Downing Street Playground
Sir Winston Churchill Square
This garden and sitting area borders Downing Street and the west side of Sixth Avenue. It was named by Parks in honor of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965), whose official residence, located at 10 Downing Street in London, shares the name of one of the streets bordering this square. Churchill’s speeches from his official residence at London’s 10 Downing Street inspired the world during some of the twentieth century’s darkest hours during World War II. He is one of only three people made an honorary citizen of the United States by Congress. The others are Raoul Wallenberg and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Sir Winston Churchill’s career as an author, journalist, painter, politician and statesman spanned the late nineteenth century and a good deal of the twentieth century. Born on November 30, 1874, Churchill was the eldest son of Lord Randolph and Lady Jeannette Churchill. His mother, formerly Jeanette Jerome (1854-1921) was a New Yorker, a fact of which Winston was deeply proud. After graduating from the Royal Military College, Churchill was commissioned into the Royal Army in 1894. Five years later, as a war correspondent in the Boer War, he was captured. Following his subsequent escape, Churchill became a national hero, a role he would cultivate for the next sixty years through ceaseless, extraordinary service in the British government.
Churchill is best known for his role as Prime Minister of England during World War II. Always wary of the Nazi power, he refused to make peace until Hitler was defeated, a decision which proved instrumental to the ultimate Allied victory. His fortitude and wisdom in the War incidentally earned him the ultimate New York City honor, a ticker-tape parade up Broadway in 1946. That same year, on a visit to Fulton, Missouri, Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Curtain” in reference to the Soviet Union’s expansionist tendencies.
In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his writing and oratory, and in 1963, he was declared an honorary U.S. citizen by an Act of Congress. Although he refused a peerage, his wife, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, whom he married in 1908, accepted one in 1965 for her public service. A member of parliament until the year before his death, Churchill will forever hold a place in annals of twentieth century history, for his vitality, imagination, boldness, and most of all, his ability to lead the world into peace.
Parks purchased this .05-acre parcel in 1943. The sitting area, designed by George Vellonakis, was rebuilt from 1998 to 1999 to incorporate garden spaces, a pedestal mounted armillary and a decorative, gated iron fence. The Bedford Downing Block Association continues to be an important force behind the maintenance and upkeep of Churchill Square, ensuring that it remains the peaceful oasis that it is now for years to come.