Little Flower Playground
Little Flower Playground
This playground, formerly La Guardia Houses Park, refers to the popular nickname of New York City mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882-1947), Little Flower. The nickname is a literal translation of the Italian mayor’s first name and an allusion to his small physical stature of 5 feet 2 inches. La Guardia, the son of a United States Army bandleader, was born in Little Italy at 177 Sullivan Street. He received his law degree from New York University, was admitted to the bar in 1910 and became the nation’s first Italian American Congressman in 1916. La Guardia held various Congressional posts until 1932, and served as president of New York City’s Board of Aldermen from 1920 to 1921.
Mayor La Guardia was inaugurated on New Year’s Day 1934. Over the next 12 years La Guardia left a distinctive mark on city politics. He unified the public transit system, consolidated and centralized much of the city government, cracked down on illegal gambling, and constructed numerous bridges, parks, and airports. With Robert Moses, his Parks Commissioner, he embarked on an unprecedented expansion of the New York City Parks system throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. La Guardia also served as Director of the Office of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942. Shortly after leaving office in 1945, La Guardia became Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
A bust of La Guardia stands at the southeastern corner of the park. The life-size bronze bust was created in 1934 by sculptor Jo Davidson (1883-1952), who also immortalized in bronze Mohandas Gandhi, James Joyce, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Gertrude Stein. The bust remained in Davidson’s collection until he died in 1952, when the La Guardia Memorial Association purchased it. The monument was dedicated and installed in its present location in 1957, when the La Guardia Houses and the adjoining playground were completed.
The La Guardia Houses complex was part of a late-1950s push for public housing to accommodate people displaced by urban renewal and road construction programs. Its facilities include a senior citizens program, at 2 Cherry Street, and a community center, at 286 South Street.
From 1999 to 2000, Little Flower Playground underwent extensive renovation, including improvements to the park’s fencing, play equipment, basketball courts, handball courts, spray shower, utility lines, drinking fountains, drainage, grading, and curbs. In addition, the monument of the mayor was conserved and relocated within a flowerbed. The $1.2-million renovation was sponsored by Council Member Kathryn E. Freed. The park’s facilities, popular with children and their families, now include swingsets, climbing structures, picnic areas, basketball courts, a large flower mosaic, and a handball court.