A section of Flushing Meadows Corona Park will be transformed into a retirement community for some of the city’s most cherished civil servants.
Under a new plan announced by the city’s Parks Department, the “NYC Parks Home for Retired Playground Animals” would be established at a new grove where five concrete animals — two dolphins, one aardvark, one camel and one frog who until now were living out their last years in storage — will be the first residents in the new retirement home, which is set to open this fall.
“After decades of service to New York City, and with perfect attendance records across the board, it’s time for these ‘parkies’ to hang up their hats and enjoy a life of leisure,” NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver said. “Instead of moving down south to Florida, they will get their place in the sun in Flushing, at the new Home for Retired Playground Animals in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Come stop by and say hello to an old friend.”
The animals will remain in their current state, without repainting or touch-ups, and their new space will include new plantings, as well as benches, for the enjoyment of visitors. New pathways will allow parkgoers to easily access the area from three separate points.
Most of the concrete animals found in the city’s parks today were added in the 1980s and ’90s under former Commissioner Henry Stern, who tasked Parks engineers to incorporate animal art into every new playground project. While some features were designed by staff in-house, most — like the frog, which can be found in many city playgrounds — were prefabricated by manufacturers.
As playgrounds are renovated over time, the concrete animals are often removed, with the blessing of the community members who use the park, to make way for new play features and to add more accessible play space. The concrete animals were discarded when they reached the end of their service, but starting now the worn and much-loved figures that have been in storage will have a new home in Flushing Meadows Corona Park with the project design currently under community review.
When Stern died in March 2019, his former staffer Frank “Turtle” Raffaele called the former NYC Parks commissioner a legendary and towering figure.
“Everything he did was in a fun, eccentric and whimsical way,” Raffaele said.
Raised in Howard Beach, Raffaele worked for Stern in the 1990s. It was Stern who gave him the nickname “Turtle” after a character in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“He paid attention to all of the smaller open spaces like playgrounds all around Queens,” Raffaele recalled. “Henry loved animals and if you go into any playground you’ll find little animal features. That was Henry.”
And now his concrete retirees will have a home in one of Stern’s favorite parks.