Stanley Isaacs Playground
Stanley Isaacs Playground
This playground honors Stanley Myer Isaacs (1882-1962), a dedicated lawyer, civic leader, and independent thinker. Born and raised in New York City, Isaacs graduated from Columbia College and New York Law School, and then embarked on a career in public service. During World War I, he served as chairman of a local draft board on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Between 1938 and 1941, as Borough President of Manhattan, Isaacs worked with Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to complete one of the most significant feats of urban construction New York had ever seen: the building of the East River Drive, now known as Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. This road borders Stanley Isaacs Playground between East 95th and East 97th Streets.
Controversy swirled shortly after Isaacs’ election as Borough President, when the public realized that Isaacs had hired an avowed Communist named Simon Gerson to handle his press relations. Isaacs, a leader of the liberal wing of the Republican party, admitted that hiring Gerson had been a mistake, but refused to fire him based on his political leanings. Even though Gerson wound up resigning in 1940, the Republican party chose not to support Isaacs in his run for a second term as Borough President. Although Isaacs lost the Borough Presidency, the controversy did not end his political career. Isaacs was elected to the New York City Council five times as a representative of the Upper East Side, serving until his death in 1962. For years, Isaacs was the only Republican member of a Democratic City Council, and crusaded against injustices such as racial discrimination in New York City housing. Isaacs also served as the president of United Neighborhood Houses, an organization of settlement houses, and participated actively in various Jewish organizations such as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the United Jewish Appeal, and the American Jewish Committee.
Isaacs was a true advocate of parks. In 1956, he organized a rally protesting a Robert Moses plan for a parking lot expansion at Central Park’s Tavern on the Green restaurant, and the resulting public outcry was the plan’s demise. A playground, now known as the Tot Playground at West 67th Street, opened on the half-acre site the following year.
In 1941, the land on which this playground is located was condemned by the City in conjunction with the construction of the East River Drive. The Drive ultimately did not use the property, which was assigned to Parks on March 26, 1946. When the playground opened, it included a play area for children, softball diamond with a hooded backstop, areas for horseshoe pitching and paddle tennis, and handball, volleyball, and basketball courts. The City Council and Mayor Edward I. Koch named this park, where Isaacs strolled each week, to honor the former Borough President and City Councilman in 1974, twelve years after he died.
The Stanley M. Isaacs Park Association (SIPA), founded in 1996, raised funds for the renovation of the roller hockey rink, which was originally built in 1974. The renovation was completed and dedicated as the Paul L. McDermott Rink in October 2000. McDermott (1953-1996) was a long-time coach and volunteer at the rink. Known to tell participants, “Play hard, always give a good fight, but most of all have fun,” McDermott exemplified sportsmanship, fair play, and good moral character. Tragically, McDermott lost a battle with cancer and died at the age of 43.
In 2000 the park received new benches, play equipment, planting areas and safety surfacing, and was expanded by moving fences to the edge of the property lines. Today, Stanley Isaacs Park is a welcome place of sport and recreation, proudly bearing the name of the man who The New York Times once called “the conscience of our city government.”