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Samuel N. Bennerson 2nd Playground

Samuel N. Bennerson Park

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

Samuel N. Bennerson (1923-1970) was a second generation resident of the Phipps Houses, an experiment in low-rent housing erected in the Lincoln Square neighborhood between 1907 and 1911. The son of parents from the Virgin Islands, Bennerson was educated in the New York City public school system and took special training courses in still photography. He spent four years in the Air Force, where he served in Japan. In 1946 Bennerson married Edna Deas of Charleston, South Carolina. Their four children were born in the Phipps Houses, becoming third generation Lincoln Square residents.

Bennerson was a dedicated participant in the political affairs of the Amsterdam-Phipps community, focusing his energies primarily on programs supporting children. An active member of the Lincoln Square Community Council, he served as an athletic coach, mentor, and “neighborhood referee” for Lincoln Square residents. Bennerson also founded and chaired the Betterment League, an organization that worked for a redesigned Amsterdam Playground which would more adequately service the recreational needs of the neighborhood.

The site for a new playground—on the block bounded by West 63rd and West 64th Streets and Amsterdam and West End Avenues—was acquired by the City of New York from the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York in 1941 as part of a package of land designated for the Amsterdam Houses. In 1945 Parks surrendered that site to the Board of Estimate and was assigned a new parcel immediately to the west. The new property, known as Amsterdam Playground for the nearby Amsterdam Houses, was designed by the landscape architecture firm of Cynthia Wiley and Alice Recknagel. The park featured swings, slides, a pipe frame exercise unit, a sand pit, seesaws, and perimeter trees.

The playground was reconstructed in 1982, in part due to the efforts of Bennerson’s Betterment League and the Community Council. The formerly rectilinear layout was shifted 45 degrees so as to suggest an alternative to the surrounding Manhattan grid. The new design featured play equipment and two basketball courts, now recreational centerpieces of the neighborhood.

In 1990 Council Member Ronnie Eldridge introduced the local law which changed the name of the playground from “Amsterdam Playground” to “Samuel N. Bennerson Park.” The name change was enacted upon the request of members of the Lincoln Square community. The City Parks Foundation donated new play equipment which was installed in 1998, along with new safety surfacing provided by a requirements contract.

Today Bennerson Park is home to the Morris Collins Duncan, Jr. Memorial Classic, an annual summer basketball tournament sponsored by the Amsterdam Sports Foundation. The playground is also the site of the annual Charles Davis basketball tournament for young residents of the Amsterdam Houses. Each summer, the neighborhood’s two tenant associations co-sponsor a street fair at the playground. Former residents of the neighborhood are invited to return for the street fair to visit friends and play Old Timers and Reunion Basketball.

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