Buz O'Rourke Playground
This playground honors James “Buz” O’Rourke (1928-1997), an advisor to Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and a longtime community activist in Bayside. O’Rourke was born in Flushing, Queens and later attended St. Michael’s grammar school in the neighborhood before moving on to Flushing High School. From an early age, O’Rourke was interested in the process of fire fighting, a fascination created by the presence of a fire station behind his boyhood home on 39th Avenue that perhaps inspired his later work for the borough of Queens. Upon graduation from high school, O’Rourke entered the United States Army in 1947. Although he did not take part in any combat, O’Rourke would later make veteran’s assistance part of his efforts in the community of Bayside.
In 1955, O’Rourke, along with his friend Mackey Horan, purchased a bowling alley and bar in the area, which he would later convert into a bar and catering establishment called “Buz and Mac’s.” The next year he married Joan Zimmerman, and in 1962 the couple moved to their home on 212th Street, where they would live for over 30 years. In 1969 O’Rourke opened a liquor store in Flushing that he would own until his death in 1997.
Throughout this time O’Rourke became increasingly involved in his community. He was involved in charitable activities through Sacred Heart Parish, and was named “Man of the Year” by the church in 1978. O’Rourke’s efforts ranged from yearly blood drives for a local boy suffering from hemophilia to the co-formation of an organization known as Project Outreach that helped local youth. O’Rourke also aided the wives of firefighters killed in the line of duty, raised funds for the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and performed various charitable duties for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an organization of Irish-Catholics living in America.
It was his desire to help those in his community that inspired O’Rourke’s interest in government. In 1970, O’Rourke made a successful bid for Democratic District Leader of New York’s 25th Assembly District, a position that he would hold for the next 15 years. In 1981, O’Rourke began his work in the Borough President’s Office, serving as the director for the Office of Constituent Affairs and as Borough President Shulman’s liaison to the City’s uniformed forces. In his work for the borough of Queens, O’Rourke was involved with police, fire, and sanitation issues and handled various complaints from residents.
Despite his many awards and accolades, O’Rourke remained humble. In fact, his modesty was so great that he once arrived in disguise at a ceremony in his honor. Yet he could not hide his reputation as a man who gave much of himself and asked little in return. To honor O’Rourke, Borough President Shulman decided to rebuild this playground in the memory of her friend and co-worker in 1999, and she funded a $867,000 reconstruction that changed the park into its present form.
This playground is part of Crocheron Park, 45.8-acres of land acquired by the City in 1925 and turned into a park in 1936 at the request of the Bayside Civic Association. Today, Parks maintains the site, with help from the O’Rourke family, including Buz’s daughter Cathleen Reilly and her husband Kenneth, as well as other members of the Bayside community. The playground has an aquatic theme, with a spray shower made up of stone clams, two shells carved into the brick and wrought iron entranceway, and a starfish in the middle of the park. The area also contains two sets of play equipment with safety surfacing, two rows of swings, a full basketball court, picnic tables, and two stone game tables. Littleleaf linden trees (Tilia cordata), London planetrees (Platanus x aceritolia), and Goldenrain trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) provide shade for the park’s pathways as well as over 20 World’s Fair benches. The park also contains a plaque commemorating Buz O’Rourke and the work he did for Queens and the residents of Bayside.