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May 2003 - Capital Project of the Month

RUSSELL SAGE PLAYGROUND



Designer: Frank Strauch

Specifications: Susan Ellis

Environmental: Han Lee, Peter Williams

Electrical - Michael Enitan: Magary Aime

Survey - Gurdat Bhagroo: Michael D'Ambrosia, Margarita Karpman



diagram of the construction plans for Russell Sage Playground


Russell Sage Playground is located within Community Board No. 6 and Council District No. 29 in the borough of Queens. The playground is approximately 1.469 acres and is adjacent to multi-family residences from two to twenty stories high. Russell Sage Playground is located between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard in the neighborhood of Forest Hills adjacent to Russell Sage School (Junior High School 190).


This Council funded project is intended to reconnect two play areas that are presently separated by a change in elevation. In addition, it will provide the community with new play equipment and swings to comply with current safety standards and the laws governing ADA compliance.

The reconstruction of the park will include a new spray shower area and new trees, shrubs and perennials will be planted along with the transplantation of some trees. Existing chain link fences will be reconstructed with new mesh and new pavements, curbs, walls, fences, benches, water and drainage fixtures, will be installed. Thematic elements drawing on the unique history of the site and its namesake will give the park a unique identity.


Site History


The playground is in an area that was first named "Whitepot," supposedly because the land had originally been purchased from the Indians for three white clay pots, although the name has also been attributed to the Dutch word "put," meaning pit. The name was changed to Forest Hills in 1906 when the Cord Meyer Company purchased 600 acres of farmland that belonged to Ascan Bakus, Casper Joost-Springsteen, Horatio N. Squire, Abram V.S. Lott, Sarah V. Bolmer, and James van Siclen.

Illustration of design for new fence at Russell Sage Playground


In 1908, 150 acres were sold to the Russell Sage Foundation in order to create a planned community called Forest Hills Gardens. At the outset of its construction it was the goal of the Foundation to build a model garden community for all classes of society. Ultimately, construction costs became so expensive that only the well-to-do were able to buy homes in Forest Hills Gardens.

Russell Sage (1816-1906) was a financier and railroad tycoon who left a philanthropic legacy. He began as a clerk in his brother's grocery store in Troy, New York, and in 1839 opened his own wholesale grocery business. He acted as treasurer of Rensselaer County from 1844 to 1851, and in 1852 he was elected to Congress on the Whig ticket. He served until 1857 when he took over as vice-president of the La Crosse Railroad in Wisconsin, a company that he had lent money while in office.

In 1863, Sage moved to New York City where he was among the first people to speculate on stocks through "puts" and "calls." These are stock options that allow investors to reserve stocks at a set price without investing the entire amount initially. He amassed a fortune through his railroad and telegraph ventures in collaboration with the financier Jay Gould (1836-1892). Gould was a successful railroad man, but also partly to blame for the Black Friday financial panic of 1869 when he attempted to corner the gold market.

Through mergers and stock manipulation, Sage controlled 15,000 miles of railways by 1883, including the entire New York City elevated system. He also shared control of the Western Union Telegraph Company with Gould. In 1891, a man entered Sage's office and demanded $1.2 million, threatening to explode dynamite. When Sage refused, the man detonated the dynamite, killing himself but leaving Sage mostly unharmed.

At the time of his death in 1906, Sage was worth more than $70 million. His wife Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage donated much of the money to philanthropic organizations, such as the YMCA, the YWCA, Women's Hospital, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She also established the Russell Sage Foundation, which is an important contributor to research in the social sciences, and founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York.

The Russell Sage Foundation was created in 1907 to support "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States." It looked to urban planning, social work, and labor reform as a way to improve society. The foundation's first large project was the Pittsburgh Survey, a watershed effort in the use of surveys in social work. Notable among the grants donated by the Russell Sage Foundation was the $1.2 million support for the 1929 plan for the New York metropolitan area by the Regional Plan Association (RPA). This plan brought together many pioneers of urban planning and allowed them to produce one of the most in-depth studies of a metropolitan area ever conducted, with details ranging from transportation to business to open space. The plan was released on the eve of the Great Depression, however, and met many obstacles.

Nevertheless, the RPA plan funded by the Russell Sage Foundation provided many of the ideas used by Robert Moses, who, among his other posts, was Parks Commissioner from 1934 to 1960. At the height of his career, Moses controlled most aspects of public housing, urban renewal and construction (highways, bridges, tunnels, parks). This enabled him to transform much of the city, shaping New York as we know it today.

The City bought the land for this park, located on Booth Street between 68th Avenue and 68th Drive, for recreational and educational purposes in 1950. The park was originally known as JHS 190 Playground. Since the school is also named Russell Sage School the name of the park was changed to Russell Sage Playground in 1985.