Located in the Upper East Side on First Avenue between 67th and 68th streets on 1.38 acres, the park simultaneously fulfills the recreational needs of its neighborhoods and subtly creates unique religious and art history associations. Named for the nearby St. Catherine of Siena Church, the park’s current layout echoes that of the Santa Maria sopra Minerva church in Rome, where the remains of St. Catherine rest. A flagpole takes the place of the altar, the play areas represent the pews, and the playful elephant sprinklers pay homage to Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk, which is the focal point of the plaza outside Santa Maria in the Piazza della Minerva. The paving patterns resemble the floor of the church, and the spray shower makes up what would be the center aisle. Near the northern entrance is a metal compass sculpture mounted on a concrete base. The park is planted extensively with lilies, a symbol of life which has been long associated with Saint Catherine.
The property was purchased for use as public playground in 1907, and came under the New York City Department of Parks in 1914. Constructed in 1917, the park was given its current name the following year. In 1941, the park was renovated by the Work Projects Administration, from which only the flagpole, comfort station, and sycamore trees survive. In the 1970s, the park was again redesigned by Jay Fleishman of the architecture firm Carson, Lundin & Thorson. Criticized for its imposing concrete construction and for safety concerns, the park had a series of renovations supported by the Land and Water Conservation Fund before being renovated again in 1988, with the current design being implemented by the Department of Parks in 1996. Today the site features basketball courts, fitness equipment, playgrounds, bathrooms, handball courts, a running track, and picnic and chess tables, and serves a variety of ages and activities.