Nathan Straus Playground

Nathan Straus Playground

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

This playground and school are named for Nathan Straus (1848-1931), who was born in Otterberg, Rhenish Bavaria (now Germany) on January 3, 1848. His father, Lazarus, emigrated to America in 1852, and the rest of the family followed in 1854. They settled in Talbotton, Georgia. Nathan’s formal education included Sunday School classes with a Baptist minister and preparatory schooling in Georgia; advanced studies, religious instruction, and Hebrew lessons in Alabama; and professional training at Packard Business College in New York City, where the family moved after the civil war.

Nathan’s shrewd mind, tremendous energy, and kind heart all contributed to an outstanding business career. As the international representative for L. Straus & Sons, the family’s crockery and glass firm, Nathan traveled across America to open new markets and throughout Europe to acquire new products. He forged an alliance with R.H. Macy, and by 1896 the Strauses were sole owners of Macy’s famous department store in Manhattan and partners in the Abraham & Straus department store in Brooklyn. In 1902 the family opened the world’s largest department store, Macy’s at Herald Square. Nathan promoted the welfare of Macy’s employees by providing a dining hall with full meals for just five cents; offering personal gifts of money, clothing, and medical treatment; and, with his brother Isidor, establishing a Mutual Aid Society.

After the deaths of Isidor and his wife Ida aboard the S.S. Titanic in 1912, Nathan retired from business and devoted himself to family, charity, and public service. He and his wife Lina Gutherz Straus had six children, two of whom died at an early age. Nathan’s concern for all children inspired him to promote milk pasteurization in the United States. He established a pasteurization laboratory in 1892 and inaugurated milk distribution programs throughout the country.

As a philanthropist, Nathan gave generously to support health, disaster relief, and charity, and he championed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In public life, he served as a member of the board of commissioners of the Department of Public Parks in New York City from 1890 to 1894, chairman of the New York State Forest Commission, and president of the city’s Board of Health in 1898. He was president of the American Jewish Congress from 1918 to 1920. Nathan Straus died in New York City on January 11, 1931.

Twenty-five years after the death of Nathan Straus, the City of New York acquired land on the two blocks in the Lower East Side for a new elementary school and playground. Before P.S. 140 opened in 1959, part of Attorney Street was closed and several buildings were torn down to make room for the playground. Landscape architect George C. Green designed the relatively conventional area with a variety of play equipment as well as basketball, volleyball, and handball courts.

In 1998-99 Mayor Giuliani funded two requirements contracts which provided a thorough renovation of the playground. Improvements included new play equipment, spray shower, safety surfacing, concrete bear, basketball court, restored handball courts and compass rosette. New pavements, gates, fences, and benches have improved the overall appearance of the playground.

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