Cherry Tree Playground
In 1997, Parks renamed the George Washington Houses Playground of East Harlem Cherry Tree Playground. The park’s new name draws attention to both the property’s distinguishing trees and the folklore engendered by President Washington’s reputation for honesty. As popular 19th century legend has it George Washington (1732-1799) once cut down his father’s prized cherry tree on a youthful whim. According to Mason Weems, the biographer to whom the legend is attributed, Washington was tempted to deny his misdeed when confronted with the prospect of punishment, but, “looking at his father with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.’”Â Since then, the cherry tree has been regarded as a symbol of young Washington’s integrity.
Cherry Tree Playground’s original name referred to the adjacent housing project with which it was constructed. In 1952, during the creation of the George Washington Houses, this site was selected as permanent open space. The land for the project was conveyed to the city in February 1953 and by March 1957 the playground opened to the public. Cherry Tree Playground is a popular destination for families from the Washington and Lexington apartment buildings as well as the nearby public schools.
Neighborhood volunteers have taken an active role in preserving their playground by cleaning and patrolling the area, and organizing annual functions that include basketball and tennis tournaments, multicultural shows, and talent shows. In 1996, residents of the George Washington Carver Houses Project, which lies two blocks to the east of the George Washington Houses, formed the Washington Community Improvement Council (WCIC). The WCIC is a volunteer organization composed of concerned citizens who maintain the playground. Included is a complex with basketball and tennis courts. The playground itself also underwent a major reconstruction in 1996. New play equipment, basketball courts, and benches were added to the site. Of course, the main attraction of the playground remains the cherry trees which blossom each year around the second and third weeks of April.