Van Alst Playground, bounded by 14th and 21st Streets and 29th and 30th Avenues, is named after Peter G. Van Alst. Born in Dutch Kills, Queens on May 28, 1828, Van Alst received his education at the District School and the Astoria Institute. He apprenticed as a surveyor for a few years, and worked independently until 1872, when the city legislature appointed him to serve as a commissioner, surveying and supervising the construction of several roads in Long Island City, Queens.
In 1874, Van Alst and three fellow Long Island City citizens comprised the First Ward Improvement Commission, which was in charge of raising the grades of Jackson Avenue from Vernon Avenue to the courthouse from three to eight feet, which profoundly affected the daily life of the city. Van Alst’s job consisted primarily of constructing maps, which revealed detailed organizations of street lines, grades and sewage lines of the Long Island City area.