Gene Gray Playground
Gene Gray Playground
This playground is named in honor of Broad Channel community activist Eugene Gray (1927-1973). Gray was born on March 14, 1927 in Park Slope, Brooklyn and later moved to Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. After attending college, Gray married Lorraine Baker (1929-1977) with whom he had three children: Michael, Gary and Gregory. Gray later moved to Broad Channel and became involved in various neighborhood youth programs, including the Broad Channel Athletic Club, an organization for which he served as president. A community football coach for more than twenty years, Grey also helped to shape and maintain the Broad Channel football league and assisted in the creation of the local Teen Club, which provided safe recreational activities for the area’s youth.
Before his death on September 14, 1973, Eugene Gray also supported the construction of this site, the first adventure playground to be built in Broad Channel. In recognition of his dedication to the playground’s construction and lifetime of work for the neighborhood’s youth, the Broad Channel Civic Association and Community Board 14 motioned to have the playground named in Gray’s honor. Their undertaking was successful in 1987, when a local law passed naming the park Gene Gray Playground.
The parkland is located on Broad Channel, the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay. Located on Big Egg Marsh, the island community is approximately one mile long and four blocks wide. The Jameco and Canarsie Native American tribes inhabited the island until the 1600’s, when Dutch settlers established a fishing industry in the area. Broad Channel became a part of Jamaica with the village’s incorporation in 1814 and merged with the rest of New York after the consolidation of 1898. In 1915, the City leased the island to the Broad Channel Corporation, which improved the island’s infrastructure. The area became a retreat for wealthy city residents after the company leased properties to developers of summer bungalows and houses.
Following the construction of the Cross Bay Bridge in 1939, the island was easily accessible by car. During the same year, however, the Broad Channel Corporation declared bankruptcy and the City acquired the island’s property titles, yet denied residents the right to purchase the land that lay under their houses. Since then, the community has resisted various government initiatives designed to alter the residential nature of the island. Such projects included the construction of a commercial port and the expansion of John F. Kennedy International Airport into the area. In 1982, New York City granted Broad Channel residents the right to purchase the land upon which their residences lie, and the island’s average property value increased tenfold. Today Broad Channel maintains two churches, a volunteer fire department, two elementary schools, a branch of the Queens public library, and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
Located on the corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and East 9th Street, Gene Gray Playground opened on November 12, 1987 and was built at a cost of $457,688. In honor of Broad Channel’s seafaring past, award-winning architect Richard Dattner incorporated a nautical fortress theme into the park’s wooden play equipment. The playground contains a walkway bridge intended to resemble a sailing ship, complete with bow, stern, and gangplank-like ramp. The park also contains a 75-year-old willow tree (Salix spp.), nine red maple trees (Acer rubrum), and ninety burning bushes (Euonymous autopurpureus) along the perimeter.