John F. Murray (1889-1944) was a lifetime Queens resident and a dedicated recreation supervisor for Queens parks for many years. Although his Parks job kept him busy, he also devoted much of his time to a variety of other activities.
Murray supervised the Long Island City Knights of Columbus, the local chapter of the famous Roman Catholic fraternal order. The association organized blood donation campaigns and sports programs for youths, promoted religious activities, and articulated Catholic opinion on social issues. In 1944, the New York Chapter of the Knights of Columbus became the holder of the permit for the Columbus Day Parade. Murray also helped supervise recreational activities for the Elmhurst Elks, another neighborhood fraternal society. He also organized local boxing tournaments and in particular, trained prizefighters. He and his wife, Catherine, had two sons, Colonel John Murray and Captain William Murray, who both served in the army.
The City of New York acquired the land that constitutes Murray Playground in four parts by purchase and condemnation between 1941 and 1945. The park stretches from 11th to 21st Street, and is bounded by 45th Avenue and 45th Road. In 1948, a local law named the park John F. Murray Playground, and on April 10, 1949, James Burke, the Borough President of Queens, hosted the dedication and opening ceremony. He described Murray, who had died on April 6, 1944, at the age of fifty-four, as “an outstanding proponent of the proper kind of facilities for the use of the borough.” Murray’s wife and sons were present at the ceremony.
In 1978, Parks received grants from the Community Development Act and the Heritage, Conservation and Recreation Services to renovate the property. When construction ended in 1979, Murray Playground contained new basketball and handball courts, a baseball field, climbing structures, swings, shuffleboard layouts, game tables, see-saws, sitting areas and a separate play area for children. On May 25, 1980, Parks Commissioner Gordon J. Davis and local elected officials gathered to celebrate the reopening of Murray Playground.
“Bigger Bird” is the colorful, bird-like structure composed of chain link fencing and poles which stands in the middle of the park. It is the work of local Queens artist Dan Sinclair, an Italian immigrant who arrived in Queens in the late 1970s. Sinclair completed his sculpture on November 6, 1986 and it was installed in Murray Playground soon after.
In 1996, Councilman Walter L. McCaffrey sponsored the $25,833 installation of new safety surface at Murray Playground. One of just a handful of Parks and Parks facilities named for former “Parkies,” Murray Playground fills a vital role in providing for the recreational needs of the community.