This playground is bounded by East 81st and 82nd Streets, Avenue J, and Flatlands Avenue. It stands near Intermediate School 68, also known as the Bildersee School. Both the playground and school are named for Dr. Isaac Bildersee (1887-1952), the widely known assistant superintendent of Brooklyn public schools during the 1940s. Born and bred in New York City, Dr. Bildersee was one of a family of educators. His sisters, Adele and Dorothy, were a founding Dean of Brooklyn College and principal of Brooklyn’s P.S. 217, respectively. Following his graduation from City College in 1905, Dr. Bildersee would launch a 47-year career as a dedicated teacher and administrator in the New York City public school system. Bildersee taught in three Manhattan elementary schools, followed by a brief stint teaching English at De Witt Clinton High School. In 1922, he began his administrative career as principal of P.S. 205 in Brooklyn, and of Brooklyn’s Seth Low Junior High School from 1929-1946.
Dr. Isaac Bildersee was appointed assistant superintendent of Brooklyn’s public schools in 1946, a position he would occupy until his death in 1952. In December 1947, he issued a controversial order banning the singing of Christmas carols with strong religious connotations in twenty-three of Brooklyn’s public schools. The mandate also included the removal of any religious symbols, decorations, or references to the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. The order quickly sparked controversy among many groups, including the Department of Education, the Commission on Moral and Civic Affairs of the City Protestant Council, and the Catholic War Veterans of New York.
While some groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Council, favored the ban, many opposed it; including the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus, calling the order “an insult to Christmas.” Bildersee insisted the ban’s intent was not to discourage holiday celebration, but an effort to protect the beliefs of all religious groups. He cited both United States and New York State constitutional mandates to maintain a separation of church and state as the core reasoning of his order.
On December 5, 1947, Superintendent William Jansen of Brooklyn public schools issued an official letter suspending Bildersee’s order. Jansen ruled that schools would hold holiday events deemed appropriate by the individual schools’ principals. He also wrote “It is expected, as always, that the principle of freedom of religious worship will be respected.” At the age of 65, Dr. Isaac Bildersee died on August 23, 1952 in Star Lake, NY, leaving behind his wife Selena and three children.
The City of New York acquired this property in 1960 to build a playground adjacent to the construction of the Bildersee School. I.S. 68 was built to relieve overcrowding in the nearby Junior High School 211 due to the rapid population growth of the Canarsie neighborhood. The playground opened November 23, 1965 as the I.S. 68 Playground – jointly operated by NYC Parks and the Department of Education. In 1985, the property was renamed after the adjacent school. The park received improvements in 2019 including a new synthetic turf and reconstructed basketball courts, with drinking fountains and misting stations, landscaping and a new entrance—further honoring Bildersee’s legacy of dedication to the schools of New York City.