Neighbors embark on a ‘long journey’ to fix up Cione Playground

Neigh­bors say they are tak­ing it upon them­selves to fix up Cione Play­ground, since it's cur­rently in dis­repair, and not prop­erly serving the memory of its name­sake, po­lice of­ficer Fre­d­er­ick Cione. 

Cione Play­ground, with the mur­al of Fre­d­er­ick Cione vis­ible in the back­ground. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

For years, Cione Play­ground and the nearby fields have been one of the largest areas of green space in the River Wards, stretch­ing from Le­high Av­en­ues along Ara­mingo Av­en­ue down to Hunt­ing­don Street. 

But the park is cur­rently in a state of dis­repair. Ob­scene graf­fiti is scrawled on the play­ground equip­ment. Dis­carded needles have been found left ly­ing in the grassy areas. The foot­ball team of St. Anne’s pa­ro­chi­al school some­times uses the field to prac­tice, but its con­di­tion is too shoddy to hold ac­tu­al games.

“Do you want your child play­ing where there’s broken bottles, where there’s needles?” asked neigh­bor Shar­on Mor­gan, treas­urer of Friends of Cione. “When you come to our neigh­bor­hood, it’s one of the first things you see. And it’s not ap­peal­ing. If I was mov­ing to the neigh­bor­hood and thought this is where my kids are go­ing to play, I’d think twice.”

Don Gould, own­er of Mem­ph­is Mar­ket & Grill, re­cently bought a new sign at Hunt­ing­don Street and Ara­mingo Av­en­ue which wel­comes pass­ers-by to Olde Rich­mond and Cione Play­ground, to make people more aware of the fa­cil­it­ies. But it needs a lot more work than a new sign can do, he said.

“The play­ground’s in bad shape,” Gould said. “In heavy rain, kids can’t use the play­ground be­cause of heavy flood­ing. That’s ter­rible.”

Three months ago, a new com­munity group, the Friends of Cione, was formed to spear­head fun­drais­ing ef­forts to get the play­ground, fields and fa­cil­it­ies re­fur­bished. It’s the first group ded­ic­ated to up­keep of the field in at least a dec­ade, mem­bers said, and they are plan­ning on set­ting up as a per­man­ent new or­gan­iz­a­tion.

It’s even more im­port­ant to these neigh­bors that Cione be saved be­cause it is named after Phil­ade­phia Po­lice Of­ficer Fre­d­er­ick Cione. A Hunt­ing­don Street man, Cione was killed in the line of duty in 1970, and is the only slain po­lice of­ficer in Phil­adelphia his­tory whose murder was nev­er solved.

“This man’s memory de­serves to have something look­ing good and not just a run­down for­got­ten play­ground that used to mean something,” said Bri­an White, pres­id­ent of the Friends of Cione.

White grew up across the street from Cione field, and played there as a kid. But now, he said, the bas­ket­ball court rims have fallen, some of the light fix­tures sway in the wind and seem dan­ger­ously un­stable, and the play­ground, which faces the busy in­ter­sec­tion of Ara­mingo and Le­high av­en­ues, is dan­ger­ously close to traffic. 

White said that the Friends of Cione aims to even­tu­ally fix all of these is­sues. 

“It’s go­ing to be a long jour­ney, but it starts with one step. If we make this jour­ney, it will be worth it,” White said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

A few steps have already been taken. The Olde Rich­mond Civic As­so­ci­ation is work­ing with City Coun­cil­man Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) to re­pair the fen­cing at Le­high and Ara­mingo av­en­ues so that kids in the play­ground are se­curely sep­ar­ated from nearby traffic.

The Friends of Cione vo­lun­teers have also star­ted re­paint­ing the in­side of the Cione Re­cre­ation Cen­ter.

White said that for now, the Friends of Cione group mem­bers are just selling T-shirts to neigh­bors to kick off fun­drais­ing ef­forts. But they are ap­ply­ing to cre­ate an of­fi­cial non-profit, so that they can ramp up fun­drais­ing ef­forts in the com­ing months and years.

ldquo;We all know the city just can’t sup­port us right now,” Mor­gan said. “The ice skat­ing rink needs to be re­done, the bas­ket­ball court needs to be re­done — so we’re all chip­ping in and do­ing it ourselves.” ••

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