Freedom Square Playground
Freedom Square is located in the heart of Kew Gardens Hills. This region of central Queens was primarily farmland as late as the early 20th century. Transportation improvements in the 1930s, such as the opening of the Grand Central Parkway and the arrival of the Independent Subway, spurred residential development in the area. Following the success of Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, and Kew Gardens, entrepreneur Abraham Wolosoff purchased land and planned a community of small homes and apartment buildings. According to local legend, he named his development Kew Gardens Hills, because he had enjoyed his stay at a hotel in Kew Gardens, a section of Queens which in turn was named for the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England.
By the time the World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in 1939, more than 1200 homes had been erected in Kew Gardens Hills. Many residential, institutional, and commercial buildings were designed in the Colonial Revival style popular in the mid-20th century. A notable and nearby example from 1953 is the local branch of the Queens County Savings Bank which was modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In the bank’s lobby is a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell, rung on July 4, 1776 to proclaim the Declaration of Independence.
The community of Kew Gardens Hills has a proud history of supporting patriotic and local causes. During World War II neighborhood residents planted a Victory Garden on this site. By cultivating their own vegetables, they aided the war effort and supplemented their rations. Years later, protests by the Queens Valley Homeowners Civic Association and the Queens County Savings Bank halted plans to build a gas station here. The City of New York acquired the site by condemnation in 1954. The park was designed in 1957, and the bank contributed $25,000 for its construction and maintenance in 1958.
In March 1960 the property was named Freedom Square by the City Council. Citizens and politicians gathered at the site that May to dedicate a flagpole which commemorated the centennial of the birth of Theodor Herzl. A Hungarian Jew, Herzl (1860-1904) was the founder of modern Zionism. He supported the establishment of a Jewish national state and organized the first Zionist World Congress in 1897, serving as its president until his death. In 1986 Freedom Square underwent a Spruce-Up that provided new plantings, a fresh coat of paint on the park benches, and general maintenance.
Council Member Morton Povman funded the reconstruction of Freedom Square for $553,000 in 1997. The new design updated the former sitting area with expanded green space, extensive planting, and a new recreational area with modular play equipment, a spray shower, and safety surfacing. Other improvements included new world’s fair benches, yardarm flagpole, steel picket fences, pavements, and a cast-iron drinking fountain. On the east and west entrances to the park, four small piers display cast-stone medallions of doves and olive branches, international symbols of peace.