Obscure borough president wins battle against Washington

Obscure borough president wins battle against Washington
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A popular Park Slope playground reopened last week with a new name honoring a long-forgotten borough president — marking a minor victory for the barely remembered politico over the landmark-hogging forefather who snatched away his legacy.

History-loving city officials unveiled the new J.J. Byrne Playground in Washington Park — a green space on Fifth Avenue that initially bore the name of George Washington, then honored the late Beep until 2008, when the nation’s first president won the title again.

As a consolation prize for Byrne — who died in office in 1930 — the park’s playground got a revamp and a new name in his tribute.

The new kids spot — near the legendary Battle of Brooklyn site where Washington fled the borough to escape British forces — now boasts a “toddler area,” water fountains, and colonial-themed playground equipment.

Parents said the park’s new features give pre-school-aged kids more choices, and bigger kids a chance to learn about history (albeit of Washington’s era, not Byrnes’s).

“It’s more than a park — it’s an important historical location,” said Park Slope mom Alexandra Saghir.

Last Friday, politicians including Councilmen Brad Lander and Steve Levin (D–Park Slope) joined Borough President Markowitz to celebrate the playground’s new fixtures by wearing colonial costumes — a nod to Washington with their tricorn hats, not to Byrne, who before his death ordered the construction of a replica Dutch farmhouse now known as the Old Stone House.

Lander, Levin, Markowitz, and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) spent more that $3 million to pay for the play area — which pleases parents Park Slope.

“It’s a very special place,” Saghir said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

Learning about history: Four-year-old Scarlett, a Park Sloper, learns about “colonial hula hoops” at the playground’s grand re-opening.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham