The Sunnyside Gardens Park
by Naomi Lehman
My family moved into our Sunnyside Gardens house on 39th Avenue in September of 1946. Aside from being delighted that I could jump up and down because no one lived downstairs, I had a park right across the street! I’m sure my parents took me there for the baby swings as I was only 41/2 then, but my clearest recollections are of being old enough to cross the street myself and have fun on the swings in what is now called “the Lowers”.
I loved to go as high and as fast as I could. Now that would make me sick to my stomach. But when I was in elementary school I loved it. My other favorite was the slide. Not one to sit on and whoosh down, but the one with 2 poles. Climb the ladder, sit at the top, wrap your legs over the parallel poles, and push off, sliding down with rear end hanging in the air.
The park was also where I learned to ride a bicycle and used the backboard to whack the pink rubberball hard. I think the brand name was Spalding but we called it “Spaldeen.” At the park I could escape and explore. And I was safe.
I still live nearby. Technically in Woodside, but I consider myself a Sunnyside girl. I’ve maintained a park membership as a non-voting Senior. No need to attend meetings or put in volunteer hours. But I do get to go in, attend events and visit the Japanese Rain Tree the was planted in memory of my
father when he died in 1988. It’s a sizable tree now, and I like to sit under its branches and recall my young years at the park.
Much is the same as it was in the 40’s and 50’s. Still have a baseball field, but now it has a bike and running path around it. There’s a sprinkler in the large open area. Playground equipment has changed to be safer, as in all city playgrounds; soft swings for little ones, no jungle gym, no carousel. Picnic area is much used as are the tennis courts. New events - tent overnights, Hip to Hip Theater Shakespeare in the Summer, “Flicks in the Park”, Trivia Night.
But what hasn’t changed at all is the sense of community and caring that have always characterized Sunnyside Gardens neighborhood. I was very happy to grow up here, proud to say I grew up here, and pleased to still be a Sunnysider.
Naomi Lehman attended PS 11, JHS 125 and WC Bryant High School. She received her BA in Ed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1963. In 1965, receiving her MS in Ed from Hunter College, Naomi taught early childhood grades for 22 years in New York, and then made the unusual career move to become a corporate paralegal for 9 years.
Naomi is also an accomplished pianist who taught piano for many years while also performing in concerts. Since retirement, she continues to be actively engaged in her piano performances as well as traveling the world.