When bocce ruled New York City parks

The Italian game of bocce has a surprisingly long history in New York. Its ancestor, lawn bowling, was played by Dutch colonists at Bowling Green, the city’s first park.

Mayor LaGuardia established the first official bocce courts in East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park in 1934, when the neighborhood was mostly Italian.

By 1958, 27 parks across the city had bocce courts, including Washington Square Park, J. J. Walker Park on Hudson Street, and St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx, where a group of guys play in the above Parks Department photo.

And though you don’t see so many old-timers gathering for a game anymore, it still has its fans; there’s still a citywide bocce tournament held every year. 

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13 Responses to “When bocce ruled New York City parks”

  1. Johannah Says:

    I remember very actively used bocce courts in a little strip of land along Houston Street where First Street begins at First Avenue, in the late 1950s, maybe into the 1960s.

  2. Thomas Jefferson Says:

    My grandfather made a bocce court in his backyard in brooklyn. Every Sunday, my dad would take our family over to visit. My Dad and my uncles along with my GF and of few of his local friends would play.

    It’s not as common as it once was, but when I do see a game being played, I can help but stop and watch for a while and think back to when I was a little kid.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I seem to remember Bocce on Houston Street too, but on the West Side off MacDougal or Sullivan or Thompson. Those older guys would get really into it!

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    Marine Park in Brooklyn still has very active bocce courts…with Frank Sinatra blasting from the portable radios. 🙂

  5. Kevin Says:

    The old timers still play at Carroll Park just about every day (weather permitting). With bars like Union Hall and Floyd in Brooklyn, I would say that bocce is gaining favor with a younger crowd these days.

  6. petey Says:

    horseshoes too used to be commonly played but is very rare anymore.

  7. bunny Says:

    There used to be a bocce court on 52 st and 11th ave in Clinton Park during the 1970s when there used to be a large Croatian population in Hell’s Kitchen.

  8. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    On Houston St & 1st Ave my father used to stand and watch the men play as we kids would cry to get taken away to a real playground. Our tears would be angrily stared down and we’d keep quite after that.

  9. wildnewyork Says:

    I think Houston and First has a real, kid-friendly playground now. It always surprises me because I remember not bocce but winos congregating there.

  10. irishnyc Says:

    Spaghetti Park in Corona has a very active bocce club.


  11. Aonghais Macinnes Says:

    I remember in the late 70s after the Culver line stopped running in Brooklyn, I would always see men playing bocce ball under the elevated train lines near 37th Street.

  12. WHAMMO! Says:

    I was surprised to come across some old men playing at Bocce courts in Central Park back in the early 2000s

  13. The old men playing bocce on First Avenue | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] this bowling-like game used to be huge in neighborhoods populated by Italians, who brought it to New York during the great wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th […]

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