Cunningham Park

Redwood Playground

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

Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees on earth, often reaching heights of more than 300 feet and measuring 10 to 20 feet in diameter. They take 400 to 500 years to reach maturity, and some redwoods currently living are over 1,500 years old, making them among the oldest living organisms on earth.  As redwoods age, they lose their lower limbs, leaving a tall, columnar trunk. The tallest and healthiest examples are found in the fog belt that stretches from Northern California to Oregon.  The closest redwood to this playground is a lacquered and preserved cross-section in the American Museum of Natural History. The playground’s name is based on an anecdote about Cunningham Park.

Glaciers carved out the rolling terrain of Cunningham Park nearly 20,000 years ago.  Archaeological evidence indicates that the first people to settle in this area arrived around 5,000 BCE.  These Native Americans, ancestors of the Matinecocks, fished, hunted, and later farmed near the shores of Little Neck and Flushing Bays.  In the early 1600s, the Dutch and the English began arriving here.  During the American Revolution, British soldiers occupied the area and cut down most of the native forest for firewood.  Eastern Queens remained rural until the economic boom and population explosion of the first half of the 20th century.

To accommodate the influx of people from the city to the suburbs, new parks were created and new roads were laid out.  Between 1928 and 1944, the City of New York combined several adjoining parcels of land in order to establish what was originally called Hillside Park.  One of the more notable parcels had been the site of the nation's first automobile highway.  William K. Vanderbilt Jr. (1878-1944) built the 48-mile private toll road in 1908 which was said to be the world’s first road designed and built for the automobile. During Prohibition, bootleggers made extensive use of it.  By 1938, competition from the newly expanded public highway system put the parkway out of business.  The property was donated to the city as parkland.  Today, Vanderbilt’s former parkway provides a tree-lined path for walkers, joggers, and bicycle riders to enjoy.

In 1934, Hillside Park was renamed for W. Arthur Cunningham (1894-1934).  Born in Manhattan, Cunningham grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended St. James’s Academy.  He earned his L.L.B. degree from Fordham Law School in 1915, but postponed a legal career to serve his country in World War I.  Cunningham distinguished himself in combat as a major in the 69th (later 165th) Regiment, American Expeditionary Force.  After the war, he served as counsel and later vice president to the Textile Banking Corporation.  Then, in 1933, he was elected City Comptroller on Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia’s (1882-1947) ‘Fusion’ ticket.  But on May 5, 1934, Cunningham died suddenly of a heart attack while horseback riding on Long Island.  The horse’s name, it is said, was Redwood.

Redwood Playground is designed for small children.  There are two sets of adventure play equipment, with ladders, bridges, and platforms to climb and explore.  The playground also contains swings, a spray shower, a drinking fountain, and benches.

Directions to Cunningham Park

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