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Murphy's Brother's Playground

Murphy's Brother's Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Located near the waterfront of Manhattan’s old Gas House District, this playground has been known by at least three different names over the course of its ninety-five year history. The City of New York originally acquired this land in 1857 and 1861, and the Department of Docks and Ferries filled and improved the western parcel in 1893. After an Act of the Legislature transferred the parcel to the Department of Parks in 1903, it was planted, fenced, and improved as a playground. During its early years, the site was known as the 17th Street Park.

In 1921 the Board of Aldermen named the park for politician and businessman John J. Murphy (1865-1911). The son of Irish immigrants, Murphy was one of eight brothers and sisters who was raised on the east side of Manhattan. He served as an alderman and as the acting Democratic leader of the 12th Assembly District. Murphy made his fortune as president of the New York Contracting and Trucking Company, which had a contract to excavate the site for Penn Station. His good fortune in business and politics resulted in large part from his more remarkable brother, Charles Francis Murphy (1858-1924), the sachem of Tammany Hall.

A 1930s plan of Murphy Park indicates a fully developed playground with a variety of athletic facilities and play equipment for younger children. Surrounded by an iron picket fence, the grounds featured grassy plots, curving walks, and an open pavillion, which was probably used for outdoor concerts, classes, and other gatherings. The eastern parcel was backfilled during construction of the East River Drive in 1938 and officially transferred to Parks in 1947.

In 1985 new park signage saluted the achievements of the illustrious older brother, Charles. This Murphy attended local public schools until the age of fourteen and formed the Sylvan Social Club for boys. After working at wire factories, in a shipyard, and on the Blue Line streetcars, Murphy opened his first saloon in 1878. Serving a bowl of soup and a beer for a nickel, his various saloons were social centers in the Gas House District. Murphy established himself as a friend and adviser of neighborhood workers and politicians, and he quickly rose as a popular and powerful political player in his own right.

Having backed several candidates from Tammany Hall, Murphy was made election district captain for the Democratic organization. He earned a series of appointments, including leader of the 18th Assembly District (1892) and Dock Commissioner (1898). Named to the Tammany Hall Triumvirate of Executive Committee Members in May 1902, Murphy became Tammany’s sole leader four months later. “Silent Charlie” brokered agreements between warring parties in his organization and helped numerous Tammany candidates win city, state, and national offices. Six years after his death in 1924, the Charles F. Murphy Memorial Flagpole was dedicated in Union Square.

The park benefited from a substantial capital reconstruction in 1992-94. The improvements included the installation of new tee-ballfields, basketball court, playground equipment, hopscotch squares, benches, safety surfacing, pavements, and curbs. Four Norway maple trees were planted at the playground. On October 6, 1994, a group of about one hundred community leaders, elected officials, Parks representatives, children from the Epiphany School, and their teachers and friends gathered to rededicate the renovated playground and to celebrate the brothers Murphy: Charles Francis and John J.

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