Pershing Field Memorial Park is approximately 13.5 acres and one of the largest of Jersey City’s over forty municipally operated parks and playgrounds. After World War I, the city experienced a population boom, and the industrial community needed the outlet of open space for leisure and recreation. The solution was to build a park in the Jersey City Heights from a larger site intended for a reservoir, which became the adjacent Reservoir #3. The park opened in 1922.
The park was named for General John J. Pershing, associating it with the previous use of the grounds as a World War I military training ground. It has also lent itself over the years to serve as a memorial park for servicemen since World War I. Although he was invited, General Pershing did not attend the July 4 opening ceremony, but he sent a letter of apology.
As one enters Pershing Field on Summit Avenue, there is a large arch made of reddish colored stone; it is the only remnant of the Fourth Regiment Armory building that once stood at Montgomery Street and Bergen Avenue. After the armory building was destroyed in 1927, the arch was reconstructed in Pershing Field and provides a dramatic entrance to the passive side of the park. Both the Arch and the old Armory trace their history to that of the city’s Fourth National Guard Regiment whose origin goes back to just after the Civil War.
Along the walking paths throughout the park are small stone markers with plaques bearing the names of veterans from World Wars I and II. Their presence gives one the sense that this section of Pershing Field has a more serious intent from the remaining recreational areas of the park.
Beyond the plaque and the placement of a flag pole is the bronze memorial statue known as “America Triumphant” by James Novelli (1885-1940). In a web site essay, Josephine Murphy of City University of New York describes the opening event for the park: “The dedication ceremony took place on Independence Day, and a crowd watched in awe as an airplane circled the crowd for two hours and at timed intervals dropped a rose to the ground until 147, each one representing one man who died [from Jersey City], had made an immense bouquet at the foot of the monument” (Murphy). In 2008, Pershing Field Garden Friends restored the memorial to its original state and once again enshrined the names of those Hudson City residents who gave their lives in the cause of their country. This project was made possible through a grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund. The monument was rededicated on Veterans Day that year.
Behind the statue is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center dedicated in 1986 creating a much-needed meeting place for various neighborhood groups.
Other commemorative monuments to US military personnel in the service of their country found in the park are the Korean War memorial (Hudson County Chapter) dedicated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1998, and the Jersey City Vietnam Veterans memorial dedicated at a Memorial Day ceremony held on May 28, 2001.
From the Central Avenue entrance one may access a number of recreational venues for track and baseball while the tennis & basketball courts are located on the Manhattan Ave side of the park. There are also facilities for swimming and an skating rink. The children’s playground is at the southern end of the park. Neighborhood residents frequently recall a time when they enjoyed ice skating on the infield that was flooded in the winter. The park once featured a sunken garden and bleachers that appear in postcards of the park.
In recent memory, the indoor, Olympic size swimming pool and building were constructed in 1980 providing a wonderful addition to the recreational aspect of the park. It was named the Joseph G. DeFazio Memorial Building.
A monument to the memory of our Jersey City residents of the 294th Engineer Combat Battalion, Company C, United States Army who died in an Antitank Mine Explosion, Sherborne England, World War ll, March 20, 1944 was dedicated in 1992 by the Pershing Field Neighborhood Association.
In 1995 the regulation size ice skating rink was opened, replacing the smaller outdoor rink, which had served the community since the 1960’s
In 1998 a memorial headstone, dedicated to Mike Fiore, for his lifelong commitment to bettering the lives of our children, was placed adjacent to the athletic fields.
On November 11, 1998, a monument dedicated to the memory of our Jersey City residents who died in the Korean War was placed in the passive area of Pershing Field.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Headstone was dedicated on May 28, 2001.