Maria Hernandez Park

Maria Hernandez Park

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

What was here before?

Once a 17th-century Dutch settlement called Boswijck, or “heavy woods,” Bushwick became part of the City of Brooklyn in 1854. By the late 19th century, the area was home to at least eleven breweries operating within a fourteen-block area. Italians, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Dominicans established enclaves in Bushwick in the 20th century.

This site was once partially owned by showman Phineas T. Barnum and his wife Nancy and both hosted the circus and served as a storage area.

How did this site become a park?

The City of Brooklyn purchased the land for this park from the Barnums and other landowners in the early 1890s. Major landscaping and building transformed the site into a showplace park by 1896. Known as Bushwick Park, it was a popular spot for neighborhood recreation, such as Fourth of July and Labor Day celebrations, croquet matches, dancing, and baseball games.

In the late 1930s, new sliding boards, sand box, and swing sets were installed in the playground, and a softball field with bleachers was constructed. Renovations in the early 1970s added more basketball courts and improved infrastructure, but by the early 1990s, the park had fallen into disrepair. In 1994, park workers performed an intensive five-day clean-up and repair campaign to remove broken glass, debris, and graffiti; repair and paint benches and fencing; restore the ballfield; clean the sewer line; and prune existing trees and plant new ones.

The park’s playground and basketball courts were rebuilt in 2007. The project also added new exercise equipment and a plaza with a performance stage and labyrinth centered around a mosaic of a green parrot by Camila Gelpi. The stage platform includes artwork by an afterschool program at nearby P.S. 123. Decorative gates were installed at the park’s four entrances, featuring medallions by Vito Cannella that depict animals corresponding to the elements of air, fire, water, and earth. In 2012, the dog run was completed. In 2021, NYC Parks replaced the park’s blacktop softball fields with a synthetic turf field and updated the adult fitness area.

Who is this park named for?

In 1989, the City Council renamed this park for community leader, activist, and longtime Bushwick resident Maria Hernandez (1953-1989).

Hernandez was born in Brooklyn and educated at public schools in the borough, later graduating with an undergraduate degree in accounting from New York University. She worked as a bookkeeper for the Hospital Investment Management Corporation in Englewood, New Jersey.

Hernandez and her husband Carlos were leaders in the struggle against drugs in Bushwick. They pleaded with drug dealers to leave the streets and provided information to the police about drug trafficking. To rally support for her efforts and educate her neighbors about the need to evict the dealers, Hernandez organized block parties, athletic activities, and social and cultural gatherings. On the morning of August 8, 1989, Hernandez was struck by five shots fired through the window of her Starr Street home and died soon after.

Directions to Maria Hernandez Park

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