June 7, 2021 By Christian Murray
The plan to transform the former Phipps Playground in Sunnyside into a thriving public park is a step closer to becoming a reality.
The Parks Dept. has just released preliminary design plans for the new playground, which is located on the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street.
The playground, which is being named after fallen firefighter Lt. Michael Davidson, incorporates many of the features that came out of a scoping meeting held via zoom in December that about 200 people attended.
The design includes a large bronze plaque in honor of Davidson, located at the base of a flagpole. It includes separate play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12, as well as an area for water play. The play areas incorporate an FDNY theme, with firefighter play panels.
The plan also recognizes the history of the 1/4 acre site, which was once a private playground for residents of the Phipps Garden Apartments complex, which is located across the street.
Some of the remnants of the 1930s playground—such as the pavilion and shed—remain there today.
The plan calls for restoring the pavilion as well as the shed, which will be a comfort station.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who has been working on converting the property into a public park for at least seven years, said there are many aspects about the design he likes.
“I love the powerful tribute to Michael Davidson,” he said, noting that it clearly states that the park is in Davidson’s honor.
The plaque, which also includes an image of Davidson’s FDNY badge and Engine Company, reads: “This playground stands in Honor of Lieutenant Michael R. Davidson…who gave his life in service to the City of New York.”
Van Bramer said that the playground meets the needs of all age groups.
“I could see, say, a grandparent and their 7 year grandchild both enjoying themselves there,” he said. “I think it will be a multi generational space.”
Van Bramer said the design is still preliminary and is calling on the public to provide further feedback. “I want the community to feel good about this, as well as the friends and family of Michael Davidson.”
The design represents a big step in a long, difficult process to see the park become a reality.
The site was privately owned at the time when Van Bramer declared the property should become a public park. The property owner, DBH, had planned to develop the site after purchasing it from Phipps in 2007.
DBH put forward a highly contentious development plan in 2013 that was ultimately shot down by Community Board 2, local officials and the Landmark Preservation Commission. The site is located within the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
Around the same time, Van Bramer started working on securing city funds to buy the property and turn it into a public park. In 2016, he secured $3 million to acquire and renovate it.
It took until September 2019 before the city officially acquired it.
Davidson perished while fighting a blaze in Harlem in March 2018 and there were calls for the new playground to be named after him.
Davidson was raised at the Phipps Garden Apartment complex and was often at the playground in the 1980s when he was a kid.
He had been with the FDNY for 15 years, and lived in Floral Park, LI at the time of his death. He left behind a wife and four young children, all under age 8, at the time.
A group of residents formed a group called Friends of Michael Davidson and started a petition calling for the playground to be named after him.
The petition was signed by nearly 3,500 people and got the backing of Van Bramer.
Van Bramer secured another $2.5 million in the city’s 2020 budget to go toward the renovation.
“This is a whole new park and we want it done right.”