This playground honors Andrew J. Reiff (1887-1963), community activist and president of the Ridgewood-Metropolitan Civic Association of Queens for over 30 years. Reiff played a leading role in disputes over land development in his neighborhood of Maspeth. The park that bears his name owes its existence to his dedicated efforts.
Maspeth is the site of the earliest organized settlement in Queens, settled in 1642 by a group under the leadership of Reverend Francis Doughty (1605-1648). The name of the area is a word of the Mespaechtes tribe, meaning "bad water place," or "scattered settlement." Although a Native American attack destroyed the town the year after settlement, settlers returned in 1652 and established the village of Middleburgh.
In this century, the residents of the Maspeth area have had to fight for green spaces among expansive industrial and commercial influences. When the city acquired this property in 1944, the community hoped to create a recreational facility. After an addition and elimination project, the barren land, which is bounded by Mount Olivet Crescent, 59th Avenue, 63rd Street, and Fresh Pond Road, was shifted 50 feet to the east. Short-lived proposals for the construction of a health center failed, and the Board of Education proposed to use the site for a new Intermediate School, which would become I.S. 349.
The local Community Planning Board and the local School Board voted against the existence of the new intermediate school, but the Board of Education overruled them both. In one of the most heated political battles in Maspeth’s history, the school issue was debated for well over two years, making newspapers across the city. The Board of Education planned the new intermediate school as a state-of-the-art educational facility, and argued that it would foster "better ethnic distribution of children."
The community organizations had several other suggestions for the use of this land. First, if a school was to be built, they wanted a high school to relieve the population stress on nearby Grover Cleveland High School. They were also opposed to the substantial influx of people a new intermediate school would bring, fearing community disruption. Above all, they wanted the land to be used for a park for the neighborhood children, citing the overwhelming number of youths interested in Little League baseball and the inadequate number of playing fields.
Under the leadership of Reiff and others, Maspeth residents won their point. The Board of Education was denied the land, which was designated as a park in 1964. In 1969, the City Council of New York passed a local law to name the park Andrew J. Reiff Memorial Playground, later shortened to Reiff Playground.
Today, the park boasts spacious baseball fields renovated in 1994 with $317,000 in funds from Borough President Claire Shulman, adventure play equipment, two handball courts, a spray shower, and a comfort station. In 1999, with the help $96,000 in mayoral funds, the asphalt was redone and new play equipment with safety surfacing was installed. New handball courts and pipe rail fencing were installed in the spring of 2000 with $8,723 in mayoral funds. Local schoolchildren and the Reiff Park Sports Association enjoy using the recreation facilities of the park.