Captain Rivera Playground

Captain Rivera Playground

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

This playground honors Captain Manuel Rivera, Jr. (1959-1991), a South Bronx native and one of the first casualties of the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991). Rivera grew up in the nearby John Adams Houses in Melrose. From a young age, his goal was to become a pilot. By age 26, the ambitious young man had finished flight training, ascending the ranks of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Rivera died in action on January 22, 1991, when his Harrier jet crashed during a training run over the Gulf. Hundreds of South Bronx residents gathered at St. Anselm’s Church to mourn the death of a local hero and community leader, the first New Yorker lost in the Persian Gulf.

As one of the highest-ranking Latino officers in the military at the time, Rivera was a symbol of success to many in the Forest Avenue area and the South Bronx. Not one to rest on his laurels, Rivera had been pursuing new goals when he died. An aspiring astronaut, he had recently been selected by NASA for training. After his death, President George H. Bush (b. 1924, President 1989-93) spoke of the South Bronx native as “an accomplished Marine pilot” who “has taken his place in the stars, so that we might find a better way on Earth.” A scholarship named for Rivera, sponsored by Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo and L&M Equity, is awarded annually to similarly high-achieving Latino students.

This playground site, on Forest Avenue and East 156th Street, was ceded to the City in 1958 and developed as parkland almost immediately. On February 13, 1959 the playground opened as the St. Mary’s Houses Playground. On April 15, 1991, less than three months after Captain Rivera’s death, Council Members Castaneira-Colon, Ward, Robles, and Vallone sponsored a local law renaming the park in his memory.

In 1991, Mayor Giuliani funded a $922,075 renovation that added new sky-blue and brick-red basketball courts to the existing play equipment, a flagpole with a yardarm, a comfort station, and handball courts that Rivera enjoyed in his youth. Other new additions to the playground included a stepped amphitheater, a kiosk, an adult fitness course, a spray shower, new play surfaces, and game tables.

Park Information

Directions to Captain Rivera Playground

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