until February 2017, and construction from April 2017 to April 2018, according to the Parks Department website. (The Parks Department did not respond to this publication’s questions by press time.)

The playground’s adventure equipment includes a slide, a mini-climbing wall, and bells to ring. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

In 2016, Johnson said he allocated an additional $700,000 “to get us over the finish line and to finally start construction.”

“It is always a cause for celebration in our city when a new park opens and it bares repeating that for a city to be successful, it needs to provide its residents with open space, with greenery,” he said. “I’m so grateful to the residents of Hell’s Kitchen who made it their mission to ensure that they have a playground and a place for the community to enjoy for years to come.”

The renovated playground has adventure equipment that includes a mini-climbing wall, slide, and bells to chime, fitness equipment, a handball court, a ping pong table, spray shower, the aforementioned caboose, a spot where children can drum, and swings, including a few for those with disabilities.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said the playground would soon have a basketball court, and the department addressed the water supply and drainage system that had been an issue in the park.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, “This is what New York City does best. We are very short of open space but when the Parks Department puts their mind to it with amazing architects and amazing construction and the community — from the block associations, the community board, all the elected officials, this is what you get.”

The spray shower at the newly reconstructed playground. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

The community’s effort and advocacy was also praised by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and State Senator Brad Hoylman, who thanked his fellow elected officials and the community for all their work “in making this such a splendid respite.”

Gottfried said decades ago, the community rescued the playground from rampant gang violence, then from drug dealers and prostitutes, as well as protecting their neighborhood from developers.

“This community, which has achieved so much, has helped to bring the city along to recreate the Mathews-Palmer Playground,” he said. “This is a great day for Hell’s Kitchen.”

Amid the buoyant mood, there was a sense of loss — Allison Tupper, a longtime advocate for the park and the restoration of its mural by Arnold Belkin (called “Against Domestic Colonialism”) had died. A photo of Tupper was displayed near the podium, and she was mentioned by many speakers, including Lowell Kern, co-chairperson of Community Board 4’s Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee.

“I know Allison is here with us today,” Kern said.

Longtime Hell’s Kitchen resident Allison Tupper, who worked for years to renovate the park and recreate the mural, was remembered at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

Steve Fanto of the West 45th/46th Street Block Association, said, “I’m here to speak about Allison for a moment. You heard her name mentioned a few times but nowhere near as many as she deserved.”

Fanto said she was a modest and private person.

“However modest, she’d have kicked me or nudged me if I didn’t say one more thing, make sure you mention that mural and let’s take care of that in the near future,” he said.

Residents and block associations have worked for years to recreate the mural.

Denise Penizzotto, the muralist who is working with the block associations, said that they are ready to paint.

“What’s holding us up right now is we need the wall repaired,” she told this publication after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Residents and block associations are still determined to recreate Arnold Belkin’s mural, called “Against Domestic Colonialism.” | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

Afterwards, food and refreshments were served, a band called the Unintended Consequences played and some danced, merriment abounded, bells clanged, children giggled and families enjoyed the park.

When asked about what they thought about the new park, John Vennema and Katherine Croke, who was holding her three-week-old baby, said, “Thank goodness.”

Steve Fanto of the West 45th/46th Street Block Association honored Allison Tupper. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

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