George U. Harvey Playground
This park honors George Upton Harvey (1881-1946) Queens Borough President from 1928 to 1941. Born in County Galway, Ireland, on August 15, 1881, the Harveys moved to Chicago when George was five years old. His father founded The International Confectioner, a trade paper, and after working there Harvey served as a correspondent and photographer for the Army and Navy journal. A captain during World War I, he commanded Company A of the 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division. In 1920, Harvey was appointed Assistant Director of the State Income Tax Bureau in Jamaica, New York.
Harvey began his career in electoral politics when he successfully ran for election to the Board of Aldermen in 1921 as a Republican from Queens. He was re-elected in 1923. Though Harvey lost the 1925 election for President of the Board of Aldermen, a sewer scandal resulting in the ouster of Borough President Maurice Connolly vaulted Harvey into the Borough Presidency in a special election to complete Connolly’s term. Harvey was Queens’ first Republican Borough President since the 1898 consolidation of New York City. He was re-elected to this office in 1929, 1933, and 1937, serving until December 31, 1941.
Harvey was a bitter foe of the Tammany political machine at home and Communism abroad. In 1928 he initiated a major expansion of arterial highway and parkway improvements in Queens. He also played an active role in the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows in 1939-40. In 1932 and again in 1938 he considered running for Governor, but ultimately declined to do so. On April 6, 1946 Harvey died of a heart attack while helping to battle a brush fire near his home in New Milford, Connecticut.
The village of Whitestone acquired this land in 1892 as part of its water supply system. Parks took possession of the site in 1936 in conjunction with the construction of the Whitestone Parkway and in 1939 opened it as a children’s playground. The parkland was landscaped with red maples, swamp white oaks, and London Plane trees and a path system. In 1953 the comfort station was added.
The City passed Local Law #36 of 1948 officially naming this parkland after Borough President Harvey. In 1995 a first phase of park renovation at the south side included modernized play equipment, the conversion of a wading pool to a spray feature and refurbishment of the basketball court. Parks also installed a subsurface drainage system to render the formerly swampy terrain into two baseball fields. A roller hockey rink and spectator stands, tables, landscaping, lighting were added. Native shrubs, including summer sweet Clethra and red chokecherries, were planted to enliven the entrances. A pre-cast six-foot high rabbit, inspired by the film Harvey (1950), starring James Stewart (as Elwood P. Dowd), Josephine Hull, and Peggy Dow, greets visitors to the park. The capital project was funded with $2.29 million from Borough President of Queens Claire Schulman (b. 1926) who served from 1986 to 2001.