Considering it was a midweek dedication of a small park on the border between Sunnyside and Woodside, the crowd that gathered at the old Phipps Playground Wednesday was huge. That is what happens when you name a park after a local hero who was born and raised in the neighborhood.
The quarter-acre park located at 39th Avenue and 50th Street in Sunnyside Gardens was dedicated to FDNY Lieutenant Michael Davidson, a 15-year veteran who died while on duty fighting a fire in a Harlem building on March 23, 2018. Davidson grew up in the Phipps Houses across the street with his firefighter father and brother Eric.
“I’m so deeply pleased that this park will forever bear the name of a fallen hero, one of our bravest, Lt. Michael Davidson,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “This acquisition will also activate a long dormant corner of Sunnyside and Woodside. There was a real and credible proposal to create an out of context development in the heart of Sunnyside Gardens at this location. I’m proud to have allocated the funding to acquire and renovate this land and thrilled it will be named after a local hero.”
The lot had been unused since the early 90s when developer DBH Associates purchased the land from Phipps in 2007 and, in 2013, proposed the Aluminaire House project, a controversial plan to move an all-aluminum, “architecturally significant” house built in the 1930s to the lot as part of a complex that would include a two-story, eight-unit apartment building. The proposal met swift opposition from neighborhood preservationists, residents and elected officials and was defeated.
The developer sold the land to the city after Van Bramer allocated $5.5 million — $2 million for the purchase price with the remaining $3.5 million set aside for park development. Soon afterward a neighborhood group formed to have the new park named for their local hero.
“Nearly 4,000 people signed our petition to name this playground after our neighborhood hero,” Friends of the Michael Davidson Playground President Eileen Conelly said. “Future generations of Sunnyside and Woodside children will know the name MichaelDavidson, what he means to us and all that he sacrificed for the city he loved.”
Davidson worked his whole career at Engine Company 69, Ladder 28 — the same house where his father spent his 26-year career.
“Children need strong role models; people they can look up to and aspire to be like when they grow up. Lt. Michael Davidson was always that kind of role model,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “Thank you to Council Member Van Bramer, the Parks Department, and the residents of Sunnyside and Woodside for their efforts to create this lasting tribute to Michael’s bravery. He served our city with pride and distinction, and we will never forget him.”
Davidson was laid to rest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral after he became the 1,150th FDNY member to have died on the job. He left behind his wife Eileen and four children.
“The newly renamed Michael Davidson Playground will serve as a place of remembrance of his bravery and contributions to this community,” NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said. “Michael Davidson’s legacy will continue to live on in the neighborhood and city that he so selflessly served.”