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
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