Creation of Philadelphia Department of Recreation

Founded 1952

Recognizing that formal outdoor recreation activities and programs lead to healthier children, the City Parks Association in Philadelphia built the first public recreation facilities – Happy Hollow Playground and Starr Garden – in 1911. Most of the programs in those early years were summer sports activities for school-age children, although there was also a dance program that ran from 1939 well into the 21st century.

In 1952, the Philadelphia Department of Recreation came into existence officially under Mayor Joseph Clark, Jr. The department’s first commissioner, Frederic Mann, and deputy commissioner, Robert Crawford, worked together to develop year-round recreation programs to serve all the people of Philadelphia. In addition to sports, they added music, drama, and arts and crafts.

Crawford had a vision of a park or recreation center in each of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods: a dream that became a reality. The park system now has 156 playgrounds and recreation centers, along with 70 outdoor pools. Nearly all the park infrastructure was built under Mann and Crawford’s watch.

In 1993, the department began working with Philadelphia Green (a project of the PA Horticultural Society) to create the Parks Revitalization Project. They were motivated by the belief that “clean, green, safe and well-used parks are fundamental to the health and vitality of urban life.”

That same year, the department started the award-winning Creative Resolution Theatre, and just over 10 years later, the first after school programs for the Youth Violence Reduction Initiative were underway. Now there are more than 100 of these programs across the city. The department also created “Teen Centers” where those between the ages of 14 and 24 can play sports, watch movies, get mentoring, and do other activities in a structured environment.

The department is now the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation. You can learn more about their current offerings here.