Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Frank D. O’Connor (1909-1992) led a remarkable career in public life over four decades. He was born in Manhattan to Irish immigrant parents and raised in Elmhurst, Queens. O’Connor graduated from Newtown High School and Niagara University, working his way through college as a lifeguard. He earned his L.L.B. from Brooklyn Law School in 1934. During World War II, he joined the Coast Guard and served as a legal officer in Alaska.
O’Connor won a seat in the New York State Senate from Queens, and he was reelected in 1950 and elected again in 1954. He was active in numerous civic, professional, and cultural organizations, including the Queens County Bar Association, the Emerald Association of Long Island, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a defense lawyer, he gained national attention in 1953, when he defended Christopher Emanuel Balestrero, a musician who had been wrongfully accused of two holdups in Queens. Three years later, Alfred Hitchcock directed “The Wrong Man,” a movie based on the case.
From 1955 to 1965, O’Connor presided as the Queens District Attorney, after which he served as President of the City Council for three years. As Council President, he promoted distributing public housing throughout the city and creating a civilian complaint review board for the Police Department. This last position hurt O’Connor during his unsuccessful run for Governor against Nelson Rockefeller in 1966. He was elected to the State Supreme Court in 1968 and served until 1976, when Governor Hugh L. Carey appointed him to the Appellate Division. Six years after his retirement, Judge O’Connor died in Flushing, Queens in 1992. This Elmhurst playground was named in his memory by local law in 1993.
The history of the playground begins in 1935, when the Board of Transportation permitted the Department of Parks to use two parcels on the east and west sides of 78th Street for recreational purposes. The property was developed by the Works Progress Administration in 1937 as a neighborhood playground and sitting park. The larger parcel featured a variety of athletic facilities for handball, basketball, volleyball, horseshoe pitching, and rollerskating, as well as a softball field that was flooded for use as an ice skating rink during the winter. The play equipment included a shower basin, play houses, sand tables, slides, swings, and a jungle gym. Renovations in the 1950s removed outdated equipment and added game tables, a sandpit, slides, and new practice basketball courts.
Mayor Giuliani funded the $1.5 million reconstruction of Judge Frank D. O’Connor Playground which was completed in 1996. Improvements included the addition of play equipment, safety surfacing, swings, spray showers, benches, fitness equipment, lighting, and spring toys. The basketball court and comfort station were rebuilt. New shrubs and trees were planted throughout the park that honors the memory of one of Elmhurst’s most distinguished citizens.
- Frank D O'Connor Playground
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