De Matti Playground
Nicholas De Matti Playground
Nicholas De Matti Playground is one of nine playgrounds that Parks built through a war memorial fund. They opened simultaneously on July 15, 1934. De Matti was a Private, First Class, in Company K, 310th Infantry, 78th Division, and a Staten Island native. He died in action in the Mihiel Sector at St. North Thiaucourt, France on September 26, 1918, less than two months before the end of World War I (1914-1918).
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, and by 1922 the project was scrapped and the money was turned over to the City. The fund earned interest, growing to nearly $340,000 by 1934. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981), wishing to construct playspaces for children, convinced the remaining members of the War Memorial Committee to allow the funds to be used for playgrounds.
Parks received the War Memorial Fund 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. Each was equipped with a play area, wading pool, brick field house and comfort station, and flagpole. The legal decision that paved the way for Parks to build playgrounds stipulated that each property be dedicated as a war memorial and contain bronze tablets commemorating fallen soldiers. The nine War Memorial Playgrounds 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 War Memorial Playground on Staten Island is Austin J. McDonald Playground, on Forest Avenue. The soldiers honored in the dedicated playgrounds were selected by various veterans’ organizations. This playground, which is located in the Rosebank section of Staten Island where De Matti lived, contains a bronze tablet honoring him.
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 added nearly 40 playgrounds to the City’s existing 119: a 33% increase in one year alone. The dedication of the War Memorial Playgrounds occasioned an official ceremony led by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882-1947) and Commissioner Moses at William E. Sheridan Playground in Brooklyn. It simultaneously broadcast to all the other playgrounds through an elaborate public address system.
In 1970, Parks remodeled this park’s recreation center and installed a new basketball court and ballfield. At that time, its wading pool was relocated to MacArthur Playground on Dongan Hills Avenue. The park’s safety surfacing was replaced in June 1995 through a requirements contract, and in 1997, a $108,000 project funded by Council Member Jerome X. Donovan renovated the sidewalks, paths, and pavements.
In 2001, De Matti Playground, located on Staten Island on Tompkins Avenue between Chestnut Avenue and Shaughnessy Lane, was included in a $216,000 allocation, also funded by Council Member Donovan, that refurbished the heating systems at several parks. Although a Memorial Arch never was built, De Matti Playground stands as a fitting tribute to one of the thousands of soldiers, many still teenagers, who died before their time.