Utopia Playground in Fresh Meadows is a three-acre park that once housed the Black Stump School and the volunteer Black Stump fire company — and it exists today thanks to, of all people, Robert Moses.
Part of Fresh Meadows was known as Black Stump way back when, because farmers used the charred remains of trees to mark their property lines. Both the playground at 73rd Avenue and the parkway alongside it were named for the Utopia Land Co., failed developers in the area.
With the building boom that followed World War II, the area was starved for a public school. On July 24, 1947, the Board of Estimate met and discussed using the playground, then five years old, as the site for what would be Public School No. 173.
But Moses — the master planner with a reputation for destroying neighborhoods and seizing property under eminent domain — blasted the board and stopped the plan.
In outlining his case before the members, he noted that the playground had been acquired by the city for only $20,000. To find another site for a park and build it, he said, would now cost at least $250,000. Plus, an old stream in the center of the playground, filled in by the city in 1941, would cause problems with any school’s foundation. And the plan would not leave adequate play space for either a neighborhood playground or a school playground, so it would be unsatisfactory both to the Board of Education and the Parks Department. The same groups fighting for PS 173 would be the first to demand a new playground, he added.
Moses got his way, as usual, with the board deciding in August to keep the park untouched. PS 173 was eventually built at 174-10 67 Ave. instead.