Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto Park
From the time that this park opened in 1938, it has been known locally as Smokey Oval Park. In 1987, Parks officially named it Smokey Oval. The name refers to the park’s location, across from a Long Island Railroad terminus which once made it a landing area of soot and ash from the railway smoke. It is also inspired by the oval-shaped mound at the front of the park.
Before the park was constructed, 126th Street and 94th Avenue ran through the parkland in the typical grid pattern. These roadways were closed off to provide for a large open recreational area. In 1944, a strip of the playground’s land, approximately 40 feet long, was deducted from the original acreage by local law to allow for the widening of Atlantic Avenue.
Atlantic Avenue, which bounds the park, is a popular thoroughfare in Richmond Hill. The hill referred to as Richmond Hill was created by the glacier that formed Long Island. The name derives either from a suburban town near London, England, or from Edward Richmond, a landscape architect in the mid-1800s who designed much of the neighborhood. In 1868, a successful banker named Albon P. Man bought the Lefferts and Welling farms, and hired Richmond to lay out the community. Over the next decade, streets, schools, a church, and a railroad were built, making the area one of the earliest residential communities on Long Island. Many of the Queen Anne Victorian homes of old Richmond Hill are still standing in the area today. Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914), the famous documentary author, photographer and reformer, and legendary film stars the Marx brothers lived in Richmond Hill on 134th Street.
The property on which this park stands was acquired on March 11, 1938, by condemnation. Fifty years later, in 1988, the adjoining Atlantic Avenue ballfields were acquired and incorporated into the parkland. The playground offers a number of different recreational activities to a wide span of age groups: play equipment, swings, and hopscotch, basketball, and handball courts. A spray shower, game tables, ballfields, cricket fields and benches also serve the Richmond Hill community. A plaque in front of the comfort station commemorates this playground as being one of hundreds of parks and playgrounds built throughout the five boroughs during the era of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1934-1960).
The community uses the park for many purposes. In 1998, a Park Awareness Day was held in Smokey Oval Park featuring family entertainment and food donated by local businesses. In addition, Agenda 21, a neighborhood political organization, has held several community days at Smokey Oval that bring in the Wenger Wagon. A Parks favorite, nicknamed for its manufacturer, the trailer holds a mobile stage unit that incorporates food, music, and dance into an event. The Federation of Indian Associations holds its annual “Phagwah Parade” celebration at the park. Phagwah is the “festival of colors” and is celebrated by people of Indian origin throughout the world. It commemorates the legend of the king who forced his own son to worship him as a god and celebrates the divine forces of good that protected the young boy from the evil forces in his father. The festival urges all peoples to bring color into their life and rejoice in goodness and beauty. The Indo-Carribean Federation also holds an annual concert at Smokey Oval to celebrate their heritage. As host to a variety of cultural and recreational activities, Smokey Oval is an important gathering place for the community.