Helen Marshall Playground
Helen Marshall Playground
What was here before?
This area of Queens was once home to the Mespachtes tribe, whose name some historians say can be translated as “at the bad water place” relating to the many stagnant swamps that existed in the area. It was consolidated into the New Netherland colony in 1621 as a valuable beaver pelt trading post for the Dutch West India Company and was populated by the company’s employees. In 1640, the grant of a new charter provided rights and privileges to the inhabitants of equal footing with those in Holland. Many emigrants came from Europe and New England fleeing from religious persecution. In 1652, Newtown was established and originally covered the entire northwestern portion of Queens. Queens remained relatively rural for the better part of the 18th and 19th century
How did this site become a playground?
The land was acquired by the City of New York in 1955 through the Board of Estimate. The playground, which is jointly operated by NYC Parks and the Department of Education, opened to the public as Public School 127 Playground in 1957, later renamed the Aerospace Science Academy. In 1985, NYC Parks renamed the park East Elmhurst Playground, and it underwent a complete rehabilitation in 2020. New ball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, skating area, exercise area, and a toddlers’ playground were upgraded.
What is this playground named after?
In 2020, as part of an NYC Parks initiative to expand the representation of African Americans honored in parks, the park was renamed for Helen Marshall (1929-2017), the first African American Queens Borough President (2002-2013). A first-generation native New Yorker, Marshall graduated from CUNY Queens College with a B.A. in education. After working as an early childhood educator for eight years, she co-founded and became the first Director of the Langston Hughes Library in Queens. Marshall became involved in politics in 1974 when she ran for and was elected a Democratic District leader in New York City. In 1982, she was elected to the first of five terms she would serve in the State Assembly. In 1991, Marshall was elected to the City Council as the representative of the 21st District and in November 2001, Marshall was elected the first African American Queens Borough President.
Throughout her career, she championed for affordable housing, economic development, and quality public education. As an East Elmhurst local, she held the annual Family Community festival in this playground. Marshall died in 2017, leaving a legacy as a champion for Queens’ residents.