William Sunners Playground
This playground, located in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn and bounded by Kings Highway, Avenue H, and East 49th Street, is named for William Sunners (1903-1988), an educator, writer, and community activist.
Sunners was born and educated in New York City.He received a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1929 and a master’s degree from New York University in 1931.Sunners became a high school teacher, and served nearly thirty years in the New York City public schools.In 1960, he retired from teaching to write professionally. Sunners wrote over one hundred books on solving puzzles, winning contests, and writing advertising jingles.A talented wordsmith, he created many crossword puzzles for the New York Times and earned the title “the King of 25-words-or-less.”One of Sunners’s familiar phrases was “a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”
For over fifty years, Sunners lived nearby, on East 49th Street in Flatlands.He was protective of his community, and used the playground as an informal place for discussion of timely social issues.In 1981, when the house of the first black family to move to Flatlands was fire-bombed, he used the park as a place in which to condemn the action and draw support for the family.Following his death from congestive heart failure in 1988, Janice Robertson, a member of the family that Sunners had helped, and president of the 49th Street Block Association, spear-headed the effort to name the park after Sunners. In 1992, this park - until then without a name - was officially named ‘William Sunners Playground’ under Local Law #97.
The topography of this area, as expressed in its name, is as level as the sea floor.Prior to European contact, it was inhabited by the Canarsee Indians, who called it “Keskachauge”. Beginning in 1624, the Dutch chose to settle here, because they recognized in its low-lying, salt marsh landscape their homeland, and knew how to harvest its resources.In 1647, the area was named New Amersfoort, after the Dutch town of Amersfoort. When New Netherlands came under English rule in 1664, the area was renamed Flatlands.
This playground was acquired by the City in 1940 and first opened to the public on April 12, 1941. It was one of four separate parcels in the area that were obtained by the City for park purpose, in response to a local need for more parkland. At the time, this triangular parcel was valued at approximately $8,000.Each of the four park parcels were laid out as playgrounds by Parks designers and developed with materials and labor provided by the federally-funded Works Progress Administration (‘WPA’).
First designed in 1940 as a small children’s playground, this playground sported the playground furniture of that era: a sand pit, ‘kindergarten swings’, ‘kindergarten slides’ and see-saws.In 1994, the playground was renovated, with new infant and junior swings, a new water fountain, a stenciled area for “street games,” and three additional trees – in addition to its new name.
Sunners’s work as an educator and advocate for local justice, as well as his abiding presence in this neighborhood are remembered here in this park.