Lion's Pride Playground
Riverdale Ave. bet. Van Sinderen Ave. and Snediker Ave.
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Lion’s Pride Playground
This East New York playground, on Riverdale Avenue between Van Sinderen and Snediker Avenues, is named in honor of the lion, (panthera leo), an animal long celebrated as the “King of Beasts.” Inspiring awe in people for thousands of years with its power and beauty, the lion, native to Africa and Asia, is also famous for its fiercely close-knit social grouping: the pride.
Sociable animals, lions typically live in prides of up to 35 cats, including as many as 5 males, several lionesses, and their cubs. Adult lions typically grow up to 9 feet in length and can weigh over 500 pounds. Each pride lives and hunts within its own 15 square-mile territory. The lions may separate temporarily to go on individual hunting forays; they reunite by rubbing cheeks. Prides remain largely intact for years, diminishing in population only when fathers chase their 3 year-old sons out so they will found new prides of their own. While the Asiatic lion from India’s Gir Forest is endangered, African lions are now thriving in wildlife preserves where no lion hunting is permitted.
The neighborhood now known as East New York was once called Ostwout, Dutch for east woods. Farmers in search of new land moved here from Flatbush in the 1670s and named it New Lots, to differentiate it from Old Lots, then a part of Flatbush. Dutch farmers tilled the land through the Revolutionary War and well into the 19th century. Their New Lots Community Church, built in 1824, remains standing on New Lots Avenue today. Connecticut merchant John Pitkin, hoping to create a cosmopolitan annex of Manhattan, purchased much of the land of New Lots in 1835, named it East New York, and immediately built a shoe factory there. Because his development plans were forestalled by the Panic of 1837, growth was limited until the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 and the construction of a subway line to the area in 1922.
East New York was densely populated by new immigrants from Germany, Italy, Russia, Poland, and Lithuania by the middle of the century. In the 1960s, the neighborhood fell into decay. The community’s determined efforts at revitalization, beginning in 1980 with the construction of the East Brooklyn Industrial Park, have given the neighborhood renewed spirit and vitality. The East New York Urban Youth Corps was involved in initiating the need for this park: like a pride of lions, this community fights together for what it needs.
Lion’s Pride Playground, acquired by the City of New York in 1929, was named RSVP by Parks in 1997, as an abbreviation for Riverdale, Snediker, and Van Sinderen Playground. Parks renamed the playground in 1998, when a $760,000 series of renovations funded by Mayor Giuliani began. The reconstruction, finished in 1999, gave the playground a lion theme: yellow play equipment evokes the lion’s golden mane while a lion water basin adds to the atmosphere. A new drinking fountain, tot swings, spray showers, benches, and a yardarm flagpole make Lion’s Pride Playground a welcome recreational oasis in the midst of a busy neighborhood.