Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
St. Michael’s Playground, just south of St. Michael’s Cemetery, is sandwiched in a triangle of land between the eastern and western Brooklyn-Queens Expressway connectors and 30th Avenue. The playground was created in the 1940s from land left over from the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or BQE.
Both the nearby cemetery and the church that operates the cemetery are named for St. Michael, an archangel who figures prominently in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. He was adopted by Christianity as a saint of the Church militant, and is often portrayed wearing a coat of mail and carrying a shield, sword, or spear. Michael is frequently depicted slaying Satan and represented with scales weighing the souls of the dead; a “Policeman’s Prayer” to St. Michael is said by those in law enforcement.
Established in 1852, the nearby cemetery is one of more than 20 cemeteries in Queens that came about through the State Rural Cemeteries Act (1847), which suggested that cemeteries be placed in the suburbs of the state’s cities. Today it is said that Queens has more people buried in the borough (5 million) than are living in it (2 million). The cemetery is owned and operated by St. Michael’s Church, an Episcopal congregation located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Over the years the cemetery has grown from seven acres to its present size of 88 acres. Since its inception, part of the cemetery has been set aside to serve several of the city’s free churches and institutions. A glimpse of New York City’s history can be seen in the cemetery; one can trace 19th and early 20th century immigration patterns through St. Michael’s burial plots.
The land for the park was first acquired by the City of New York in 1941 in connection with the building) of the BQE by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888 -1981). The first of its kind in New York City, the Expressway differed from the city’s parkways in that it was built to accommodate both commercial and non-commercial traffic. Part of a massive post-war program to build New York’s infrastructure, the BQE stretches 11.7 miles from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel near the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to the Grand Central Parkway in Queens.
The construction of the BQE led to the development of 10 Parks properties along the Expressway in Queens. Part of a sizable triangle of land between the eastern and western Brooklyn-Queens Expressway connectors and 30th Avenue, St. Michael’s Playground is the largest of these properties. The site lay unimproved until 1946, when plans were made to lay out the property as a park and develop it with playground facilities. A baseball field and spectator stands, handball, tennis, and basketball courts and other recreational options for young children were added, including a wading pool, swings, and slides.
In 1994, Council Member Walter L. McCaffrey funded a $370,000 renovation which refurbished the playground, providing the neighborhood with a welcome place for respit
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