Westwood Park would not exist today were it not for the building of the Staten Island Expressway. In 1945, New York City Parks Commissioner and Arterial Coordinator Robert Moses (1888-1981) added the proposal for a Clove Lakes Expressway to the City’s arterial development program. Local officials had identified such a road as a priority in the 1930s. The execution of their master plan, published in 1941, was put on hold during World War II. In April 1957, State and City officials approved the proposed route and designated it Interstate 278. During the five-year construction of the expressway, 400 buildings were razed and approximately 3,500 neighborhood residents displaced.
Among the new land acquired by the City were these 6.6 acres, and 6 other parcels of land. Today, they comprise some of the neighborhood’s best-used green spaces including Bradys Pond Park, Sports Park, Father Macris Park, and Ingram Woods. In order to create Westwood Park, the section of Crafton Avenue between Westwood and South Gannon Avenues was closed.
The entire expressway project was completed at a cost of $41 million. In 1964 the road was renamed the Staten Island Expressway. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, the Staten Island Expressway is traversed by 130,000 vehicles a day. In areas of intense use, the road sees as many as 170,000 vehicles each day. The Todt Hill section of the Staten Island Expressway is distinguished by its “ramps to nowhere” originally intended to connect the Expressway to the Korean War Veterans Parkway. In 1966 Mayor Lindsay halted all construction on the parkway north of Richmond Avenue, and Parks commissioned a study to determine a route with the least “social cost.” An alternate route was proposed but disputed, and the extension was never built.
In its close connection to the history of the expressway, Westwood Park tells of the works of “Master Builder” Robert Moses. In his five decades of public service, Moses held twelve different City and State positions including Parks Commissioner, Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), and New York City Construction Coordinator. He presided over unprecedented development of New York City’s physical landscape, both its greenspaces and its vehicular routes. From 1934 to 1960, when he served as Parks Commissioner, park acreage more than doubled to 34,673 acres. In his effort to bring New York into the automobile era, Moses constructed 416 miles of highway and 13 bridges. Westwood Park and the Staten Island Expressway for which this land was acquired, each tell a piece of this history.
For fifteen years after its opening, Westwood Park remained undeveloped. In 1973, Parks and the Sunrise Hill Civic Association, a local community group, joined forces to develop this land into a playground. The association decided that community members would purchase the first equipment to be installed for toddlers, pre-teenagers, and senior citizens. This included a tot basketball court, a Swedish gym/obstacle course, a trail blazer slide, ‘frontier post,’ steam engine replica, park benches, round tables, asphalt, grass and a few trees. The new park, one of the first developed jointly by the City and the community, was named Sunrise Hill Park by Local Law 53 in 1973.
Unfortunately, local teenagers damaged park equipment and trees beyond repair. By 1980, the park had been restored to its natural state. Commissioner Stern later renamed the park Westwood, for the avenue that forms its southern border. Most probably, Westwood Avenue honors Wood, Harmon and Company, the Real Estate firm that purchased and developed much of the land in this area. Westwood Park, which is bounded by Westwood, Woolley, Woodward, and South Gannon Avenues, boasts a full block of lush forest planted with Pin oaks (quercus palustrus), Sweetgum (liquidambar styraciflua), and Sugar maple (acer saccharum) trees.