Scarangella Park

John G. Scarangella Playground

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

This playground, bounded by Avenue U, Avenue V, West 13th Street, and Stillwell Avenue in Gravesend, Brooklyn, is named in memory of New York City Police Officer John Gerard Scarangella (1940-1981), one of five children born in Brooklyn to Italian immigrants. A graduate of the adjacent Lafayette High School, Scarangella was an avid participant in Police Athletic League programs as a child. In 1969, John G. Scarangella joined the New York City Police Department, as did three of his siblings.

Known familiarly as Jerry, Scarangella lived in Nassau County with his wife, Vivian, and their four children, Gina, Julie, Tommy and Gerard. Over the next twelve years, he served in the 60th, 67th, and 113th Precincts and was awarded two commendations, two Meritorious Police Duty Citations and five Excellent Police Duty Awards. On April 16, 1981, while on duty in St. Albans, Queens, Scarangella and his partner, Richard Rainey, were shot thirty times by two gunmen after the officers pulled over the van the men were driving. Rainey survived, but Scarangella at 42, died on May 1, 1981. Three days later, thousands of officers assembled for his funeral at the Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church. They remembered him as an officer who cared deeply about his family and about his fellow policemen, easing their extraordinarily difficult work with constant jokes. The two gunmen were caught, tried, and convicted.

Gravesend appropriately derives its name from both Dutch and English influences. Most likely derived from the Dutch words Grafes and Ande, meaning “end of the grove,” it may also reflect the wishes of settlement founder Lady Deborah Moody, since Gravesend is a city near her former home at the mouth of the Thames River. Lady Moody, a wealthy English widow who inherited a baronetcy from her last husband, left England for New England in 1639, carrying her own radical Protestantism with her. After she and her troop of Anabaptists were coldly received there, she moved in 1643 to New Amsterdam, where she founded Gravesend, Brooklyn’s first English settlement. On December 19, 1645, Dutch Governor Kieft granted Moody the first town charter written in English in the New World. An innovative city planner, Moody established the first block grid layout in her design of Gravesend. The town remained largely rural for over two hundred years after Lady Moody’s death in 1659. Towards the end of the 19th century, Dutch and German farmers joined the English farmers already working the land. In 1894 Gravesend was incorporated into the City of Brooklyn, and the rail lines built at the end of the century spelled the end of Gravesend’s bucolic years.

Acquired by condemnation by the city in 1928 and 1930, this site became parkland in 1929 and 1930. John S. Scarangella Playground, which was originally known as the Lafayette High School Playground after the school across the street, was reconstructed in 1969. In October 1997, the playground received a $92,286 renovation funded by Mayor Giuliani which replaced the playground’s safety surfacing. In 1992, it was renamed John S. Scarangella Playground by local law to honor the memory of a man who dedicated his life to ensuring the safety of those around him. The playground, which includes a grassy ballfield, timber-form climbing equipment, swings, and picnic tables, is lined with London planetrees, a hardy species known for its ability to grow in harsh urban environments.

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