Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park

Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park

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

What was here before?

The Gowanus Creek, later the Gowanus Canal, contributed to the surrounding neighborhood becoming a bustling industrial area from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. After World War II, as industry declined in the area, several public housing developments were planned for Gowanus to house returning veterans. Until the early 1940s, the site was occupied by a row of three-story residential buildings, which were razed to make way for the Gowanus Houses in which the park is situated.

How did this site become a park?

In 1946, the City of New York acquired this property by condemnation as part of the Gowanus Houses construction project. The land bordered by Hoyt, Wyckoff, and Bond Streets was reserved for park purposes and transferred to NYC Parks in the same year.  It was originally named the Gowanus Houses Playground. The playground was reconstructed by NYC Parks in 2011, the Brooklyn Nets sponsored reconstruction of the basketball courts in 2017 completing the site’s renovations.  

Who is this park named for?

In 2001, the park was renamed for Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. (1981-1994), a local resident who was fatally shot by a New York City Housing Authority police officer in the nearby housing complex where he lived with his mother, father, and younger brother. 

Heyward attended Public School 20 and Nathan Hale Middle School, where he was an honor student and role model among his peers. He was an active member of the Church of God in Christ and by age 12, had already decided to pursue a career as a doctor or professional basketball player. Heyward regularly practiced basketball in this park and made his school’s basketball team just days before his death.

On September 27, 1994, Heyward and his friends were playing a game of cops and robbers in the stairwell of the Gowanus Houses, using plastic toy guns with bright orange-colored handles and tips. Heyward was shot in the stomach by a Housing Police Officer and died a short time later at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan.

In 1998, Groundswell, a community mural program, and local neighbors created a mural on Baltic Street near Boerum Playground in honor of Heyward's life and memory. A candlelight vigil is held there annually on the anniversary of his death. Each year on his birthday, August 26, the Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Foundation holds a community gathering at the park with basketball games, activities for kids, and a toy exchange, where toy guns can be swapped for books or other playthings. The foundation was created to help save lives by instilling creative thought in the minds of youths and giving positive support to children from all communities.

Since Heyward's death, toy guns have been removed from many store shelves and laws have been changed regarding their sale and distribution. Heyward’s spirit lives on in this park, and through ongoing programs and activities organized by the Foundation.

Park Information

Directions to Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park

  • Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park
  • Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park

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