Harold Ickes Playground
Harold Ickes Playground
Harold LeClair Ickes (1874-1952) served as Secretary of the Interior in President Roosevelt’s famed New Deal Cabinet, and his energy and determination made him a formidable member. Ickes was born on March 15, 1874 in Frankstown Township, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, eventually becoming a political writer for the Chicago Daily Record in 1897. He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1907 and established himself as an activist, often taking civil liberties cases for no pay. Although listed as a Republican, he frequently crossed party lines, first to support Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign in 1912 and later to join Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1932.
Originally appointed to his cabinet position only after others refused, Ickes quickly proved himself a valuable member. In an attempt to stimulate the economy, the government spent billions of dollars on public works projects, most of which Ickes controlled. Under his direction, the government built parks, highways, municipal buildings, and utilities such as the Hoover Dam. An ardent conservationist, Ickes believed parks should be used only for recreation, and he fought to expand Olympic National Park and, against the efforts of the Catholic Church, to build in the Grand Canyon. In 1939, he recommended that Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) be appointed head of the National Parks Service, but the suggestion was rejected.
Ickes had a hot temper, and when disputes arose he often threatened to resign. Roosevelt considered him invaluable (a fact that Ickes recognized), and refused to accept the resignation each time. When Roosevelt died in 1945 and Harry Truman replaced him, Ickes and Truman feuded frequently. In 1946, Ickes pulled his normal bluff and submitted his resignation. Truman happily accepted, ending Ickes’s career in the Cabinet. Ickes died on February 3, 1952 in Washington, D.C.
Between 1940 and 1945, the City acquired the property that is now Harold Ickes Playground for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The Tunnel, now known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, was built after a bitter dispute involving Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and several citizen’s groups. Moses wanted to build a Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, which would have obliterated the Battery. Many citizens objected, and Moses’s plan was eventually torpedoed when, under President Roosevelt’s direction, the Army refused to grant the necessary permits for the bridge. Plans for a tunnel were accepted instead, preserving the Battery. Construction on the tunnel began in 1940, but was later delayed due to World War II, and the tunnel was not completed until 1950. A ventilation shaft for the tunnel occupies a corner of this playground.
The surface rights, with the exception of the ventilation building, were assigned to Parks on September 12, 1951. The playground includes a baseball diamond, sidewalks, and benches.