Apr 12 2012
Spring is in the air,
and Seward Park is a favorite Lower East Side destination.
Old and young find their way to historic Seward Park, located just a few blocks from the Museum at Eldridge Street. A space to relax on a bench, practice tai chi aside vibrant pink tulips or to challenge your friends to a race across the monkey bars, Seward Park is – and always was – a refuge from the crowded city streets.
Yet, public parks and green spaces have not always been part of the Lower East Side’s landscape. Seward Park opened on October 17, 1903 and was the first permanent city-funded playground in the United States. Prior to the park’s opening, people living on the Lower East Side were without an outdoor public recreation space, making the transition for new immigrants coming from steitel life in rural Eastern Europe even more challenging.
The following excerpt from Hungry Hearts, a collection of stories written by Polish-American author Anzia Yezierska, whose own family immigrated to the Lower East Side around the turn of the 20th century, gives us some insight:
“I looked about the narrow streets of squeezed-in stores and houses, ragged clothes, dirty bedding oozing out of the windows, ash-cans and garbage-cans cluttering the sidewalks. A vague sadness pressed down my heart – the first doubt of America.‘Where are the green fields and open spaces in America?’ cried my heart. ‘Where is the golden country of my dreams?’ … All about me was the hardness of brick and stone, the stinking smells of crowded poverty… ‘Oi veh!’ my mother cried in dismay. ‘Where’s the sunshine in America?’”
Seward Park provided the community with a place to escape the tenements and changed the lives of thousands of families and children growing up on the Lower East Side. Like the neighborhood, Seward Park has undergone transformations with the changing times, but one thing has stayed constant: the laughter and bustle of kids and families enjoying the space.
Click here to visit the City of New York Parks and Recreation site and learn more about the history of public parks and playgrounds in the five boroughs.