A Historical Look at Marcus Garvey Park, PIP’s 25th Project

Marcus Garvey Park
Image via the NYC Parks Department

As announced in November, the Playground Improvement Project (PIP) committee will be completing its 25th anniversary project in Marcus Garvey Park. This year, as PIP celebrates 25 years, and the NYJL celebrates 115, the committee will work to improve a park with over 175 years of history.

As we kick off 2016, PIP wanted to share 16 important moments in the history of the park: 

1811: The Commissioners’ Plan for Manhattan initially included plans for this park, initially in a slightly different location between 6th and 7th Avenues and West 117th and West 121st Streets.
1835: The Common Council considered razing the hilly area to accommodate local streets; however citizens successfully petitioned to preserve the public area.
1840: The park opened to the public as Mount Morris Park.
1857: A fire watchtower was erected to keep watch over the city. It still stands today! The firetower network fell into disuse in the 1870s as the Fire Department began to install alarms on street corners.
1880s: The neighborhood around the park was one of the first to be developed in Harlem, following the introduction of elevated rail service.
1930s: A community center and playgrounds were added to the park by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Long Islanders may recognize that name if they’ve taken the Robert Moses Causeway to Jones Beach!
1960s: A band shell, funded by composer Richard Rodgers, was added, much to the delight of community members! In 2011, the Rodgers Family Foundation funded the renovation of the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater.
1967: The 47-foot cast-iron watchtower in the park was designated as a landmark.
1969: A recreation center opened. Today it includes a playroom, computer room and gym facilities.
1971: The outdoor pool and changing facilities were completed. Today, they remain one of the most popular destinations within the park!
1973: The park was renamed for Marcus Garvey, an advocate for economic independence in the black community and the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL).
1976: The watchtower was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1988: The recreation center was named for Assistant Commissioner for Recreation Pelham Fritz, a popular Parks official and Harlem resident.
1998: A fundraising campaign led by Harlem Little League allowed the renovation of the baseball diamond. These improvements included the addition of an electronic scoreboard.
2002: More than 500 people gathered in the park to celebrate the Harlem Little League team reaching the Little League World Series. Though they didn’t win, they made their community proud!
2003: The PIP committee, along with NYJL and community volunteers, completed a project in this park. The committee looks forward to returning to this park after more than a decade!

Throughout the Playground Improvement Project committee’s past 25 years, committee members have worked with league volunteers, friends, family, corporate sponsors and community volunteers to improve parks throughout Manhattan. We hope that you help PIP celebrate its 25th anniversary by joining the committee during one of its nine park days this spring! In addition to your time, you can also support PIP through the “Adopt-a-Bench” program. Your tax-deductible donation will support projects within the park and a plaque with a personalized inscription will be installed on a park bench. If you are interested in adopting a bench, or making another donation, please contact the Playground Improvement Project Committee at playground@nyjl.org.

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