Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
La Guardia Airport honors former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882-1947). La Guardia, the son of a United States Army bandleader, was born in Manhattan’s Little Italy at 177 Sullivan Street. He received his law degree from New York University, was admitted to the bar in 1910, and became the nation’s first Italian-American Congressman in 1916. La Guardia held various congressional posts until 1932, and served as president of New York City’s Board of Aldermen (predecessor of the City Council) from 1920 to 1921. He is often remembered for his nickname, ‘Little Flower.’ The nickname is a literal translation of the Italian mayor’s first name, and an allusion to his small physical stature of 5 feet 2 inches.
Mayor La Guardia was inaugurated on New Year’s Day 1934. Over the next twelve years, La Guardia left a distinctive mark on New York City politics. He unified the public transit system, consolidated and centralized much of the City government, cracked down on illegal gambling, and constructed numerous bridges, parks, and airports. With Robert Moses (1888-1981), his Parks Commissioner, he embarked on an unprecedented expansion of the New York City parks system throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. La Guardia also served as Director of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942. Shortly after leaving office in 1945, La Guardia became Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
La Guardia Airport is located in north central Queens overlooking Flushing Bay. It opened in December 1939 as North Beach Airport, but was named after La Guardia soon after, due to the mayor’s strong support for the project. The site was originally occupied by the Gala Amusement Park and owned by the Curtis Flying School and Airport. When the airport was first constructed, it boasted a seaplane station, although that has since been removed.
In order to make the airport self-sustaining, La Guardia insisted that visitors pay admission to use the observation deck, and that high landing fees be charged. He also took advantage of the terminal’s shape to bring in vendors, banks, and other businesses to set up concessions in the airport, which proved highly convenient for travelers and profitable for the airport. It was built with $45 million from the Works Progress Administration, making La Guardia Airport the first in the United States to be financed, designed, and built in full partnership with the federal government.
The City acquired this land by a two-part condemnation. Parks gained jurisdiction of approximately 1.3 acres in December 1940, the remaining acre in April 1941, and an addition in March 1984. In 1989, Commissioner Stern changed the park’s name from simply “Park” to “Planeview Park;” the name was later changed again to Overlook Park.
Overlook Park is a steep, wooded incline, located along Ditmars Boulevard between 97th and 100th Streets. A sitting area and driving turn-around crown the top of the hill. In 1996, Council Member John D. Sabini allocated $959,000 for site work and reconstruction of the park. Mayor Giuliani sponsored $57,656 in funds for additional renovations in 2000. Overlook Park remains true to its moniker, through name changes and reconstruction, by affording visitors an impressive view of the airfield below.
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