Saturday, August 12, 2006

"New Life for ‘ol Macombs Park”" NY Post 11/19/78

New Life for ‘ol Macombs Park” NY Post 11/19/78

By Jerry Izenberg in New York Post, November 19, 1978

More than one Yankee management tried to swallow it whole and spit it out as a fully macadamized parking lot. Down at the Department of Parks, the red-tape spinners give it all the attention you’d expect to find lavished on a mad eldest child locked away in the attic in a gothic novel. The “beautiful people” in this town find it more rewarding to focus their short attention spans on renovating caves for oriental bats up at the Bronx Zoo.

But the park endures. It survives neglect and contempt. It survives political promises and a layer of scarred surface-dirt which is concrete in the summer and mud in the winter. The grandstand is rotted and the bolts which hold it together are pitted with rust. The water fountains don’t work. Just across the street, the splendid outlines of Xanadu ’78 (The House Which John Lindsay Rebuilt) fills the Bronx skyline with New York Yankee splendour.

This is Macombs Dam Park. Within book-end reach of Yankee Stadium, it symbolizes the contempt of a city for its children and adults at play…the contempt of a city for many of the same people who were blackjacked into underwriting two massive ball parks for private interests and for whom there is not time or money when it comes to their own recreation.

It symbolizes all of this and now it symbolizes much more. It is the focal point around which a new and long overdue revolution is being fought. It is a revolution without steamy rhetoric, abusive language or “you-owe-me” type of threats. It is the rallying point for new thinking in a new day.

It is here that the Macombs-New York Sports association plans to light up not only the Bronx but all of this town as well with a prototype “people’s park” which can stand as an object lesion to the cities of all America that, yes, it can be done.

It is a concept born of more than simple need. It was born out of the ultimate realization that recreation deferred in favor of the twin rip-offs of Shea and Yankee Stadia, is more than recreation denied. It is a challenge to the real people of the city…whether they speak English or Spanish or French.

On the morning of January 23 at Lowenstein Auditorium at Lincoln Center, the group which has nurtured this dream will lay it before some of the most influential people in this town…a $6 million all-purpose track and field, football and baseball, softball and senior-citizens complex which light up the sky with its 24-hour presence but turn the key to open the renaissance of a once proud neighborhood.

Like all revolutions this one is steeped in one gesture of contempt too many. The city did not tell the people who live, work and play near Macombs Dam to eat cake. Rather, it suggested that they swallow their pride and their local concrete in one gulp.

At leadt that was the way it looked to Mel Halperin, the president of the local merchant’s association whom was one of the group’s founders. The day he felt he’d had enough was the day he went to work and found them ripping up the sidewalk on Jerome Avenue.

There, even as the costs of the new Yankee Stadium had risen to five times the price tag promised by John Lindsay’s sooth-sayers, workmen were replacing the sidewalk on Jerome Avenue in the very shadow of this supercalafragilistic rip-off and repainting every other one Yankee blue and white.

“Nothing could have shown their contempt better.” Says Halperin, who remembers what the neighborhood was when his father first opened a liquor store here and the Yankee players would drop by to chat. “You can’t help anyone here by painting the elevated Subway Yankee blue for a few blocks. I think now we have found a way to bring people and safety back to the streets and start a chain reaction which can bring this neighborhood back to life.”

Carl Nesfield sees the proposal differently. Of all the community people who have swung behind this incredible plan – from the people of Community Planning Board No. 4 on down through the neighborhood joggers and people elsewhere in this city who care, Carl is the most realistic.

He has to be.

Each fall weekend he sends 900 kids out to play football in
Macombs Dam Park. He knows what city promises mean – nothing. That’s why he believes in the concept of these people doing it themselves. He is also realist enough to know that it is going to be very difficult.

“As this idea caught hold,” he said the other day from the small office where he runs his football league, “I thought maybe I could get some help elsewhere. I heard there was a New York State Sports Authority and I heard that the City had created something like that, too. New York State doesn’t care about us and when I called City Hall I found the other people don’t even have an office.


“That’s not surprising. You’re lucky if you can get the field lined. Recreation handles supplies. Maintenance does the work. God forbid you should askl the wrong guy for help. I worry about sending those kids out there. The dust is so bad you have to count the kids after every play. I’m not kidding.”


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