Matthew P. Sapolin Playground
Matthew Sapolin Playground
Matthew P. Sapolin Playground, formerly Playground Seventy, is named in honor the former Commissioner of the New York City Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities. Under his leadership, the agency served as a champion for the disabled community.
In the early 1950s, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) instituted a plan to clear Manhattan's slums in an area that began at 59th Street and extended north. The Mayor's Slum Clearance Committee gained permission in 1955 to demolish all of the houses in San Juan Hill in order to construct Lincoln Center. The project, headed by Moses, broke ground in 1959, but not before the then uninhabited tracts of west-side housing served as the real-life location set for the major musical motion picture West Side Story.
Although the construction of Lincoln Center required the destruction of dozens of homes, it provided ample space for the New York Philharmonic, the Juilliard School, the Metropolitan Opera, the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Manhattan Campus of Fordham University, and this playground. Both low-income and luxury houses were built in conjunction with the project. In 1960 the City acquired the land for this playground on West 70th Street between West End and Amsterdam Avenues
Playground 70 was renamed Matthew P. Sapolin Playground on August 29, 2012. Sapolin was born on March 12, 1970, and became blind at the age of five as a result of bilateral retinoblastoma. His accomplishments included serving a nationwide initiative pairing disabled students and job-seekers with corporate and employer mentors; creating barrier-free shopping districts; ensuring that the operators at “311” Citizen Services Hotline have the latest in accessibility technology for the disabled, and advocating for accessible public transportation. Sapolin also successfully shepherded critical legislation that created rent controls for people with disabilities on fixed incomes. He passed away from complications due to cancer in 2011.
Befitting its namesake, Sapolin Playground is a playground for children of all abilities. The park was reconstructed in 2003 with equipment that all children can enjoy regardless of their abilities. Renovations included the construction of a Children’s Garden with accessible bridges running across it, musical instruments built into the play space, and basketball courts with adjustable basketball backstops that can be lowered for athletes in wheelchairs. The comfort station was also refurbished and picnic tables were constructed to allow access.