Freedom Square Playground
Freedom Square is located in the heart of the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood. As late as the 20th century this central Queens community was predominantly farmland, but the transportation improvements of the 1930s – Grand Central Parkway and the arrival of the Independent Subway – spurred residential development. Following the success of the nearby Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, and Kew Gardens communities, entrepreneur Abraham Wolosoff purchased the surrounding lands and planned a community of similarly modest homes and apartment buildings. According to local legend, Wolosoff named his development Kew Gardens Hills because he had enjoyed his stay at a hotel in Kew Gardens, a section of Queens named for the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England.
By the time the 1939 World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, more than 1,200 homes had been erected in Kew Gardens Hills. Many residential, institutional, and commercial buildings were designed in the Colonial Revival style popular in the mid-20th century. A notable example of this style is the local branch of the Queens County Savings Bank, adjacent to this site, which was built in 1953 and modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The Kew Gardens Hills community has a proud history of supporting patriotic and local causes. During World War II neighborhood residents planted a Victory Garden on this site. By cultivating their own vegetables, they aided the war effort and supplemented their rations. Years later, protests by the Queens Valley Homeowners Civic Association and the Queens County Savings Bank halted plans to build a gas station here. The City of New York acquired this site by condemnation in 1954 and the park was opened in 1957.
In March 1960, the unnamed park was designated Freedom Square by City Council. Citizens and politicians gathered at the site that May to dedicate an ornamental granite base flagpole inlaid with a bronze tablet. Sculpted by renowned artist Joseph DiLorenzo, the bas-relief tablet commemorates the centennial of the birth of Austro-Hungarian journalist and playwright Theodor Herzl (1860-1904). Herzl is regarded as the founder of modern political Zionism and a strong advocate for religious freedom. At the park’s east and west entrances are four small piers that display cast-stone medallions of doves and olive branches, international symbols of peace.
Freedom Square was substantially renovated in 1997. The new design improved upon the former sitting area with expanded green space, extensive new plantings, and a new recreational area with modular play equipment, a spray shower, and safety surfacing. Other additions included new World’s Fair style benches, a yardarm flagpole, steel picket fences, and a cast-iron drinking fountain. The park benefitted most recently from NYC Parks capital funds in 2012, receiving fencing and pavement repairs, sustainable plantings, and new World’s Fair style benches.