It is fitting that one of nature’s loveliest displays should provide the name for this playground in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The colors of the rainbow, intense when they first appear, gradually soften and combine, an appropriate metaphor for a community where diverse cultures live and work together in a harmonious blend.
Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) first proposed this playground in February 1954. In a letter to the Board of Estimate, he requested the assignment to Parks of “the entire easterly frontage of Sixth Avenue between 55th and 56th Street.” According to the letter, “this parcel is the only vacant area in a densely built-up community in [this] section of Brooklyn and the nearest recreational facilities are over half a mile away.” The Board of Estimate assigned the property to Parks a month later and it became the 56th Street Park
In the 1970s, lack of City funds resulted in the playground’s deterioration. It became a den of illegal activity, and so with the help of Community Board 7, local residents formed the Friends of the 56th Street Park. The group organized a cleanup, initiated supervised play, and banished undesirable elements, all in the hopes of making their park more enjoyable. The organization sponsored a contest to rename the park and “Rainbow Playground” won. A 1984 Local Law formally named it.
Today the playground boasts handball and basketball courts as well as play equipment with safety surfacing, game tables, spray showers and drinking fountains. Camel animal art adds an aesthetic element. In 1995, a $363,884 reconstruction of the park was sponsored by Borough President Howard Golden.
The neighborhood of Sunset Park presumably derives its name from its vantage point on a hill facing west toward Upper New York Bay. The bluff of Sunset Park affords a view of the harbor, the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the hills of Staten Island, and New Jersey. The land was originally the home of the Canarsee Indians, who sold portions of it to Dutch settlers in the 1640s.
By the mid-1800s it was a thriving agricultural community. Irish immigrants, seeking relief from the potato famine, found their way here in the 1840s. They were joined by Polish, Scandinavian, and Italian immigrants, who found employment on the busy waterfront. In the 1940s, the neighborhood went into a long period of decline, but a new wave of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s started a revival. Newcomers from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Vietnam, and Jordan brought new life into the area. A small Chinatown was established. Every October, the Sunset Park Parade of Flags celebrates the variety of cultures in a community proud of its role as a starting point for Americans from every corner of the world.