Marcus Garvey Park

Pelham Fritz Recreation Center

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This center honors Pelham Fritz (1920–1988), an esteemed Parks official, former basketball player and coach, and Harlem resident for most of his life. Opened in 1969, its facilities include performance spaces, a children’s playroom, a weightlifting area, a reading room, a computer center, and a game room. A native of Trinidad, Fritz moved to Harlem at age seven and spent his free time in what was then called Mount Morris Park. Fritz first met his wife Betty while both were serving abroad during World War II (1939-1941). When both realized that they lived just blocks away from each other back in Harlem, Fritz promised to meet Betty back at Mount Morris Park when they returned.

Before embarking on a 38-year career with Parks which culminated in the post of Assistant Commissioner for Recreation, Fritz’s career in recreation began at a City juvenile detention center. His first job with Parks was as an athletic coach at the Hamilton Houses Playground at 140th Street. Fritz was one of the original organizers of the Holcombe Rucker Community Basketball League and is remembered for being kind yet firm with the children he worked with and for his perpetual optimism.

Fritz was involved with many organizations in addition to Parks, including the Harlem YMCA, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the Children’s Aid Society, where he served as a trustee. Fritz was honored many times throughout his career for his exceptional community service. After he died, it was noted that he had collected no fewer than 102 different plaques for his service to the community. In 1988 the center was named after Fritz. In addition, a housing facility, the Pelham Fritz Apartments at 21 West 118th Street, is also named for him.

Construction of the recreation center and amphitheater project began in 1967, at a cost of approximately $1.25 million. Composer Richard Rodgers, who grew up nearby at 3 West 120th Street contributed $150,000 towards the cost of the amphitheater. The original plan for the center, designed by Lundquist and Stonehill Architects, included a Senior Citizen area, multi-purpose room, club room, rehearsal area, and dressing rooms. Today the center also has a day care center and an indoor playground.

The fitness room at the center is named for Eugene L. McCabe, a local health care pioneer who expanded quality health care service in Harlem. After Harlem was left without a local hospital in the late 1970s, McCabe was instrumental in the 1979 opening of North General Hospital. Currently at 121st Street and Madison Avenue, the facility brought jobs and quality health care back to Harlem, and as president of the hospital, McCabe was known for his unique approach, which included, among other things, extensive staff input in decorating the facility. The Eugene L. McCabe Fitness Room at the Pelham Fritz Recreation Center was expanded and renovated in 1999 with help from North General Hospital and Rahedlin Medical Center, and the facility was equipped with new free weights, cardiovascular machines, and a space for aerobics. The center, located at 122nd Street and Mount Morris Park West in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, is one of many features in the park named after Marcus Garvey (1887–1940), including a swimming pool built in 1969-71, and two playgrounds built in 1993 designed especially for infants and disabled children.

Directions to Marcus Garvey Park

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