Great Neck Park District to celebrate 100-year anniversary

Great Neck Park District to celebrate 100-year anniversary

The Great Neck Park District hit the benchmark this month of its 100th year in existence.
To celebrate its anniversary, the park district is holding a celebration and carnival on Sunday at Steppingstone Park.
“When we decided to put the celebration together, it was just for the people to have fun,” park district Commissioner Robert Lincoln said. “We don’t need bureaucracy or fancy stuff, we wanted a celebration for the day and for everyone to have a good time.”
The park district was formed in August 1916 after a Great Neck resident, Roswell Eldridge, filed a petition with the North Hempstead Town Board to establish the Great Neck Park District, with the intention of obtaining and preserving open space.
After receiving approval from the town board, the park district held its first Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 31, 1916.
Its first land acquisition was the purchase of Hayden’s Coal Yard at the western end of Steamboat Road by Eldridge and his wife, Louise. It became a public park and beach.
After Allenwood Park was purchased in the 1920s, William Gould Brokaw sold a piece of his property between Arrandale Avenue and Beach Road to the park district.
Combined with three and a half acres added to the park district by the Great Neck School District, that land became the Village Green.
In 1938, the park district agreed to lease the 175-acre Kings Point Park from the Village of Kings Point.
The park now serves as a popular spot with nature trails and various recreational offerings like basketball and tennis courts and picnic areas.
The public bathing beach property at the end of Steamboat Road was purchased from the park district by the United State Government in 1942 to create the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
The park district then purchased land from Walter Chrysler Jr., which  became Steppingstone Park and the marina.
Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society, said Chrysler had tried to sell the property to the park district before the construction of the Merchant Marine Academy, but park district officials rejected all of his offers.
Chrysler, Kasten said, did not like having a public beach so close to his property and wanted to move it further away.
She said he made attempts at “sweetening the deal,” even offering to build the park district an in-ground pool and purchase the land that is now Steppingstone Park from silent film actress Olga Petrova and swap it with the park district for the bathing beach.
Chrysler ended up purchasing Petrova’s property anyway, Kasten said, and sold it to the park district after many attempts at giving it to the district as a swap deal for the bathing beach.
The Parkwood Sports Complex, which included an Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool and ice skating rink, opened and began operating in 1964.
By 1970, the rink was enclosed so it could be used year-round.
Lincoln said he remembers when the park district would flood the tennis courts in hope that it would freeze over so residents had a place to ice skate.
What started as a plan to preserve open space turned into an entity that includes 21 parks and three commuter parking lots on the peninsula.
Lincoln, who began serving as one of the three district commissioners in 2001, said that the park district evolved over time to meet the needs of Great Neck residents.
“Recreation is considered by some to be a luxury,” he said. “But really it’s a basic need as far as physical activity and a place to let off steam or a place to relax.”
Lincoln said the park district has always considered the needs and concerns of its residents when it made decisions.
Indoor tennis courts, he said, were a popular request in the 1990s.
“The park district responded and said that if the community wanted it, it’s our job to get it,” Lincoln said.
He also said that the park district has historically been ahead of the game in terms of safety.
As a member of the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Department, Lincoln said, he assisted in setting up a defibrillator program that utilized automatic defibrillators.
He said the park district was one of the first entities to have automatic defibrillators after they became legal in the 1990s.
The park district’s 100-year anniversary celebration begins at 1 p.m. at Steppingstone Park.
Lincoln said there would be various activities including inflatable houses, food, games, kayaking and sailing at the marina, and live music and entertainment performances.
He also said that there will be boat rides offered to give residents a tour of the Stepping Stones Lighthouse and surrounding areas.
A Fleetwood Mac tribute band, TUSK, will end the night with a performance beginning at 8 p.m.
“We had them last year and people loved it,” Lincoln said. “So we figured it would be good to have them come back and blow the roof off the place.”
In the event of inclement weather, the carnival will be moved to the Parkwood Sports Complex.
“Rain or shine, we’re celebrating,” Lincoln said.

By Joe Nikic

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