Sean McDonald (1968-1994) was a rookie police officer killed in the line of duty at twenty-six years of age. McDonald was born in Ireland and moved as a child to Astoria, Queens, where he later graduated from Most Precious Blood Catholic School. When he joined the New York City police force in the early 1990s, he was assigned to the 44th Precinct in the Bronx.
On March 15, 1994, Officer McDonald was standing guard at a condemned building in the Bronx and was notified of a disturbance in a nearby tailor shop. He investigated the situation and disrupted a robbery in progress. As McDonald tried to handcuff one of the perpetrators, he was shot and killed. On June 3, 1995, city officials and Astoria community members gathered to dedicate Sean’s Place in memory of Officer McDonald in the neighborhood where he was raised.
The Fourth Ward Primary School previously occupied the land that is now Sean’s Place. Erected in 1885, this school, also known as P.S. 6, was the first in Long Island City. In 1968, the building was demolished, and jurisdiction over the land was given to the Department of Transportation. Transportation planned to build a parking facility on the site, but when construction stalled, Astoria residents rallied support for the creation of a neighborhood park. They cleared the site of rubble, hired a bulldozer to level the land, erected baseball backstops, and began to use the property for recreational purposes.
In 1971, community members, Parks, and Transportation reached an agreement that allowed for the dual use of the site as a park and a parking lot. Public Works designed the new facility for Parks, and the land was transferred to Parks jurisdiction in 1972. A sitting area with benches and game tables, a tot play area, and basketball, handball, and roller hockey facilities were built. Willow oaks (Quercus phellos) and linden trees (Tilia spp.) were also planted. Sean’s Place and the accompanying parking lot are located on the south side of 38th Street, between 31st Avenue and Broadway.
In the late 1990s, Council Member Peter F. Vallone sponsored two projects to improve Sean’s Place. In 1996, he allocated funds for the installation of new play equipment and a cast stone turtle. In 1998, he again sponsored an extensive $850,000 reconstruction of the playground, installing new curbs, pavement, fences, benches, a drinking fountain, a drainage system, and ten new plantings.
A decorative theme, reminiscent of the marshy landscape of 19th-century Long Island and inspired by the organic motifs of the Art Nouveau style, characterizes this playground. The 1998 renovation also graced the park with cast iron dragonflies and flower petals, a frog spray shower, rosettes set in colorful bluestone and granite pavements, and a flagpole with a yardarm.