Thanks to Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, for supplying the board’s relevant documents.
The quarter-acre lot that runs the length of Seventh Avenue (west), from 81st to 82nd streets, has long been used as a local playground: a city tax photo from the 1980s (below) shows what look like a slide and two seesaws in an otherwise empty cement lot. In contrast, the Dan Ross Playground today boasts all the amenities of the modern playground: monkeybars, slides, swings, benches, chess tables, and even a stone sculpture of a toad—some of the locals call it “Frog Park”—all on the black rubber surfaces that help keep kids from breaking their bones.
These improvements, designed by Svetlana Filipovich, were made in 2002, when then-councilmember Marty Golden secured $240,100 for the Gowanus Expressway-adjacent park. Up until then, it had the wonderfully municipal name Play Lot Playground, according to the Daily Plant, a one-time parks department publication. At the ribbon cutting, the park was renamed Volunteer Playground, in honor of the 70,000 New Yorkers who improve parks around the city without renumeration—including, especially, Daniel Ross, who was honored at the ribbon cutting by then-parks commissioner Henry Stern for his work at Play Lot Playground. “[Ross] has volunteered in the park for over 30 years [and is] known as the ‘mayor of the block’ because of his commitment to this section of Bay Ridge,” the Plant reported.
“They named it ‘Volunteer Park’ after Daniel because they couldn’t really name it after him until he died,” Kathy Thompson, a neighbor, told the Brooklyn Paper in 2005.
Ross, who never married and had no children, died in 2004 of a blood clot. He grew up in Sunset Park but had lived across the street from the park since the 1960s. Volunteer Playground was officially renamed after him the year after he died, at the request of Thompson and residents of the 600 block of 81st Street and surrounding streets, according to the parks committee report of the local community board. (There are 53 signatures on a petition that was presented to Marty Golden in 2005.) “Mr. Ross…cleaned up the park and shoveled the snow in the winter,” the report reads.
“Dan opened the playground each morning and every evening he would sit on his front steps and wait for dusk to fall to lock the playground before he retired for the evening,” Thompson said in a presentation before the vote, according to the Brooklyn Paper. “We knew the season by the sound of Dan’s raking, or sweeping, or shoveling snow.”