Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Situated on the East River, John Jay Park is named for a New York jurist and statesman. John Jay (1745-1829) was elected President of the First Continental Congress in 1778. He drafted New York’s first constitution in 1777, was appointed Minister to Spain in 1779, and negotiated the peace treaty with England in 1783. With Hamilton and Madison he wrote The Federalist Papers (1787), which advocated the new Constitution. Jay then served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1789-1795). In his last political position, he was elected for two consecutive terms as the Governor of New York (1795-1801).
The first parcel of land for John Jay Park was acquired by the City in 1902 by condemnation. In 1906 a public bathhouse was constructed for $104,843.92 and was under the jurisdiction of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office until the site was transferred to the Parks Department in 1941.
The swimming complex was opened in stages between 1940 and 1942 as part of a massive Work Projects Administration (WPA) capital construction program. The outdoor swimming pool was opened in 1940 and measured 50 by 145 feet. Legend has it that Parks Commissioner Robert Moses required the pool to be five feet short of the length necessary for 150-foot sprints. In 1941 the bathhouse was remodeled and reopened with an auditorium, large recreation room, gym, and changing facility which could accommodate 1,002 male and 590 female bathers. Systems were installed to filter, purify, and re-circulate the water, and a large promenade around the pool was constructed.
Also in 1941, an aquatic program, which provided for group swimming lessons, diving tournaments, inter-pool contests, water shows, and life saving and first aid classes, was initiated. The WPA swimming pools were among the most remarkable public recreational facilities in the country, representing the forefront of design and technology. The influence of the pools extended throughout entire communities, attracting aspiring athletes and neighborhood children, and changing the way millions of New Yorkers spent their leisure time.
Douglas Abdell’s (1947-) sculptures were installed on the west side of the park in 1979. Made of welded steel, painted black, they are meant to frame space and define irregular areas. The artist likens his works, part of “The Aebyad Series” to writing and calligraphy. He views each sculpture as a building block of something potentially more complex, as the alphabet is the basis of the written language.
In 1985-86, Mayor Edward I. Koch allocated $807,570 for renovation and restoration of the park. The children’s playground was remodeled with slides, bridges, swings, sandboxes, and sprinkler area. Trees and groundcover were planted. New lighting and pavement were installed, and the existing pavement, curbs, and stone walls were rehabilitated. A wrought iron fence was relocated to enclose the pool area, and all other wrought iron and chain link fences were refurbished. New benches were installed and the water supply was improved as drainage was reconstructed. In the final phase, the central mall and esplanade were refurbished, additional pavement was installed, and drinking fountains, game tables, and fences were added. In 1995 all the climbing equipment, decks, gates, and handrails were restored and replaced. A park well cared for by its neighbors, John Jay Park remains an active and vital center of the Upper East Side Community.
- New York
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