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Barrier Playground

Handball Haven

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Although handball is one of the most popular games in the city and has long been identified with New York, depictions of hand-played ball games have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dated to 2000 BC, and in Arizona and Nicaragua, dated to 1500 BC. Not only a historic artifact, handball has its place in literature; Homer’s The Odyssey describes a handball game invented by Anagalla, Princess of Sparta.

Descending from such activities is the modern American incarnation of handball, which was first introduced by Irish immigrants in the late-19th century. The Irish sport, known as hard handball, dates back 1,000 years, and is one of the most popular games in Ireland. Parks-sponsored citywide handball tournaments date at least as far back as 1948. The first was held at Heckscher Playground on 63 Street and West Drive in Central Park. Bounded by 102 Street, 62nd Avenue, and Yellowstone Boulevard, Handball Haven pays tribute to this enduring game.

Modern handball may be played on one-wall, three-wall, or four-wall courts; the one wall version is the most popular. The court consists of a wall, twenty feet wide and sixteen feet high and is bounded by 34-foot long and 20-foot wide sidelines. Drawn sixteen feet away and parallel to the front wall is the “short line,” which separates the front-court from the back-court, with service markers located nine feet behind the short line. The area between these two lines is the service zone.

Players use a hollow, rubber or synthetic-rubber ball. The standard ball weighs 2.3 ounces and is 1.88 inches in diameter. The server puts the ball in play from the service zone by letting it bounce and then striking it into play. The purpose of the game is to hit the ball against the wall without letting the receiving player return the ball; when serving the ball must bounce past the short line. The receiver must return the ball against the wall before it bounces twice. A point is awarded to the server if this is not accomplished. Alternately, once a volley is in progress, the server can lose the service if he/she cannot return the ball. Games are played to twenty-one points, with the winner of the best of three games taking the match. In 1951 the U.S. Handball Association (USHA) was formed in order to standardize the rules and promote the game.

In January 2000, Commissioner Stern announced an initiative to renovate handball courts across the city. Citing the 2,052 handball courts in New York City parks and playgrounds, the Commissioner vowed to sponsor the repair of 1,500 needy facilities by 2003. The improvements will include graffiti removal, repainting, maintenance of court surfaces, and repair of the wall’s expansion joints. In celebration of the initiative, Parks hosted the City’s first amateur handball tournament, which occurred in locations throughout all five boroughs in June 2000.

On August 30, 1854, the City of New York acquired this property and the land that would become Horace Harding Expressway via condemnation and placed it under Parks’ jurisdiction on the same day. Originally named Hard Courts Area, Commissioner Stern assigned the facility’s present appellation in May 1997. One year later, in June, Handball Haven received a $111,382 renovation sponsored by Mayor Giuliani. The improvements included the repair of the facility’s sidewalks and paved areas. During June 2000, a $35,378 renovation, also funded by Mayor Giuliani, repaired the property’s sitting area. Handball Haven now features two state-of-the-art handball courts.

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