Courtney Callender Playground at West 130th – 131st Streets and Fifth Avenue

This playground honors Courtney Callender (1937-1983), New York City’s first African American Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and the first African American official in Parks under Commissioner Thomas Hoving and Executive Director Henry J. Stern. He established the Community Relations division, which initiated the policy of including the neighborhoods in park decisions. Callender served as community relations officer from 1966 until 1969 when Commissioner August Heckscher appointed him deputy commissioner of Cultural Affairs. He held that position until 1972, organizing many community events, including the Harlem Cultural Festival.

In 1936, the City purchased a portion of this site from Charles and Mary McClean, and acquired the rest of the property by condemnation that same year. The playground was built later that year but fell into decay over the subsequent decades.

Wishing to commemorate Callender, local block associations in came together to rehabilitate the playground, and in 2000, a major renovation was funded.  Designed by Claire Dudley, the new design restored the basketball court and brought the installation of modular play equipment, new chess tables, new fencing, and security lighting. Rare Amur corktrees (Phellodendron amurense) line the entire playground, and huge Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) stand within the park providing visitors with shade.  Plantings at the sidewalk level display seasonal flowers.

An oasis of greenery north of Mount Morris.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *