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Local History: MacDonald Park

Local green space has Memorial Day connections.

For nearly 8 decades, Queens residents have taken pride in a 1.415-acre “backyard campus” known as, bounded by Queens Blvd, Yellowstone Blvd, and 70th Rd.

A rare sight is an oasis of greenery in midst of bustling Queens Boulevard, and that is one of Forest Hills’ major draws. When Queens Boulevard underwent an expansion in 1931, parkland was formed, but on November 19, 1917, it was only regarded as a street area. MacDonald Park is Queens Boulevard’s only large-scale park, but many park-goers are unaware that it wasn’t always called such.

In 1932, the park was known as Thomas F. Harvey Square, and was named by Borough President George Harvey in honor of his father, who was a printer. In what is perhaps a rare occurrence in Queens and New York City park history, the park was renamed the following year. On April 25, 1933, it became MacDonald Park, which paid a fitting tribute to Captain Gerald MacDonald (1882-1929), who was a highly regarded WWI veteran and Forest Hills resident. A dedication ceremony was held on May 27, 1933. Not long after, Gerald MacDonald died in an auto accident, the name-change was predominantly advocated by Gerald MacDonald’s brother, Henry MacDonald, and American Legion Forest Hills Post 630.  

On May 28, 1933, the New York Times boasted that “MacDonald Park Opened.” It read: “The ceremonies included a parade through Forest Hills by American Legion posts, Boy and Girl Scouts, and civic groups. Colonel F.W. Stopford of the U.S. Army, who was the principal speaker at the ceremonies, praised Mr. MacDonald’s war service as an officer of engineers at the battle of the Meuse Argonne.” Besides Captain MacDonald’s role in battle, he was an army engineer who served in the 22nd and 12th Engineers, and is credited with many achievements, which include erecting bridges and digging trenches.

MacDonald also lives on as the Gerald MacDonald statue, which is a centrally-situated bronze installation facing west, and was unveiled on May 26, 1934. American Legion Post 630 allocated $1,500 at the request of Henry MacDonald, who was also a member. It was sculpted by brother-in-law Frederic de Henwood, and designed by Architect William Henry Deacy.

The granite base inscription reads:

 

Capt. Gerald MacDonald

Memorial Dedicated By

Forest Hills Post No. 630

The American Legion

To Those Who Served In The World War

1934

MacDonald Park has played a pivotal role in community events. On Nov 12, 1940, the New York Times reported on the prior day’s Armistice Day: “The Queens Council, Boy Scouts of America, assigned 128 Boy Scout buglers to sound ‘Taps’ at 11 AM, the hour the ‘cease firing’ order came through in the World War twenty-two years ago.” It then states, “In a mile-and-a-half-long parade were the band, detachment of troops, and twenty mechanized units of the Sixty-second Coast Artillery from Fort Totten, twenty members of the New York chapter, Legion of Valor; the Queens Police Post, and the Forest Hills Post of the American legion and their auxiliaries, and other organizations. The marchers stopped at the Memorial Green and the Gerald MacDonald Park in Forest Hills, where American flags were raised, ‘Taps’ sounded, and wreaths placed on the World War monuments. The celebration ended in the Forest Hills Theatre, 167 Continental Ave, Forest Hills, where 1,000 persons listened to patriotic speeches by veteran group leaders.”

On Sept 18, 1964, Robert F. Kennedy spoke to 700 people in the park, addressing local issues such as the need for a Queens medical college and buffering plane noise. In Sept 1969, Mayor John Lindsay met with 300 people. Some were part of Queens Taxpayers For Urban Priorities, which collected postal signatures to be sent to President Nixon to halt “useless military spending,” and the Mayor signed and mailed one card before he spoke. In July 1985, the Queens Symphony Orchestra Ensemble gave a free concert in the park.

In recent years, the park has hosted the annual Night Out Against Crime. On September 16, 2010, much of NYC experienced a macroburst, and MacDonald Park was a most devastated site in Forest Hills, where at least 60 of its most mature trees fell. and freestyle artist Judy Torres was a modern entertainment highlight for the park. A new chapter in its history will

James Griffin June 01, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Michael, this is an excellent history of MacDonald Park. That was an interesting detail about the park's name change. I don't normally approve of changing names but since this happened so early in the park's history this time it is all right. Henry MacDonald, as you well know, lived in a large Georgian house that today is the site of Kennedy House.
Alan Seltzer June 02, 2011 at 03:54 AM
The Friday after the 9/11 attack, the park was the scene of one of the candlelight vigils held around the country that night. It was an incredible night of community solidarity and support. I saw my minister there, who brought left-over candles from a long-ago Christmas Eve service to be distributed to anyone who did not bring a candle. I loaded up my pockets and walked around the crowd, handing out candles to anyone who needed one. Later, about 50 people marched from the park to the firehouse on Queens Blvd. to thank the firefighters for what they do. As I left there, I passed a firefighter who was redirecting traffic on Queens Blvd. due to the large crowd. He had tears rolling down his face from the surprise and I shook his hand and hugged him. Almost 10 years later, that night is one of my most vivid memories of the 9/11 events.
Dan Miner June 03, 2011 at 11:22 PM
Thanks, Michael, for this great article. I pass by this park on a regular basis had no idea of the history involved. The part has some nice crocuse and spring blooming bulbs, which paradoxically, will probably outlive the many trees uprooted in the park this year by the microburst.
Rose Wolner June 06, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Is this statement in the article about MacDonald Park a contradiction? On April 25, 1933, it became MacDonald Park, which paid a fitting tribute to Captain Gerald MacDonald (1882-1929), who was a highly regarded WWI veteran and Forest Hills resident. A dedication ceremony was held on May 27, 1933. Not long after, Gerald MacDonald died in an auto accident, the name-change was predominantly advocated by Gerald MacDonald’s brother, Henry MacDonald, and American Legion Forest Hills Post 630. In the first sentence, it is stated that Gerald MacDonald lived from 1882-1929. Then the second sentence states that he died in an auto accident shortly after the park's dedication in 1933. ?????

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