P.O. Serrano Playground
Police Officer Hilario Serrano Playground
On January 31, 1992, Police Officer Hilario Serrano (1963-1992) was in the elevator of his mother’s building, on his way to a birthday party, when he became the victim of robbers’ gunfire. He was 29 years old. A 1993 Local Law officially changed the name of this property from Castle Hill Playground to Police Officer Hilario Serrano Playground.
Officer Serrano arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of six. As a young man, he joined the Guardian Angels. In 1982, Serrano became an auxiliary policeman, earning a medal for compassionate assistance to a rape victim. He graduated from the Police Academy in 1986 and was assigned to the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx. There he established the “Night Out Against Crime”Â program, designating the first Tuesday of August a night for outdoor community activities to take back the streets from local criminals. The program continues to this day.
Parks acquired this 2.5 acres property in 1946 through condemnation. In 1948, the plot became Castle Hill Playground. Parks fully renovated this property in 1998. Today the playground provides a colorful play area, handball courts, basketball courts, and a softball field. The most popular facility on hot summer days is a sprinkler section with colorful spray showers shaped like cacti and a central spout shooting into the air from the bill of a carved duck. The figure of a water buffalo lying across a stone compass adds another whimsical touch. There are picnic tables, benches, and a comfort station. Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) set in cobblestones form a green border around the playground, and red oaks (Quercus rubra) and holly grace the interior.
The streets that form the boundaries of Police Officer Serrano Playground owe their names to both American and local Bronx history. Olmstead and Turnbull Avenues were named for two prominent families that settled in the area when it was part of Westchester County. Castle Hill Avenue comes from the estate belonging to the family of Gouverneur Morris Wilkins. It was originally an Indian path leading to a palisaded fortress.
Lafayette Avenue commemorates the triumphant return of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) to the United States in 1824. As a young nobleman of 19, Lafayette had come to the United States from France in 1777 to help the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He not only served as an officer, but he also secured aid for the Revolutionary cause from the French government. His democratic ideals led him to play a role in the French Revolution, and he became a hero on two continents. During his return tour of America, he visited the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, where local residents unhooked the horses from his carriage and pulled it themselves along the thoroughfare that now bears his name.