Roosevelt Island’s most popular playground does not have swings, it’s smaller than all the other playgrounds and because it has two non-gated exits parents or caregivers need to watch their child a little closer to make sure they don’t run out of it. Which playground am I talking about? The Grandpa Al Lewis Playground.
I don’t know the full history of how the playground came to be named after Grandpa only that it was named for him in the Fall of 2005 before he passed away in February 2006. I am also unsure what prompted this playground to be so honored. Either way the honor binds his name to a location that every kid on the Island knows and will generally pick above the other playgrounds.
First off let me first say this playground is not built for toddlers and unless school is in session I would not suggest letting a toddler wander through Al Lewis unattended or without your being very close by. The average age in the park runs from 4 / 5 year old through pre-teens who can at times be all running through playing chase, base, or whatever other games are now the rage.
The equipment by Game-Time includes a spiral slide, a double slide suited for younger children, as well as a number of features that encourage climbing. There is a wheel that has fascinated most of the kids I have seen encounter it where they all want to push pine needled into the wheels cavity which I am sure the manufacturer did not expect or plan for. Again as the equipment has several differing levels young children must be monitored as they are a number of locations / gaps where an unattended small child can fall.
The kids love this playground and on a Saturday morning or after school when there is no snow on the ground it’s rare that no kids are hanging around. The playground is centrally located on Main Street across from PS 217 and is bounded by Capobianco Field, the Paddle Ball Courts, and beyond the picnic tables the basketball court. For adults the playground offers four lengthy benches which are much appreciated by every adult I know who has visited this park as getting your charge to leave is never easy and if you have to wait “another five minutes” you might as well wait sitting down.
If I had to characterize each of the island's other playgrounds it would be as follows:
The Octagon - Most Scenic - Great rock climbing walls & two defined play structures (one specifically for the younger set) - Four benches but in the gated area between playground sections (not great for those quick need to catch / hold them moments. Newest and largest structures.
Manhattan Park - Best View of Manhattan - No sun protection on a sunny day, best in the AM before the sun rises over the adjoining buildings. Great slat bridge and a cute built in piano complete with four number coded tunes. Plenty of slides. One or two adult benches. Watch out for the child exit "hole" at the park's North end. Stairs left over from prior park designs - annoying when with strollers. They need to open up water side gate and close the current gate.
Riverwalk - Best for Toddlers - The only park with swings (2 baby, 2 standard) - Also best park for toddler digging area by the trees. Four adult benches. View of Keyspan not too inviting but great view of 59th Street Bridge.
There are also two or three other small playgrounds which are known more as apartment defined which generaly parents don't seek out unless you live in taht building. Two are adjoining to Manhattan Park buildings. One of which is by a garbage area which makes no sense. The last stand alone playground is within the Island House courtyard.
The Eastwood Castle Playground - slated for demolition - Great visual design but the cement construction lent itself to plenty of scrapes and bruises. The adjoining hybrid wood playground equipment was situated to close and kids in the past coming off the Castle's wide slide would slam into the apparatus. Once demolished RIOC is planning to install a Game-Time apparatus of yet unknown design and theme. The sprayground is expected to remain.
The Former Lillies School Playground (between the Castle and Main Street) - The two pieces of aparatus in this small area should be demolished. They are not kept up and invariably due to flooding always have puddles of sitting water nearby. The wall surrounding this equipment does not allow parents or children a clear view into or out of the area.