Located at the intersection of Surf Avenue, West 25th Street, and West 27th Street, this playground takes its name from the nearby avenue. Named for the waves of the Atlantic Ocean that break upon the nearby beach, Surf Avenue is one of Coney Island’s three major east-west thoroughfares that feature maritime names (Neptune Avenue and Mermaid Avenue are the other two). All three avenues have witnessed the rich history of Coney Island.
Coney Island derives its name from the Dutch word for rabbit, since the island was full of “konijn,” or wild rabbits, during the 1700s. Almost a century before the boardwalk opened along the Atlantic Ocean, Coney Island was on its way to becoming the nation’s most popular pleasure ground. In 1824, the Coney Island House became its first seaside resort, and within a few decades, it was playing host to a steadily increasing stream of visitors. After the Civil War, new railroad lines provided direct public transportation to a rapidly expanding list of attractions: restaurants, hotels, bathing pavilions, shops, amusement rides, race tracks, theatres, and as always, the beach and the ocean. At the turn of the century, amusement parks, Sea Lion Park, Steeplechase Park, Luna Park, and Dreamland, offered rides, concessions, and entertainment on a spectacular scale.
When the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) subway line reached the area in 1920, the pleasures of Coney Island were just a five-cent ride away from the steaming city. Attendance on a hot summer day could reach as high as one million, causing extreme congestion on the beach. Making matters worse, private concessions (such as beachfront hotels, bathhouses, and cabarets) controlled large portions of the beach. Brooklyn Borough President Edward Riegelmann (1869-1941) was responsible for beautifying Coney Island and ensuring public access to the beach and shore. After the City secured title to property along the beachfront, the $3 million beach improvement and boardwalk construction began in 1921. On May 15, 1923, “Coney Island's Fifth Avenue” opened with great fanfare.
In 1963, a playground jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education opened on the other side of Surf Avenue and West 27th Street as the P. S. 288, Shirley Tanyhill School, Playground. Eight years later, to make way for the building of the nearby Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the playground was relocated to this site. In 1985, Parks named the lot Surf Playground. Today, this parkland contains an all-purpose asphalt play area, three sets of play equipment with safety surfacing, swings, basketball courts, and a comfort station. London Planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia) provide shade in this asphalt park.
A hybrid of the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and the Oriental Planetree (Platanus orientalis), the London Planetree is known for its ability to survive in harsh urban environments. The tree takes its name from London, England, where London Planetrees flourished despite the city’s once coal-polluted air. New York City’s early park designers considered the trees to be highly elegant and decorative.