This triangle honors Queens resident Bernard Adolph Tepper (1925–1966), one of twelve New York City firemen killed fighting a blaze on 23rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan on October 18, 1966.
Bernard Tepper was born on July 25, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from Tilden Technical Institute in June 1943, he joined the Army Air Corps. He received an honorable discharge in 1946 and moved to the New York area shortly after, enrolling in the Jersey City School of Watchmaking. He did not take up the watchmaking profession, however, instead taking a job as a road-car inspector for the New York City Transit Authority. Tepper kept the job until resigning to join the New York City Fire Department in 1955.
Tepper was actively involved with his community, serving as a Cub Scout Coordinator from 1959–62, as a member of the United Civic Association of Baisley Park, Queens, and on the Executive Board of the Parents Association of P.S. 131 in Queens. The fireman spent much of his time in an effort to make his neighborhood safe, working to reduce traffic fatalities as a traffic chairman and to prevent fires by lecturing about fire safety in local schools. At the time of his death, Tepper had been working as a fire inspector, having passed his Lieutenant’s examination the previous month.
The park was named for Bernard Tepper on April 14, 1967. The action was cosponsored by City Council Members Joseph Modugno and Donald Manes, who commended Tepper’s civic work. The councilmen also stressed the importance of honoring African-Americans such as Tepper “at a time when the color of the human skin seems to be playing a significant role in our daily lives on local, state and national levels.”
Tepper Triangle was dedicated during the Civil Rights Movement, a time when the issue of American race relations held an unprecedented place in the public spotlight. Events like Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus led to widespread protests and advances in America’s Civil Rights movement. Some of these advances include the 1954 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that officially ended legal segregation in the South; the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955; the 1960 sit-ins at Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counters; and the 1961 Freedom Rides through Southern states. All contributed to this country’s ongoing struggle for civil rights.
Tepper Triangle was dedicated in 1967, three years after the famous March on Washington, perhaps the defining moment of the Civil Rights Movement, and one year before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). Parks acquired the land for Tepper Triangle in 1931 as part of the condemnation proceeding for the construction of the Grand Central Parkway. The Parkway opened on July 15, 1933. Its broad path included several small spaces along the roadway that were designated as parks. It was one of these sites that was later named for Bernard Tepper, honoring a life given in the service of his community.