Van Alst Playground

Van Alst Playground

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

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. 

The Van Alst family was a large extended family, whose members lived in various parts of what is now Queens. Legend has it that the prominent farming family moved to the area in the early 1700s and resided there until the 1870s, when they dispersed and moved elsewhere. Their Dutch family name was perpetuated in the naming of Van Alst Street, until it was renamed 21st Street, and now in the naming of this playground.

Van Alst Playground is located in Astoria, formerly known as Hallet’s Cove until it was developed in 1839 by Stephen A. Halsey, a fur merchant who petitioned the state legislature to name it after the prominent fur trader John Jacob Astor. The residents agreed to change the name in the hopes that Astor would donate money to the village’s young ladies’ seminary. He eventually sent $500. In 1870, Astoria and several other Queens neighborhoods, including Hunter’s Point, Steinway, Blissville, Dutch Kills, Bowery Bay, and Ravenswood, consolidated to form a single entity. Officials debated a name for the new union, and finally agreed on Long Island City, after the newspaper that had started operation there in 1865, the Long Island City Star.

In 1943, the City of New York acquired this property for the Department of Education. Soon thereafter, the city built Peter G. Van Alst Public Elementary School 171. On July 22, 1948, they drew up plans to build a jointly-operated playground on the leftover land. P.S. 171 opened to students on February 5, 1952, and on October 28, 1952, the city hosted a dedication ceremony at the school, in honor of Peter Van Alst. Known as Playground 171, this facility opened on July 10, 1957 and is jointly managed by NYC Parks and the Department of Education. In 1985, NYC Parks renamed this playground Van Alst Playground.

This site is part of Parks' Community Parks Initiative—a multi-faceted program to invest in under-resourced public parks and increase the accessibility and quality of parks throughout the five boroughs. The multipurpose area was transformed into a colorful space for sports, including basketball, soccer, track, and painted games. New play equipment was installed, as well as spray showers. Existing handball courts were reconstructed, an adult fitness area was added, and decorative light poles were installed. The improved playground offers a variety of activities for all ages and is completely accessible

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Directions to Van Alst Playground

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