By Bill Parry
The esplanade in Queensbridge Park was named in honor of advocate Elizabeth McQueen, who founded The Friends of Queensbridge Park in 1998 and led the group for 18 years. McQueen organized volunteer events and helped to beautify the park that runs along the East River, across Vernon Boulevard from the Queensbridge Houses, where she lived until her death in February at the age of 83.
“She was a woman to be reckoned with,” City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said during a dedication ceremony last Friday . “For nearly two decades, Elizabeth McQueen was a tireless advocate for this park, seeing to it that Queensbridge got the investment and care that it deserves. We are grateful for her spirit and her commitment, and proud to name this esplanade in her honor so that her legacy may live on for years to come.”
McQueen and her group were influential in advocating for the reconstruction of the Queensbridge Park seawall and esplanade to protect and beautify the park. The $6.6 million project was completed in 2014 with funding, nearly half allocated by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).
“Ms. McQueen understood the transformational power that access to beautiful outdoor spaces could have for the Queensbridge community,” Van Bramer said. “For her, restoring the park was about justice for her community. I was honored to work with her to repair the esplanade and secure funding for the park house, and I can imagine a no more fitting tribute to her life’s work than this renaming today. She’s earned it for a life well lived.”
The park house used to contain bathrooms, a community space and a concession stand, but has been left empty and abandoned for years. In 2014, $4 million in funding for the structure was secured with construction set to begin in the fall.
Members of her family and dozens of Queensbridge residents attended the naming ceremony that featured a portrait of the community leader. Joseph Conley, who was chairman of Community Board 2 for 23 years, stood off to the side admiring the painting.
“Oh my goodness. I look at her portrait and her face tells the story, like she’s saying ‘Uh huh, what are you going to do about this?’” Conley said. “That seawall was fenced off and unusable in 1993. It was just a big gaping hole and it was getting worse with every storm.”
The city did study after study for years, Conley said, until the officials finally saw movement in 2009.
“It was a long journey but she was very, very persistent,” he recalled. “She was always reminding us of what needed to be done for this under-served community.”
Now there is community pride in their park with its baseball, soccer and football fields, its basketball, handball and volleyball courts and its playground. The park has also become a destination for concerts, with the City Parks Foundation sponsoring a number of free performances through July 31.
And they have that esplanade with a sweeping panorama of the Manhattan skyline across the East River, now named for Elizabeth McQueen.
“This is Miss McQueen’s dream come true,” McQueen’s friend Delores Chauncey said. “The millionaires may be on the other side (of the river), but we’ve got the views.”
McQueen’s grandson, Desmond Williams, who recently joined the board of The Friends of Queensbridge Park, said the honor was a long time coming.
“We’ll keep her legacy growing here,” Williams said, “although they’re mighty big shoes to fill.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr