Martin F. Tanahey Playground
Located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, this playground was named for local civic and political leader Martin F. Tanahey (1874-1930). Born and raised in this Lower East Side neighborhood, Tanahey held various public offices over 22 years. He served as chief clerk in the Labor Department of the State of New York and later became assistant appraiser of the Port of New York, the busiest port in the world for the first half of the 20th century. He also was an assistant government appraiser in President Woodrow Wilson's administration. In 1922, Tanahey was elected to the Board of Alderman from District 1, which includes the Lower East Side, and remained an alderman the rest of his life. Tanahey was a chief lieutenant of Democratic Party leader Thomas F. Foley (1852-1925), a saloonkeeper and politician associated with Tammany Hall for whom nearby Foley Square is named. Martin F. Tanahey died of pneumonia at his home at 177 Cherry Street in 1930.
The land occupied by this playground was acquired by condemnation for park purposes on October 17, 1949. The park opened on October 11, 1952, and was named Martin F. Tanahey Playground by local law. When built, the playground was divided into separate sections. The sides facing Market and Catherine Slips were originally constructed as sitting areas with chess and checker tables, while the center section was reserved for active recreation, with spaces for basketball, volleyball, paddle tennis, shuffle board, and horseshoe pitching.
Martin F. Tanahey Playground was the third recreational facility to be constructed for the use of residents in the Governor Alfred E. Smith Housing Projects. Smith (1873-1944), known as the “Happy Warrior,” served as a Democrat in the State Assembly from 1904 to 1915 and was named vice-chairman of the Factory Investigating Commission, formed in 1911 after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. During his two terms as governor, Smith was known for his involvement in progressive politics and social reform. He worked to improve worker’s compensation and increase government aid to mothers, infants and dependant children. The statesman also sponsored laws to construct low-cost housing like the Alfred E. Smith Houses, which were built on Smith’s birthplace at 174 South Street.
Since its original construction this playground has gone through several changes and renovations. A 1972 local law transferred a 10-foot wide strip of parkland on the south side of Tanahey Playground from Parks to the Manhattan Borough President’s office to provide for the widening and improvement of Water Street. A 1975 renovation added a roller hockey rink, bocci courts, benches, and a basketball court to the park, and removed an old comfort station. The park maintains three distinct sections. The side near Market Slip is still a sitting area with benches, game tables, and picnic tables. The other end of the park features play equipment for children and black iron art work of swordfish, lobsters, eels, and fish along the gate. Three basketball courts and Rev. Joseph Moffo Rink occupy the middle of the park. New play equipment was added throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and a $433,000 reconstruction of a portion of the playground along Catherine Slip was completed in March 1998