Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground

Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground

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

Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly (1862-1934), a pioneer surgeon and philanthropist, was born in Ireland and emigrated to the United States in 1873. She studied at the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children which was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the United States. Dr. Kelly's direction of a clinic for the poor and her outspoken support for Irish independence made her a prominent figure in the Chelsea community. Kelly was also active in the women's suffrage movement and was a member of the Irish Women's Council. 

This parcel of land—located one hundred feet west of Ninth Avenue between 16th Street and 17th Street—was granted to the Public School Society in 1853. It was the site of old P.S. 11 until 1933 when the school was demolished, and a new building was erected on 21st Street. Jurisdiction of the property then passed to the Department of Parks. In 1934, the site was developed as one of five “model playgrounds” in the five boroughs. According to a press release issued by Parks, “Model playgrounds were built in five congested neighborhoods, and demonstrated the use of small areas for recreational purposes. These playgrounds were designed and equipped to meet the present-day needs of the children, and to enable directors to conduct a wide range of activities with a minimal amount of supervision.”

On August 11, 1934, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses presided as Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia delivered an address to open this playground and ten others throughout the city via radio broadcast on WNYC, WNEW, and WOV. Following the speech the American flag was raised simultaneously at the various playgrounds. Every park but one was outfitted with a standard list of features: play house, flagpole, chlorinated footbath, wading pool, handball and basketball courts, play equipment, drinking fountains, shade trees, and shrubs.

Plans were drawn up in 1966 to remove the wading pool and add new play equipment, such as a helical slide and arch climbers. New curvilinear walls softened the harsh angles of the playground. In 1975, the comfort station was reconstructed and in 1984 a renovation project focused on the east half of the park to provide new handball and basketball courts, showers, play equipment, community planting bed, and a rectilinear sitting area to the southeast.

In 1998-99, the playground was reconstructed expanding the sitting area on the west side and upgrading benches, lighting, pavement, plantings, and drainage systems. A spray shower decorated with three elements paying tribute to Dr. Kelly was added. Clover leaves and a Celtic-styled dog represent Kelly’s place of birth, while her career was symbolized by the caduceus: two snakes twined around a staff, an ancient Greek emblem adopted by the medical profession.

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Directions to Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground

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