This park is named after the Leonard W. Jerome (1817-1891), a prominent and wealthy Brooklyn citizen. He was a successful stock speculator, making and losing several fortunes and earning the nickname “King of Wall Street” in the process. He was also principal owner of The New York Times for several years, founder of the American Academy of Music, and maternal grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill. Jerome was an avid sportsman and enjoyed yachting and horseracing. He helped found the American Jockey Club, and he built the Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx in conjunction with his brothers and the financier August Belmont (1816-1890). The track opened on September 25, 1866, and it marked the return of thoroughbred racing to the metropolitan area after a hiatus during the Civil War. The appointments were lavishly built, with a large dining room, magnificent ballroom, and clubhouse accommodations equivalent to those of luxury hotels. In 1867, the Belmont Stakes, one of three major horse races that constitute the Triple Crown, was first held at Jerome Park, and it remained there until 1890. Jerome Park’s urbane attractions came to an end in 1890, when the city condemned the property for the Jerome Park Reservoir for the New Croton Aqueduct.
Jerome’s daughter was Jennie Jerome (1854-1921), mother of Great Britain’s legendary World War II prime minister, Winston Churchill. Jeanette Jerome was born at 426 Henry Street in Brooklyn, and grew up in various residences in New York City. In 1867, her mother took her and her two sisters to Paris, after her father became involved in a scandalous escapade. There she mingled with the European upper classes, and in 1873 she met Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895), a dashing young English nobleman with an immaculate pedigree and strong political ambitions. They married in 1874. Beautiful, witty, and charming, she was an immediate success in British high society. While she did not involve herself in her husband’s political career, she was an outspoken opponent of women’s suffrage, and she and her son Winston were often heckled by enraged suffragettes. After Lord Churchill died in 1895, she occupied herself by editing a short-lived literary magazine and writing several books and plays. She remarried twice and died in 1921.
Jerome Playground was acquired in 1950 by the Board of Estimate and opened in 1955. It was built in conjunction with PS 273, known as the Wortman School, after adjacent Wortman Street. It was renamed Jerome Playground in 1987 after adjacent Jerome Street. In 1998, Borough President Howard Golden spent $350,000 to renovate the playground, adding new play equipment, bench repair, and a flagpole with a yardarm, and Mayor Giuliani spent an additional $36,339 to replace the perimeter sidewalk pavement.
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