“The story of this whole park renovation begins with a visit to PS 199,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer at the groundbreaking ceremony in Sunnyside last week. “It was career day and I was talking about what I do as a councilman. A young girl raised her hand, and she said, ‘You know what we should do? We should clean up Rainbow Park.’”
While Van Bramer admitted he did not immediately understand her meaning, he quickly realized she was referring to the nearby Noonan playground and its iconic rainbow sprinklers, which have been cooling the Sunnyside community on hot summer days for decades.
Quan, who now serves as vice president of the student government at IS 125, began working with Van Bramer’s community design initiative shortly after it was launched in 2011.
“This is a great opportunity for me to be able to be up here, and to be able to participate on this project,” Quan said a few moments before she joined Van Bramer, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, and several veterans of the local VFW Post 513 in breaking ground on the construction phase of the project. “Rainbow Park represents my childhood.”
In his comments before the ceremony, Van Bramer detailed plans for the renovation, which include a comprehensive overhaul of the general infrastructure of the space.
“We didn’t just want to stop at the sprinkler system,” Van Bramer said. “We wanted to add greenery and a barrier between the children’s area and the adult seating area. That seemed entirely appropriate.”
The project will include restoration to the basketball courts, new benches, lighting enhancements, and a tall fence surrounding play areas to ensure that children aren’t distractedly darting into traffic.
“Lots of parents have come forward and said there’s not enough fencing. They’re saying that kids could run out into the street,” Van Bramer said. “One of the aims of this renovation is the security of all the children in this park.”
Moments after the ceremony was completed, the crowd was ushered out of the construction site so crews could begin their work. Quan said she and her friends are already bubbling with excitement, and can't wait to run and jump through the sprinklers in the park.
Van Bramer also collaborated with the veterans of VFW Post 513 in the planning process. Among them were personal friends of Noonan.
“Tommy died in his second week in ‘Nam at the age of 18,” said veteran and lifetime Sunnyside resident Mark Wilansky. “We were childhood friends and I looked up to Tommy. He showed me the ropes.”
In addition to Noonan, also to be honored on a new monument at the park will be Donny Breuer, Thomas John Riley, and Eddy Cochran, the latter of whom wanted nothing more than to return from the war and open his own tailoring shop in the neighborhood.
The new granite monument will contain biographical information about each of these local veterans.
Breuer’s younger brother and sister, Jim Breuer and Noreen Haddad, who grew up on 40th Street and 50th Avenue, also attended the groundbreaking. Breuer said his brother's motivation to join the war effort that claimed his life was fueled by a long history of military service in his family.
“The Breuers have served in every war since the War of 1812,” Jim explained. “Our great-great-great-grandfather was wounded three times in the Civil War. One time he was shot in the chest in Gettysburg.”
Haddad added that Donny’s two sons, who were only six months and 3 years old at the time of his death, also pursued military careers. His oldest joined the Marine Corps and his youngest took a job within the Department of Defense.
Breuer said that most of all he felt his mother would be proud of his brother’s inclusion on the new memorial.
“My mother couldn’t even go see his name on the wall at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. She got within a block of it and she just couldn’t see his name there,” he said. “She couldn’t handle it because she always believed he would ring the bell and come back. But I think she would be really touched that his memory would be carried on in this park that was so important to us as kids. This was our Central Park.”