The 1850s

The 1860s

The 1870s

The 1880s

Early 20th Century

The 1920s

The 1930s

Post World War II

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

All text from:
The Park and the People

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The Heckscher Playground   |   The Casino   |   Demands on the Park
The Heckscher Playground
The shortage of public space in Manhattan increased the demands placed on Central Park in the twentieth century, especially since new generations did not go to the park just to enjoy its beautiful natural landscape. More and more visitors came to Central Park hoping to play, to be entertained, to see something -- a show or spectacle -- just as those who could afford it did at Coney Island or the movie house. And park administrators, politicians, and reformers all sought to meet these expectations, to demonstrate that the city's grandest public park had kept pace with the times.

Although most progressive reformers regarded playing fields, field houses, and gymnastic equipment as essential park features, before the 1920s, the playground movement had only a limited physical impact on Central Park. In the 1890s reformers had successfully introduced a small sand garden in the shadow of Umpire Rock on the southwest Playground. By 1912 play supervisors ran five summer programs for children in the park, but without equipment. In the spirit of the playground movement, park officials did now permit a number of competitive sports -- including soccer, field hockey, and football, as well as the traditional baseball and croquet -- on the meadows. Commissioners made only tentative gestures, however, toward building new facilities. As late as the 1920s, only about 9 percent of the park's terrain was devoted to playfields or special programed events. [Ch1449]

The Heckscher Playground at 61st Street and Seventh Avenue, added only in 1926, became the sole equipped playground within the park. It was bitterly opposed by several real estate and civic groups, including the League of Women Voters and the Federation of Women's Clubs. The Central Park West and Columbus Avenue Association, which represented West Side property owners, argued that "Central Park was designed as a park where people could go and rest and walk and drive and that it was intended to be maintained with grass and trees." But the area at 61st and Seventh Avenue was designated as a playground in the original Greensward plan of 1858 and had long been in use for children's play and sports. In a political climate sympathetic to the reformers' playground movement, philanthropist August Heckscher used his personal prestige to persuade park officials to ignore the opposition and accept his gift of an equipped playground, 4.5 acres, including swings, merry-go-rounds, spiral slides, jungle gyms, a field house, and a wading pool just south of Umpire Rock. [Ch1452]


The Heckscher Playground   |   The Casino   |   Demands on the Park