Throwing A Birthday Party for Mary Whalen Playground

By Ed Wendell

For 100 years, children have been having a great time at the playground at 79th Street and Park Lane South. On Saturday, June 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – 100 years to the day it officially opened – the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and Forest Park are throwing a Birthday Party for Mary Whalen Playground, and everyone’s invited.

There will be arts and crafts activities for the kids including the return of our very popular coloring table, where kids can color pages depicting local history. And there will be music and pizza and special guests to help celebrate this playground reaching its century milestone.

Every child that brings a handmade birthday card for the playground will be entered into our raffle for prizes and we will have plenty of other small prizes so that no kid walks away empty-handed.

And if a child doesn’t bring a birthday card, they can create one at our coloring table.

One of our wonderful local artists, Jennifer Lambert, will be creating works of art with kids by coloring golf balls. And kids can sit in a golf cart in front of a golf course backdrop to have their pictures taken on this historic day.

Why is there a golf theme at the 100th birthday for Mary Whalen Playground?

When Forest Park officially launched in 1895, an eighteen-hole golf course was opened to the public. The Forest Park Golf Course was massive, stretching south all the way to Ashland Avenue (Park Lane South), where residential homes marked the start of Woodhaven proper.

This means that many of the things you love in Forest Park – the Seuffert Bandshell, the Forest Park Carousel, Strack Pond, the Tennis Courts – all of that land used to be a part of the Golf Course.

The first four holes of the golf course ran along Park Lane South right to what is now Woodhaven Boulevard. The next time you are in that playground, remember that you are at the original first tee of the golf course. Look up at the golf clubhouse and picture golfers coming down those long steps to start their game.

After a few years of negotiation, the Parks Department agreed to shift four holes of the golf course directly off of Ashland and extend the course northward, picking up the land to build four replacement holes near the Myrtle Avenue side of the park.

Development of the playground was delayed by World War I, but finally opened at 12 Noon on June 17, 1923. Originally it was called the Lott Avenue Playground, named after a local prominent family who owned much of the land that Forest Park was built upon.

Today, Lott Avenue is 76th Street and the Lott Avenue Playground is named after Mary Whalen, a longtime community activist who was President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and the Vice-President of Community Board 9.

Mary Whalen was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Post 118, the Catholic Veterans Group and a member of the Woodhaven Women’s Democratic Club. One of Mary Whalen’s crowning achievements was the founding of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation. She not only founded the organization, she served as its first President.

“There wasn’t anything she couldn’t accomplish once she set her mind to it,” said Maryann Keller, daughter of Mary Whalen. “She was well known for her determination and her love for her community.”

Keller remembers fondly some of the traditions that her mother helped start in Woodhaven, many of them still part of the community’s fabric to this day. “I remember the Christmas Tree lighting and the parade and the street fair.”

“A lot of the improvements she brought to Woodhaven helped make it the community it is to this day,” she says.

And on June 17, 2023 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Woodhaven will celebrate this playground’s centennial with a fun celebration and we hope everyone can make it.