2013-09-04 / Features

Plans For Queensbridge Park

BY THOMAS COGAN


Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Queensbridge Houses residents in front of the abandoned facilities building in Queensbridge Park as he announced the coming of a new building, to be constructed in the same place next year. Van Bramer was joined by Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski (r.); behind her is Jacob Riis Community House Executive Director Chris Hanway and (l.) with glasses and cap, is Elizabeth McQueen, president of Friends of Queensbridge Park. Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Queensbridge Houses residents in front of the abandoned facilities building in Queensbridge Park as he announced the coming of a new building, to be constructed in the same place next year. Van Bramer was joined by Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski (r.); behind her is Jacob Riis Community House Executive Director Chris Hanway and (l.) with glasses and cap, is Elizabeth McQueen, president of Friends of Queensbridge Park. At the south end of Queensbridge Park there’s a concrete building, painted red. At one time it had women’s and men’s rooms and probably had changing facilities for those using the adjacent swimming pool. Indeed, a pool was there once, but now has been gone for so long that some people claiming familiarity with the park are surprised to learn it ever existed. The red building itself has been unused since time out of mind for many too, though others believe they know enough about it to say it was closed in the early 1980s.

In a late August meeting, held in front of the closed park house, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer made a formal announcement that the sealed, one-story building will be replaced by a new park house. Demolition of the red house should be completed in time to begin building the new one, by summer 2014.

On an overcast day in the last week of August, Van Bramer, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and several longtime residents of Queensbridge Houses gathered in front of the red house to announce the rebuilding plan. Not far west of the gathering, repair and reconstruction of the seawall on the East River has already begun, with completion expected by next summer. Van Bramer made repair of the seawall a pledge during his campaign for the council in 2009, having for years seen the wall decay enough to tip the spike fence implanted in it and then see the fence incline toward the river, with some parts of it even falling in. Because of the collapse of wall and fence, the pathway along the river was abandoned by those residents and others who had once enjoyed it. As a councilmember, Van Bramer continued to press for repair and finally secured $3 million to have it done. The closed building, unlike the seawall and fence, did not present such a distressing sight; rather, it stood unnoticed. When Van Bramer asked Lewandowski what a new building might cost, she estimated $2.5 million. He proceeded to secure that too.

The councilmember said his larger aim is to make Queensbridge Park as fine as any other in New York. With the seawall and fence repaired and the promenade along the river restored, the park house could be re-created as a center of community activity. His companions at the lectern, some of them residents of Queensbridge Houses for more than 60 years, looked eagerly to that possibility. Elizabeth McQueen, one such resident and the founder of Friends of Queensbridge Park, marveled that “after all these years” there would be a new and functioning building. Another, Marion Jefferies, remembered both the swimming pool and the bathhouse that the red building once was, as did Maude Askin, who with Jefferies was glad that at least the building would be back and operable. Van Bramer was surprised to hear there had ever been a pool and was told it was situated just a few feet away from where they stood. When it was removed, the large playing field used for several athletic activities— on the day of the meeting, soccer players occupied it—was extended and obliterated any trace of the pool. The councilmember wondered aloud if there might be another pool there someday; Lewandowski smiled but declined to speculate, no doubt thinking about the funding that would be required.

The Queensbridge Houses residents and Chris Hanway, executive director of the Jacob Riis Settlement House on 40th Avenue in the Queensbridge complex, spoke of the necessity of the park as a place not only of athletic but social occasions, both of which should be made even better when the function of the old building is revived and enhanced as the new one is opened.

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