Cool in Your (zip) Code: Crack is Wack Playground
On the sunny spring day of the Yankee’s home opener, another park, not that far away was empty and locked. From the Crack is Wack Playground you could see the Direct TV blimp hovering over Yankee Stadium. The playground is an attractive little triangular park bounded by 127th Street, Second Avenue, and the Harlem River Drive. There are basketball courts, benches in the sun, drinking fountains, curving paths, and sturdy plantings. But it is surrounded by a tall locked fence. And it is an island amidst the multiple diverging streams of traffic to/from the Harlem River Drive, and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. I had gone to see Keith Haring’s “Crack is Wack” murals, painted on either side of a wall shared between 2 handball courts. They were painted in 1986, a year after he designed the poster for the 1985 “New York is Book Country”. I sold posters at NYBC for many years (to raise money for library programs), but missed out on selling that one. Still, that poster was my first exposure to Keith Haring. I’d vaguely known about the “Crack is Wack” murals before, but discovered they were still around and only a few blocks from my base of operations, the 125th Street Library, when I checked my 2004 Not for Tourists Guide to New York. The murals are really closer to 128th Street than 127th (as identified by NFT and the Parks Department), and closest to the Harlem River Drive (look for them the next time you drive by). Nowhere, not posted on the locked gate, or on the generally informative NYC Parks website, can I find when the playground is open. So our photos of the murals are through the fence. Many thanks to James Drumgo for the photos. Eleven days later, during the recent warm spell, I went back to see if the playground was open. No. No signs. This time I noticed other things: the tables with built-in chess boards, the pristine condition of the basketball nets, the unsmudged court markings, the winter-dead plants among the living. Half a block away, children were playing baseball, lacrosse, and soccer on the green artificial turf of the Harlem River Park. They could reach it safely via pedestrian bridges over the highway exits and 128th Street. That park is not an island. I suspect that the Crack is Wack playground would be used, despite the dangers of reaching it, if it were open. There are a few small apartment buildings a block away and the 126th Street Bus Depot just across the street. So, it is only semi “cool in your code”. The murals are cool (even though you have to walk three quarters of the way around the park to see the both sides), but the chained, locked gate is not. I’ll let you know when I find it open. Meanwhile, here's a video from the Parks Department about the three Keith Haring murals in NYC parks.