Bellevue South Park

Bellevue South Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The park is named after Bellevue Hospital, one of the world’s leading medical institutions for more than two centuries. The original hospital opened as an almshouse in 1736 on the lot now occupied by City Hall. In 1811, New York City purchased Belle Vue farms, which is located at 27th Street and 1st Avenue. The land became the Bellevue Institution, in effect, a community center with an almshouse, a pesthouse, a soap factory, a greenhouse, a penitentiary, a school, a morgue, a bakehouse, an icehouse, and a shop for carpenters and blacksmiths. The institution was dedicated in its entirety in1816.

Bellevue had already established a reputation for innovative medical technology by the mid-1800s, and treated soldiers from both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Bellevue doctors pioneered the use of hypodermic syringes (1856), performed the nation's first cesarean section (1867), and developed the first hospital-based ambulance service (1869). Specialized units holding 2,700 total beds, a variety of outpatient clinics, and four schools were founded as the hospital expanded. During World War I and II, Bellevue organized hospital units to serve overseas. Today, the hospital is affiliated with the New York University School of Medicine.

This park actually lies to the west of the hospital complex, not to its south. The misleading name stems from the fact that the original Bellevue Urban Renewal Area was located at Kips Bay Plaza on East 30th Street, and this park lies just to the south of that site. The Bellevue South Urban Renewal Project, which began in 1959, dramatically changed the face of a 17-block area on Manhattan’s East Side, running from 23rd to 30th Streets between First and Second Avenues. This project was a source of much controversy among area residents, some of whom desired rehabilitation of older structures, rather than complete razing and rebuilding. Ultimately, tenements and old factory buildings gave way to a new, vibrant community centered on a complex of eight mixed-income apartment buildings known as Phipps Plaza.

Bellevue South Park was mapped in 1966, a welcomed green space for the increasingly residential neighborhood. The park fell victim to New York City’s severe fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s and was left undeveloped for some time. In the late 1970s, the city agreed to pay for the construction of the park after Community Board Six and residents of the neighborhood promised to cover all of the expenses needed for its maintenance. The park opened in November 1979, and the Better Bellevue Association saw to its maintenance for the next seven years. The Association, a coalition of residents and nearby institutions including the Phipps Plaza Community Center, the Parks Council, the New York City Environmental Fund, and Community Board Six, organizes senior activities, lunchtime concerts, and children’s programs.

The city took control of the park after the worst of the fiscal crisis had passed, and Parks assumed jurisdiction over Bellevue South Park in 1986. A $2 million renovation sponsored by Councilman Antonio Pagan was completed in 1997, transforming the park into its current shape. Improvements included the removal of a concrete wall that had surrounded the park, a significant greening of the interior that replaced concrete and asphalt with trees and plant beds, and the installation of two new playgrounds with safety surfacing. A basketball court, numerous game tables, and new benches were added as well. Designers gave the park a lively and playful atmosphere by including fanciful sculptures of flowers, elves, turtles, and frogs, with sculpted animal tracks laid in the ground.

Directions to Bellevue South Park

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