overview

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history.

James Baldwin Lawn, in Manhattan’s St. Nicholas Park, inadvertently honors an LGBT individual.

Header Photo
Courtesy of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

History

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of 13 public parks and playgrounds named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, several of which intentionally honor an LGBT individual. This list includes James Baldwin Lawn, in Manhattan.

The lawn in St. Nicholas Park was named for James Baldwin in 2020 in honor of the Black experience in New York City, and also inadvertently for his LGBT history. Author and civil rights activist Baldwin (1924-1987), born and raised in Harlem, moved to Greenwich Village in 1943. He left for Paris in 1948 to escape the racism he endured in New York City, and would spend much of the rest of his life in France, but also frequently returned to New York. Through his writing, televised appearances, and public speaking here and abroad, Baldwin became a critical voice for the Black civil rights movement and brought attention to racial issues in the United States. In 1965, at the height of his fame, he bought and moved into a rowhouse on the Upper West Side. Baldwin is considered the first major Black writer since the Harlem Renaissance to speak and write about same-sex relationships. This began with his groundbreaking second novel, Giovanni’s Room, published in 1956.

The City initially acquired land here for the construction of the Croton Aqueduct in 1885-86, but New York State authorized the creation of a public park instead in 1894-95. The name St. Nicholas Park honored New Amsterdam’s patron saint. Additional property was assembled in 1900-09, and construction began in 1906. The park was designed by landscape architect and Parks Commissioner Samuel Parsons, Jr.

Sources

  1. Aisha Karefa-Smart, “Foreword: The Prodigal Son,” African American Review 46.4 (Winter 2013), 559.

  2. Christopher D. Brazee, Gale Harris, and Jay Shockley, “150 Years of LGBT History,” New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2014.

  3. Daniel Hurewitz, Stepping Out: Nine Walks Through New York City’s Gay and Lesbian Past (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997).

  4. David Leeming, James Baldwin: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1994).

  5. Douglas Field, James Baldwin (Devon, UK: Northcote House Publishers, 2011).

  6. “James Baldwin (1987),” Mavis on 4, Channel Four, March 23, 1987.

  7. Paula Martinac, The Queerest Places: A National Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997).

  8. Richard Goldstein, “Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Interview with James Baldwin,” The Village Voice, June 26, 1984, 13-14.

  9. “St. Nicholas Park,” NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, on.nyc.gov/3ELRkpK.

  10. W.J. Weatherby, James Baldwin: Artist on Fire (New York: Dutton Adult, 1989).

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

Hamilton Place & West 141st Street
Alexander Hamilton Playground
Public Spaces
515 West 182nd Street
Eleanor Roosevelt Junior High School 143
Cultural & Educational Institutions