Flushing Meadows Corona Park now features a home for retired concrete playground animals in a quiet grove just east of the iconic Unisphere. NYC Parks hosted a retirement party for the six whimsical cement sculptures on Aug. 18, complete with party hats and cake, and issued a proclamation honoring the retired animals that graced public parks until they reached their golden years.
“At NYC Parks, our civil servants take many forms: not only park workers, but also the beloved concrete animals children have been playing on for decades in our playgrounds across the city,” NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said. “We’re so excited to unveil this new contemplative space in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as we send some of our hardest-working employees into retirement in style.”
Hailing from all across the city, the six playground sculptures — two dolphins, one elephant, 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. The grove includes new benches that were installed to add to the contemplative nature of the area. A new accessible pathway has also been added to allow park goers easy access through the area from three separate points. Parks will also be enhancing the existing canopy with additional trees, shrubs, and landscaping elements.
“We hope that despite their retirement, they will continue to inspire imagination and creativity in park goers into the future,” Donoghue said.
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.
Stern died in March 2019, and now his beloved playground animals have their retirement home in his favorite park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Visitors can park at the Queens Museum Parking Lot and then walk past the Unisphere to the grove.