Residents of the South Bronx have long known about the health benefits St. Mary’s Recreation Center brings to the neighborhood. What many don’t know, however, is that St. Mary’s was the city’s first indoor recreation facility when it was built in 1951.
City officials and residents were on hand for the 60th anniversary of the center’s opening on March 30, joining the chair of Community Board 1’s parks committee Herman Francis, and local senior dance group Tradicion y Cultura.
The building on St. Ann’s Ave originally served as the pilot project for eight other indoor recreational centers in the other boroughs, built with the idea of giving young people a warm place to play during the cold winter months.
“Today, this center stands as a jewel among more than 30 Parks Recreation Centers throughout the city,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
“From free swimming lessons to senior programs to salsa classes, this historic center is a destination for the entire family,” Benepe continued.
St. Mary’s Park, which surrounds the center, was created in the 1880s and named for a Protestant Episcopal church which stood nearby until 1959. The first playground in the Bronx opened in the park in 1914, and three additional playgrounds joined it in 1938 as the city’s response to rapid population growth in the neighborhood.
Community residents have worked together with city parks workers over the years to help revitalize the center. Projects have included the repainting of a 1970s superheroes mural, refurbishing of the lobby, and dismantling a large concrete pillar in order to make a new reception desk.