St. John's Park

St. John’s Recreation Center

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

This park and recreation center, located on Prospect Place between Troy Avenue and Schenectady Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is named for Saint John, also known as John the Evangelist and Saint John the Divine. He was one of the first disciples called to follow Jesus and is traditionally known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” St. John is the presumed author of the fourth gospel of the New Testament and, by tradition, the Book of Revelation.

There are many legends surrounding the power and holiness of John. It is said that he was sentenced to death by immersion in a cauldron of boiling oil. He was lowered into the pot and, some time later, emerged miraculously unharmed, even rejuvenated, with his hands joined in prayer. After Peter, he is the apostle most responsible for the formation of the early church in Palestine and is the patron saint of Asia Minor.

The land that became St. John’s Park was acquired by the City in 1950. Plans were made shortly thereafter to eliminate the stretch of St. Mark’s Place that ran between Schenectady and Troy Avenues in order to create more parkland with the intention of eventually building a recreation center at the site.

Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), answering critics of the project in a 1953 letter to the Board of Estimate, viewed recreation centers as a way to provide positive outlets for children in disadvantaged communities. The first such recreational facility to be opened in the city, St. Mary’s Recreation Center in the Bronx, had been a great success since its opening in 1951. Moses saw the facilities as constituting “the only practical way of affording healthy exercise for all age groups and of combating what is miscalled juvenile delinquency….”

The first phase of Moses’s vision for the park, its outdoor component, included three softball fields and a comfort station. It was completed in 1953 to serve the 800-unit Albany Houses complex, which later took in tenants displaced by the construction of the park. Outdoor basketball and handball facilities were added in 1955. The recreation center was completed in 1956, becoming the third such type of indoor facility to open in the city.

Moses’s belief in the power of urban planning to improve social conditions, especially through recreation, was the impetus behind the creation of the centers citywide. “The opening of this building will enable the Department of Parks to establish a well-rounded recreation program in the heavily populated Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where such a program is urgently needed,” Moses wrote when the facility opened. Pointing to the center’s gymnasium, its 42-foot by 75-foot swimming pool, and its woodwork, “domestic science,” exercise, and boxing facilities, Moses boasted that it was one of the finest year-round recreation areas in the City.

The park underwent a $350,000 in-house renovation in 1987 that was capped by a massive clean-up in which over 70 Parks employees spent a combined 1,500 hours waxing floors and cleaning tiles in the facility.

Directions to St. John's Park

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