Playground of the Americas
Playground of the Americas
From White Street to Central Park South, Sixth Avenue is known as Avenue of the Americas. It was so named by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1945 to celebrate the unity of the Western Hemisphere. Because New York City played a critical role in fostering Pan-Americanism, lampposts along the avenue bear symbols of the different Western nations. At 59th Street, statues of Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín, and José Martí, donated by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, and Cuba, stand at the entrance to Central Park. Each statue has its own plaza, designed by Gilmore D. Clarke. There is a statue of Brazil’s revolutionary, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, on the Avenue of the Americas near the entrance to Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd Streets. The name was almost changed back to Sixth Avenue in 1984 to make it easier for tourists, but some New Yorkers protested the change, and Sixth Avenue remains officially Avenue of the Americas.
Playground of the Americas is located on West Houston Street between MacDougal Street and Avenue of the Americas. Houston Street honors the American patriot William Houstoun (1755-1813). Houstoun was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of Sir Patrick Houstoun, who was a Scottish member of Georgia’s royal colonial government. William Houstoun received a liberal education, which included legal training at London’s Inner Temple. When the Revolutionary War erupted in 1775, he returned from London to his predominantly royalist family in Georgia. Against his father’s will, Houstoun supported the colonists’ grievances, and later championed armed resistance. Following the colonial victory in 1783, he served as a Georgia delegate to the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1786. In 1785, Houstoun settled Georgia’s border dispute with South Carolina. He also attended the Constitutional Convention for approximately two months during 1787. In 1788, he married Mary Bayard. Following his death, William Houstoun was interred at St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard in New York City.
In the 1790s, Mary Bayard’s father, Nicholas Bayard III, constructed a street that ran east-west through a tract of land he owned, and named it after his son-in-law. In 1833, Houstoun Street was extended to North Street, which at the time was the city’s northernmost border on the East Side, and North Street was officially renamed Houstoun Street. In 1858, Houstoun Street was connected to Hammersley Street to its west, and Hammersley Street, too, was subsequently renamed. The current spelling of the street, Houston, is a corruption; the last correct spelling of the street’s name was recorded in 1811. Because of this, the street name is often erroneously associated with Sam Houston (1793-1863), the commander of the Texan forces during the Texas War for Independence.
In 1925, the City of New York acquired this property and transferred it to the Department of Transportation as part of a Sixth Avenue renovation. The Board of Estimate placed the parcel under Parks jurisdiction in May 1934. It remained unnamed until February 1998, when Parks designated it Houston Plaza. In 2000, it was renamed Playground of the Americas.
The park features seal animal play sculptures, a water fountain, benches, and several London planetrees. A ground plaque dedicates the park as the “Playground of the Americas” in reference to Sixth Avenue’s full name.