Sam Leggio Triangle

Sam Leggio Triangle

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

Sam Leggio (1923-1985) was a longtime Cypress Hills resident who was passionately committed to improving his neighborhood. He was born in Queens on October 21, 1923, as Saverio Leggio. He lived on Highland Place with his wife, Lillian, where they raised three children. Leggio served as a Boy Scout Leader, a Block Association President, and organizer of local Memorial Day and “We Love Cypress Hills Day” parades. As a Boy Scout Leader, he often took time to honor the graves of deceased soldiers. Leggio worked on the Long Island Railroad all his life, and died on May 2, 1985. He is remembered as a man ardently dedicated to the Cypress Hills community.

Until 1988, Sam Leggio Triangle, bounded by Force Tube Avenue, Highland Place, and Etna Street, was known as Elmer E. Bennett Jr. Memorial Square. Once a resident of 41 Essex Street, Elmer Elsworth Bennett Jr. served in World War I as a corporal in Company E of the 306th Infantry, 77th Division. Bennett died in Argonne, France, on October 4, 1918, a little over a month before Armistice and the end of the war. The Elmer E. Bennett Post 725 of the American Legion buried his remains with full military honors in 1921 at Cypress Hills Cemetery. A local law of 1955 gave this triangle its original name and a local law of 1988 sponsored by Council Member Victor L. Robles renamed it Sam Leggio Triangle.

Sam Leggio Triangle is located in the neighborhood of Cypress Hills, which Dutch, French, and English farmers settled in the early 1700s. It continued as a rural area into the 1800s, when new development followed the construction of Fulton Street, the Jamaica Plank Road in 1807—which ran along present-day Jamaica Avenue—and the Union Course Racetrack in 1821. The area was called Union Place for a brief time, before being renamed for the trees that covered the local hills. The Great Eastern Branch of the Long Island Rail Road soon began service through the neighborhood along present-day Atlantic Avenue, which brought more residents to the region. In 1886, the City of Brooklyn incorporated the village of New Lots, which included Cypress Hills, and the neighborhood soon had paved streets, trolleys, and housing construction that continued into the 1930s. At this time the population doubled, and in the 1950s and 1960s a wave of African Americans, South Americans, and Central Americans came to the neighborhood to join the German, Italian, Irish and Polish inhabitants. Cypress Hills today is also home to Haitian, Jamaican, Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Lithuanian, and Chinese residents.

Sam Leggio Triangle is a Greenstreets site. Inaugurated in 1986 and revived in 1994, Greenstreets is a program that plants trees and shrubs in formerly barren squares, triangles, and traffic medians. The two trees in this triangle are eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis), or Judastrees. An small, ornamental tree often planted in plots with limited space because of its size, the eastern redbud is most easily identified in the spring when tiny purplish-pink blossoms overflow from its bark. Legend has it that this was the species of tree from which Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus by handing him over to the Romans, hanged himself in biblical times, inducing the pristine white blossoms to flush crimson with shame.

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