Corporal Louis Zimmerman, this park’s namesake, one of a family of eight children, was born on April 20, 1895 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. His family moved to the Bronx, where he attended P.S. 27 and later graduated from Morris High School. Zimmerman was employed as a police officer and lived at 1352 Webster Avenue before entering the Army. As a member of Headquarters Company 305th Infantry, 77th Division, he fought in numerous battles. On November 5, 1918, just six days before the Armistice, Zimmerman was killed in action in the Argonne Meuse offensive.
NYC Parks purchased the land for Zimmerman Playground in 1931 and expanded the site slightly in 1940. Zimmerman Playground is one of nine playgrounds that were built by NYC Parks through the War Memorial Fund, and opened simultaneously on July 15, 1934. The War Memorial Fund was established in 1921 with $250,000 collected by the Police Department, and by 1934 the fund—never spent—had grown in value to $350,000. Seeking additional open spaces for children, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses obtained a legal ruling which permitted use of the fund for playground development. The properties were intended to honor the memories of individual soldiers who gave their lives in combat.
The Fund was transferred to NYC Parks on March 19, 1934. With additional funding from the Federal Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, the nine playgrounds were constructed within four months. Each site was equipped with a play area, wading pool, brick field house and comfort station, flagpole, and commemorative tablet. Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Parks Commissioner Moses simultaneously dedicated the memorial playgrounds in a ceremony held at William E. Sheridan Playground in Brooklyn. The program was broadcast to all the other playgrounds by means of an elaborate public address system.
To the west stand the Allerton Coops, a group of apartment houses built in Tudor Revival and Expressionist styles and erected between 1925 and 1929. These buildings were built by the United Workers Cooperative Association as non-profit cooperative housing for their members’ families, mostly Eastern European Jews in the garment industry. The tightly knit community provided children’s afterschool classes taught in Yiddish, a nursery for children of working mothers, social clubs, libraries, a gymnasium, and an auditorium. This experiment in socialist living is recognized as one of the earliest examples of cooperative housing in New York City, and the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1996-97 Zimmerman Playground and field house (now a preschool) were reconstructed with city funds allocated by the mayor. The redesigned playground plan featured new basketball courts located along the north side to make room for a central outdoor living room and spray plaza, defined by seating, trees, and decorative pavement. The renovations also provided new play equipment, steel fencing, drinking fountain, handicap ramps, pavement, curbs, and a resurfaced handball wall with a dinosaur mural. Plantings consist of shrubs, lawn panels, and five species of shade and flowering trees, including Red Maple, Red Oak, Elm, Serviceberry, and Japanese Tree Lilac.