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Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground

Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground

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

This parcel of land—located one hundred feet west of Ninth Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets—was granted to the Public School Society in 1853. It was the site of old P.S. 11 until 1933 when the school was demolished, and a new building was erected on 21st Street. Jurisdiction of the property then passed to the Department of Parks. In 1934 the site was developed as one of five “model playgrounds” in the five boroughs. According to a press release issued by Parks, “Model playgrounds were built in five congested neighborhoods, and demonstrated the use of small areas for recreational purposes. These playgrounds were designed and equipped to meet the present-day needs of the children, and to enable directors to conduct a wide range of activities with a minimal amount of supervision.”

On August 11, 1934 Parks Commissioner Robert Moses presided as Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia delivered an address to open this playground and ten others throughout the city via radio broadcast on WNYC, WNEW, and WOV. Following the speech the American flag was raised simultaneously at the various playgrounds. Every park but one was outfitted with a standard list of features: play house, flagpole, chlorinated footbath, wading pool, handball and basketball courts, play equipment, drinking fountains, shade trees, and shrubs.

In 1936 Mayor LaGuardia named the playground for Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly (1862-1934), a pioneering surgeon and philanthropist. Dr. Kelly was born in Ireland and emigrated to the United States in 1873. She studied at the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, which had been founded by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the United States. Dr. Kelly’s direction of a clinic for the poor and her outspoken support for Irish Independence made her a prominent figure in the Chelsea community. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement and was a member of the Irish Women's Council.

Plans were drawn up in 1966 to remove the wading pool and add new play equipment, such as a helical slide and arch climbers. New curvilinear walls softened the harsh angles of the playground. In 1975 the comfort station was reconstructed. A 1984 renovation project focused on the east half of the park to provide new handball and basketball courts, showers, play equipment, community planting bed, and a rectilinear sitting area to the southeast.

In 1998-99 the playground was reconstructed at a cost of $553,000 funded by former Council Member (now State Senator) Thomas Duane. The new plan extends the design of the sitting area throughout the western portion of the site. The new spray shower is decorated with three elements that pay tribute to Dr. Kelly. Representing her place of birth are clover leaves and a Celtic-styled dog. Representing her career is the caduceus; the two snakes twined around a staff is an ancient Greek emblem adopted by the medical profession. Other improvements include play equipment, benches, security lighting, trees, water fountain, pavement, and drainage and water supply.

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