Marlboro Playground, and the surrounding housing complex, takes its name from a sub-community built by the Brooklyn Development Company in the early part of the 20th century. Taking their cue from Gravesend, named after a British town, many of the area real estate developers gave their new sub-divisions very distinguished-sounding English names, creating an impression of high status and exclusivity to attract potential residents. Developers may have chosen the name Marlboro to refer to the nearby community of Borough Park, although the new neighborhood received the more Americanized spelling. Some Bensonhurst residents still recall a time when part of their neighborhood was referred to as “Marlboro.”
The name receives its traditional spelling in Marlborough Road and Marlborough Court, located in the Prospect Park South area, where British names like Albemarle, Westminster, and Buckingham pervade the street grid. Marlborough is the name of a large town in England, in the County of Wiltshire, and various Dukes of Marlborough visited New York on several occasions.
In 1895, socialite Consuelo Vanderbilt, heiress to the great Vanderbilt fortune, married the ninth Duke of Marlborough against her will. Her family promised her to the Duke when she was only 17, as was the custom among high society. Her father, William K. Vanderbilt, greatly desired that his only daughter become a duchess, while the Duke desired the impressive dowry offered by one of the richest families in the world. Rumors circulated that the Oakdale Railroad Station in Queens was built especially for their wedding guests, although the Long Island Railroad denied that the wedding had anything to do with the new construction. The reluctant Duchess of Marlborough dissolved the marriage after 11 years, due to extreme distaste, not only for the Duke, but for the whole of British aristocracy.
The City of New York acquired this property in southern Brooklyn through condemnation in 1952. The Marlboro Houses were built here one year later as part of the City’s urban renewal plans to tear down dilapidated tenements, and replace them with modern new apartment tower communities. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) built this complex to house a total of 6800 persons – that’s about 1800 families or 194 persons per acre. As in all NYCHA building complexes, parkland was a vital part of the design, and this playground is definitely at the heart of Marlboro Houses.
The park, located at West 11th Street and Avenue W, offers recreational opportunities for the residents of the 28 buildings in this complex. Basketball courts, handball courts, swings, slides, and seesaws welcome both children and adults. A sandpit and a wading pool that were originally part of the park have been removed and new play equipment with safety surfacing was installed in 1996 with $158,950 in funding from Mayor Giuliani. The handball courts were repaired and repaved in 1997 with $21,800 in funding from City Councilman Howard L. Lasher. The nearby community garden provides additional open space. On July 27, 1998, the garden received the name John DeCarlo Garden in honor of NYCHA maintenance worker John DeCarlo (1952-1997), who was shot and killed in 1997 while on duty. Residents, staff, and friends of the Marlboro Houses erected the plaque that commemorates the life of this beloved employee.
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