Home for Retired Playground Animals - Atlas Obscura

Home for Retired Playground Animals

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

A menagerie of concrete animals brought together from across New York City's parks. 

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Henry Stern was the commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for almost 15 years. Only Robert Moses, who unified the city’s parks under a single management, held the position longer. Stern was brilliant—he graduated from Harvard Law School at age 22—tireless, and notoriously but unabashedly eccentric.

One of his idiosyncrasies was giving agency employees and many others an individual “park name,” which was to be used in communication by radio or email. Julius Spiegel, a long-time Brooklyn borough commissioner, was called “Mirror,” his last name translated from German. Stern conferred upon himself the name “Starquest.”

Commissioner Stern also directed the department’s designers to include three features in every new or refurbished park; a compass rose, a flagpole with naval-style yard, and an animal-themed sculpture. These components can still be found in some New York City parks, though many were removed during subsequent renovations.

In August 2023, the Department of Parks and Recreation unveiled its Home for Retired Playground Animals. Six concrete figures were moved to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, including an aardvark, a camel, a frog, an elephant, and a pair of mismatched dolphins.

The sculptures came from different parks and vary in size and style. Several are worn, showing evidence of the enjoyment they provided over the years. The collection is a bit odd, which makes it a fitting tribute to Starquest, the man who set the animals loose in New York City parks.

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