Senior citizens who used to play dominoes and socialize at a recreation center in a Washington Heights playground until they were banned by the Department of Parks and Recreation want to get their access back, El Diario La Prensa reports. Officials say their hands are tight, as city regulations don’t allow adults without children to hang out in playgrounds. The story was translated from Spanish.
A group of senior citizens living in Washington Heights wants the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to grant them access again to the recreation center of Wallenberg Playground, which for years they used to play dominoes and other table games.
Community leader José Pimentel, 50, president of the club Los Caballeros del Domino (The Gentlemen of Dominoes), explained that from 2005 until 2008, some 60 senior citizens would gather at the center located in the park at 189th St. and Amsterdam Avenue. They used it for various activities, primarily domino tournaments and board games.
“But since 2009, after they renovated the recreation center with about $80,000 that former City Councilman Miguel Martínez authorized the Department of Parks and Recreation to use, they haven’t given us a permit, which strongly impacts our ability to gather for our activities, especially in the wintertime,” said Pimentel. “We want them to at least let us use the recreation center in the afternoons, and even more so now that winter is coming.”
Juan Ulises Santana, 80, had been in charge of the key to the park and the center for 25 years. Back when he started, Wallenberg Playground had a swimming pool. Today, the park not only has a children’s playground with swings and slides, it also has three basketball courts and an exercise area for adults.
“For me, this park is like my home. I come here every day to spend time with my friends, but since they took the recreation center away from us it’s harder to get together and play games,” said Santana. “Those of us who used the recreation center would buy food and share it with everyone. We made fresh coffee and kept an eye on everyone’s well-being, so if somebody got sick we would visit them, and we would raise money for whatever they needed.”
The first time they lost their permit to use the recreation center was in 2007, but the group met with Manhattan Parks Commissioner William Castro, who gave them a temporary permit to use it in the afternoons.
“Then they renovated the recreation center, and promised that we would be able to use it, but they still haven’t given us the permit,” said Pimentel.
Other senior citizens in the neighborhood affected by the situation include Bolívar Valerio, 64; José Núñez, 69; Juan Ramírez, 55; and Arturo Germán, 50.
Philip Abramson, spokesman for the Department of Parks, said the group isn’t allowed to use the recreation center because of a regulation for playgrounds that prohibits the presence of adults who are not accompanied by a child.
“We’ve worked with the group to find alternative spaces where they can play. We have even suggested that they use the Highbridge Recreation Center, which is open to the public in the afternoons,” Abramson explained.
Pimentel said that the neighborhood’s senior citizens are low-income and can’t afford to make the journey to Highbridge every day, which is located about 10 blocks from Wallenberg.
The area’s city councilman, Ydanis Rodríguez, has expressed to the Department of Parks that “the space should be used for children’s programs as well as those of adults.”