Sunnyside playground named for fallen firefighter
by Benjamin Fang
Nov 06, 2019 | 249 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For generations to come, children from Sunnyside and Woodside will be playing at Lieutenant Michael Davidson Playground.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of firefighters, community members and city officials attended a ceremony to rename the former Phipps Playground after the fallen firefighter.

Davidson, who grew up across the street from the playground at Phipps Houses, spent his entire 15-year career at Engine Company 69/Ladder 28 in Harlem. He died fighting a fire inside a Harlem building on March 23, 2018.

In September, the Parks Department acquired the site, which has sat vacant since 2007, for $2 million. Another $3.5 million has been set aside for the development of the property into a new playground.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said after money was allocated for the purchase, a group of local residents approached him about naming it after Davidson.

They collected thousands of signatures on a petition in support.

“It’s the heart and soul of Lieutenant Davidson and his family that will forever grace this playground,” Van Bramer said. “I know that makes this a very special place.”

Though Van Bramer never met Davidson, he attended the firefighter's funeral and heard a lot about his deep connection to Sunnyside and Woodside.

“I was struck by how rooted the family is here,” he said.

Paula Davidson, the late lieutenant’s mother, said she and her husband moved into Phipps Houses in June 1977, three days before they got married. They were drawn to Sunnyside because of the values they associated with the neighborhood.

“The pride of family and community was evident here,” she said. “That is where we wanted to raise our family.”

Michael and his younger brother Eric laughed, played and formed many friendships with other children at the playground, Paula Davidson said.

“We are so very happy and honored to think that for many years to come, the children of these communities will do the same,” she said.

Davidson followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a firefighter. His father, Robert, also spent decades at the same firehouse in Harlem. Eric, meanwhile, currently serves as a firefighter in the Bronx.

“This was a great neighborhood for kids to grow up in,” Eric said. “It’s great that they’ll have another place to do that, play ball, run around and have fun.”

“As they come in to do that, they’ll see my brother’s name above their head,” he added. “It’ll be a nice reminder of the man he was.”

Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, who attended Archbishop Molloy High School with Lieutenant Davidson, said he was a loyal friend who had your back.

“If you ever found yourself in a foxhole, he would be the first guy you would want next to you,” Braunstein said. “You couldn’t think of a more ideal person to be there if your family was in an emergency.

“He was also someone who was very proud to be from Woodside,” he added. “He would never miss an opportunity to remind you where he was from.”

The Davidson family eventually moved out of the neighborhood in March 2001. Lieutenant Davidson lived in Floral Park with his wife and four children at the time of his death.

Phipps Playground, meanwhile, was sold to DBH Associated LLC in 2007 for $1.45 million. The land sat vacant until the Parks Department acquisition.

“This property will add a quarter-acre of accessible parkland to a neighborhood with insufficient open space,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver.

At the ceremony, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the playground renaming wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of community members, who signed the petitions and made calls to FDNY.

“Like all of us, they believed Mike should never be forgotten,” he said.

Nigro said Davidson was a “remarkable man” who always put others before himself.

In addition to being a devoted father and husband, Davidson was a beloved member of his firehouse, Nigro said, training new firefighters.

“He was an extraordinary firefighter, but he was an even better person,” he said. “Ask the firefighters here, and they’ll tell you the caliber of man he was.”
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