The Queensboro Bridge, which provides both a ceiling and a name for this park, opened in 1909, connecting Manhattan and Queens by way of an intermediary link on Roosevelt Island, was once known as Welfare Island. The two-leveled steel bridge is one of eight New York City bridges that span the East River. Designed by engineer and architect Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935), it is the first major structural project to reject the suspension technique in favor of cantilevering. The upper level once carried wooden railway cars, and five-cent trolleys shared the lower level with automobiles until 1955. In addition to his work on the Queensboro Bridge, Lindenthal prepared plans for the Manhattan Bridge, helped to complete work on the Williamsburg Bridge, and directed the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The National Register of Historic Places added the Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge, to the list of City landmarks in 1978.
This area was originally inhabited by the Reekgawawanck Indians, who were displaced as early colonists spread northward from lower Manhattan. During the 18th and 19th centuries, extreme poverty characterized the area now known as Sutton Place. A brewery, coal yards, lumberyards, and brickyards stood amidst tenements and shacks. The area was home to many street gangs, including the notorious “Dead End Kids,” who were brought into the public consciousness by a Broadway play and a series of movies in the 1930s and 1940s. In one of the films, “Dead End,” the Queensboro Bridge provides a dramatic backdrop for clashes between the wealthy and the poor from the neighborhood. The bridge is also the title of a 1966 Simon & Garfunkel song, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy).”
In 1875, Effingham B. Sutton, an entrepreneur who made his fortunes in the California gold rush of 1849, built brownstones between 57th and 58th Streets in hopes of establishing a residential neighborhood. Sutton’s real estate venture, however, suffered from the overwhelming industrial presence in the area. The neighborhood was transformed into an exclusive enclave of the wealthy in the 1920s when the Vanderbilt and Morgan families each established residences in the area. Development of the neighborhood continued throughout the 1990s as co-ops, condominiums, and apartment buildings replaced factories and tenements.
This park, bounded by York Avenue and 59th and 60th Streets, is built on land that the City of New York initially acquired for use as an alternative bridge approach. The Board of Aldermen set it aside as a playground on January 19, 1909.
During the spring and summer, the Queensboro Oval serves nearby residents as a ballfield. Teams from around the city compete in leagues sponsored by St. Stephen of Hungary’s Roman Catholic Church and Bethany Memorial Reformed Church. Throughout the rest of the year, the Queensboro Tennis Club covers the park with an inflatable bubble, and converts the land into a tennis facility, which is run under a concession license. With opportunities for sport and recreation, Queensboro Oval is a thriving oasis beneath a major thoroughfare.