Joseph Austin Playground
Joseph Austin Playground
This playground is named after Joseph Austin (1904-1998), a longtime youth league coach and active member of the Jamaica, Queens community. The City acquired this property on January 31, 1945. It was chosen as the new site for the relocation of Thomas A. Edison Vocational Technical High School in 1955, and the playground was planned to adjoin the school. The playground, jointly operated by NYC Parks and the Department of Education, opened on May 25, 1960 and is used by children living in the neighborhood where Joseph Austin left his mark.
Austin was born on March 19, 1904 at his family home on Chichester Avenue (now 95th Avenue) and Guilford Boulevard (now Jamaica Boulevard). Austin later attended Public School 62 and the old Jamaica High School, located on Hillside Avenue and 162nd Street. As one of ten children, Austin had to work after high school to support his family, and took a job at the Boyce Motor-Meter Company. While at the company, Austin played on the company baseball team, gaining valuable experience in the sport that would make him a pillar of the Jamaica community. Austin would later play semi-professional baseball on teams in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island. It was as a baseball coach, however, that Austin would make his mark.
After losing his job at the Boyce Motor-Meter Company during the Great Depression, Austin spent his free time coaching youth sports teams. He instructed youngsters, both male and female, in baseball, basketball, and football and started clubs in the various sports. Austin continued coaching even after he found a job at the old Piels Brewery in Brooklyn once the 21st Amendment ended prohibition in 1933. Austin served as a supervisor at the brewery for thirty-three years but dedicated the majority of his free time to coaching.
Austin eventually chose to concentrate on baseball, his favorite sport. From 1932 to 1947, Austin used the fields in the neighborhood to coach his various teams. He started at the field at 165th Street and South Road in Jamaica, and later moved to the Jamaica High School fields at 186th Street and 84th Avenue. Austin would sometimes coach as many as seven squads simultaneously, teams with names chosen by Austin such as the Dwarves, the Elves, the Shamrocks, the Erins, and the Blarney Boys. Altogether, Austin served his community for over half a century, providing scores of children with guidance in the sports that he loved.
One of Austin’s most famous players was Governor Mario M. Cuomo (b.1932), himself a dedicated public servant and accomplished baseball player. Cuomo played for Austin starting when the Governor was eight until he was a teenager. Cuomo would go on to play college baseball at St. John’s University and eventually signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After one year of playing professionally, Cuomo left the team to get married. He never returned to baseball, choosing instead to enter the political arena. The decision proved to be quite fruitful, as the former Jamaica baseball star served as Governor of New York State from 1983 to 1995.
In 1983, Austin received an honorary degree from Queens College for his lifetime of work with the youth of Queens. Previously known as the Edison Playground, the park at 164th Place near Grand Central Parkway was one of the places where Austin could still be seen, at the age of 79, running batting practices and instructing local youth. The site was renamed Joseph Austin Playground for the longtime coach by a local law in 1983 and was dedicated in a ceremony on March 15, 1984, one day before Austin’s 80th birthday.
Joseph Austin Playground underwent construction in 2001 for new play equipment. Additional renovations will bring a state-of-the-art turf field for baseball, softball and soccer to the park. This playground is a fitting memory to a man who gave so much of his time to advancing sports in the community.