Austin J. Mcdonald Playground
This playground honors Austin J. McDonald (1892-1918) a New York City resident killed in the line of duty during World War I. Located in Staten Island on Forest Avenue in West Brighton, it is one of nine playgrounds built by the Parks Department through a war memorial fund that were simultaneously opened on July 15, 1934.
Austin J. McDonald was born in New York City, he graduated from Curtis High School in Staten Island, and then from City College in 1913. He also studied at New York University and was employed as an auditor for the Penn Coal and Oaks Company until the War. McDonald enlisted in Company E, 107th Infantry, 27th Division on April 6, 1917, and was killed in action at St. Quentin Canal, Hindenburg Line, France, on September 29, 1918, just six weeks before the armistice and the end of World War I. His body was brought back to the United States and interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
In 1918, the War Memorial Fund was established to create a $1 million Memorial Arch to commemorate those killed in World War I. The organizers were forced to adjust their plans when they were only able to raise $210,000. By 1922 the project was scrapped and the money turned over to the City. Through time, the unspent fund earned interest, growing to nearly $340,000 by 1934. Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981), seeking additional open spaces for children, convinced the remaining members of the War Memorial Committee to allow the funds to be used for playgrounds.
The legal ruling that paved the way for Parks to build playgrounds stipulated that each property be dedicated as war memorials and contain bronze tablets commemorating fallen soldiers. The nine War Memorial Playgrounds built with the money are scattered throughout the City; two are in Manhattan, two in Queens, two in Staten Island, two in the Bronx, and one in Brooklyn. The other Staten Island playground is Nicholas De Matti Playground, located on Tompkins Avenue between Chestnut Avenue and Shaughnessy Lane. The soldiers’ names for the dedicated playgrounds were selected by various veterans’ organizations.
The War Memorial Fund was transferred to Parks on March 19, 1934, and with additional funding from the Federal Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, the nine playgrounds were constructed in less than four months. The completion of these playgrounds was part of Moses’s drive to increase the number of playgrounds citywide – in 1934, his first year as Commissioner, Moses built nearly 40 playgrounds, where there had only been 119 in the City before, a 33% increase in one year alone.
The dedication of the War Memorial Playgrounds was made in an official ceremony led by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882–1947) and Commissioner Moses at William E. Sheridan Playground in Brooklyn. It was simultaneously broadcast to all the other playgrounds by an elaborate public address system. McDonald Playground, as with the other eight playgrounds, originally featured play equipment, a wading pool, a brick field house with a recreation hall, and a heating plant. A flagpole was placed at each site and the tablets were placed on each field house.
In 1954, the playground’s retaining wall was reconstructed and the field house was renovated in 1985. In 1993, a $680,000 restoration funded by Council Member Jerome X. O’Donovan added new play equipment in four separate play areas, all underlaid with safety surfacing. These included a spray shower, three handball courts, two basketball courts, an asphalt softball field, new benches, game tables, and new shrubbery borders. McDonald Playground stands as a fitting tribute to the thousands of soldiers, many still teenagers, who died before their time.