Little Flower Playground
Fiorello La Guardia Statue
This bronze bust of colorful and much-loved Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882–1947) by the esteemed portrait sculptor Jo Davidson (1883–1952) was dedicated on September 20, 1957. It is located in what was formerly La Guardia Houses Park, now known as Little Flower Playground, for La Guardia’s nickname - derived from the translation of his first name and his diminutive size.
La Guardia, the son of a United States Army bandleader, was born on December 11, 1882, at 177 Sullivan Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy. He received his law degree from New York University, was admitted to the Bar in 1910 and became the nation’s first Italian-American Congressman in 1916. La Guardia held various congressional posts until 1932, and served as president of New York City’s Board of Aldermen from 1920 to 1921.
In 1933, La Guardia was elected mayor on a reform Fusion ticket following the scandals that had forced Mayor James J. (“Beau James”) Walker (1881–1946) from office. He was inaugurated on New Year’s Day 1934. Over the next 12 years, La Guardia left his distinctive mark on City politics. He unified the public transit system, consolidated and centralized much of City government, cracked down on illegal gambling, and constructed numerous bridges, parks, and airports. He appointed Robert Moses (1888–1981), the first commissioner of a unified Parks Department in 1934, and embarked on an unprecedented expansion of the New York City parks system throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. During his third term, 1942 to 1945, Gracie Mansion became the official residence of New York City’s mayors.
La Guardia also served as Director of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942. Shortly after leaving office in 1945, La Guardia became Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. La Guardia is remembered for his passionate leadership in defense of social causes. He died on September 20, 1947.
Ten years later to the day, this bust of La Guardia was unveiled. The life-size bronze was created in 1934 by sculptor Jo Davidson, who also immortalized in bronze Mohandas Gandhi, James Joyce, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Gertrude Stein (a casting of which is now in Bryant Park). The bust remained in Davidson’s collection until his death in 1952, when the La Guardia Memorial Association purchased it. Placed in a wall niche on a black granite pedestal designed by the architects Eggers and Higgins, the monument was dedicated at the same time that the La Guardia Houses and the adjoining playground were completed. Speakers at the dedication ceremony included Mayor Robert F. Wagner and Felix Frankfurter, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
In the fall of 1999 and spring of 2000, the sculpture was conserved and relocated to a nearby circular planting bed. At the same time the surrounding park and playground were improved through a $1.2 million capital renovation funded by Council Member Kathryn Freed.