Heckscher Playground

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Coordinates: 40°46′07″N 73°58′40″W / 40.768732°N 73.977740°W / 40.768732; -73.977740

Seen from Rat Rock

Heckscher Playground is a play area located in New York City's Central Park, located close to Central Park South between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue. It is the oldest and largest of Central Park's 22 playgrounds.[a]

Opened in 1926, Heckscher Playground is named for philanthropist August Heckscher. Initially, it faced opposition from groups who did not want a playground within the Central Park landscape, but the playground grew popular with middle- and working-class families after its opening. Its success soon led to the construction of additional playgrounds in Central Park. Heckscher Playground has been rebuilt several times, including in the 1930s and twice in the 1970s.



A design competition was held for Central Park in 1857; applicants were required to conform to several specifications, including at least three playgrounds of between 3 and 10 acres (1.2 and 4.0 ha).[4]:PDF pp. 29–30[5]:111–112[6]:21[7]:24–25 The winning plan, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's Greensward Plan, included a play area called the Children's District in the southern part of Central Park. This area included the original Ballplayers House and the Dairy, both built in the 1860s.[6]:58–59[7]:74 However, the early design of Central Park encouraged exercise and "individual recreation" over team sports and games, and as such, playgrounds and recreational fields were not originally included within the park.[5]:248–249, 251 By 1914, only nine percent of the parkland was devoted to sports uses.[5]:392–393

In April 1925, New York City park commissioner Francis D. Gallatin announced that 16 acres (6.5 ha) on the west side of Central Park would be set aside for a play area funded by the philanthropist August Heckscher, who was providing the money through the Heckscher Foundation for Children. The play area would contain a wading pool, six ballfields, and a grove of trees.[8] The plans immediately drew opposition from several parties, including those who wanted to preserve the passive landscape of Central Park,[9][10] and several other opponents who called Heckscher's gift "a private memorial".[11] Yet others said that the mere presence of a children's play area would cause the condition of Central Park to deteriorate.[3] In response, Heckscher said that the Central Park playground would show the wealthy "an idea of what a modern playground should be", while another playground that he funded near Mulberry Bend in Chinatown, Manhattan, would serve the poorer communities there.[12] That May, mayor John Francis Hylan ordered the construction of the playground,[13] and the city's Board of Aldermen rejected an aldermanic resolution that opposed the playground and other Central Park "encroachments".[14]


Map of notable buildings and structures at Central Park (note: not all entrances shown). Pan and zoom the map and click on points for more details.

Heckscher Playground opened near the southern end of Central Park on June 22, 1926. At the opening of his namesake playground, Heckscher announced that he would start a program to raise $3 million for Central Park improvements.[15] His namesake playground quickly became popular with poor immigrant families.[5]:395–397[2] Most of the playground's users were lower- and middle-class families who came from further away.[16] By 1933, Heckscher suggested the construction of additional playgrounds in Central Park.[17] In 1934, work started on the extension of one of the park's bridle paths through the middle of Heckscher Playground. However, New York City parks commissioner Robert Moses ordered that the bridle path's construction be halted that May.[18]

By 1935, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced that the playground would be renovated. Among the proposed improvements were the construction of additional athletic fields; the landscaping of the wading pool; planting of additional trees; and installation of extra play structures.[19] A proposal to remove the Heckscher Ballfields and relocate all baseball games to the North Meadow was overturned.[20] Additionally, August Heckscher paid for a $15,000 memorial to social reformer Sophie Irene Loeb, one of the earliest supporters for a playground in Central Park. The renovation was completed in 1936.[21] To make way for the playground's expansion, a bridge called the Oval/Spur Rock Arch was destroyed in 1934,[22] and the bridle path through the playground was cut off.[23][24] In addition, under Moses's tenure as parks commissioner, twenty-one additional playgrounds were built in Central Park by the late 1930s.[5]:450–451 Heckscher Playground became popular not only among children, but also among adults who used the various facilities for exercise.[25]

Heckscher Playground was rebuilt again and reopened to the public in June 1970. At the time, the New York City Subway's 63rd Street lines were being built, with their planned routes running directly under the south side of Central Park. The city's parks commissioner, August Heckscher II (the grandson of the playground's namesake) expressed concern that the brand-new playground would have to be destroyed to make way for the excavation of the 63rd Street lines, located directly below the playground site.[26] In early 1971, the subway system's operator New York City Transit Authority agreed to reduce construction time from three years to two years and construct a temporary playground nearby.[27] When demolition of the playground commenced in August 1971, just fourteen months after its renovation, several people protested against the construction of the subway lines directly under the brand-new playground.[28][29] Even so, work continued on the subway project. Richard Dattner designed the temporary play space, a $250,000 "water playground", which opened in 1973.[30] The restored Heckscher Playground was reopened by 1977.[31]

The playground was renovated yet again in 2005.[1] As part of the $3.5 million project, the adjacent restroom building was also restored.[16] The work was completed in 2007.[1]


The Heckscher play area is located in the southern portion of Central Park, close to Central Park South between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue.[1][32] The playground proper covers 1.8 acres (0.73 ha), excluding the adjacent ballfields.[a] It is bounded by the 65th Street transverse road to the north, West Drive to the west and south, and Center Drive to the east. Nearby park features include Sheep Meadow to the north, across the 65th Street transverse; Central Park Carousel and the Chess & Checkers House to the northeast; and the Dairy and Wollman Rink to the east, across Center Drive. Columbus Circle is located to the southwest, across West Drive.[33]

Heckscher Playground consists of 14 swings, several slides, seesaws, a sandbox, and an open space made of artificial turf and rubber playground surfacing.[1][32] In addition, it includes a large climbing structure with a water feature at the top, from which water flows downward into the climbing structure through a series of crevices. Spray jets for younger kids are located nearby.[1] On the northern side of the playground, adjacent to the 65th Street transverse, there are six softball fields.[34] Rat Rock, an outcrop of Manhattan schist popular among boulderers,[35][36] is located just west of the play area and south of the softball fields.[33]

A set of brick-and-limestone restrooms are located east of Heckscher Playground.[33] They were built with the original playground in the 1920s, expanded in the 1930s, and restored in the 2000s.[16]


  1. ^ a b While the Central Park Conservancy says that the playground covers 1.8 acres (0.73 ha),[1] the New York Daily News mentioned in 1933 that the playground is 11 acres (4.5 ha).[2] In 2011, The New York Times said that the playground was 4 acres (1.6 ha) when it opened.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Heckscher Playground". The Official Website of Central Park NYC. Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "'Thanks, Mr. Sheehy' Playground Chorus". New York Daily News. May 3, 1933. pp. 310, 311 – via newspapers.com open access.
  3. ^ a b Foderaro, Lisa (September 27, 2011). "Lawns Are Done, So Central Park Playgrounds Are Next". City Room. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "1858 Central Park Commissioners Annual Report" (PDF). New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. 1858. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rosenzweig, Roy & Blackmar, Elizabeth (1992). The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9751-5.
  6. ^ a b Heckscher, Morrison H. (2008). Creating Central Park. Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-300-13669-2.
  7. ^ a b Kinkead, Eugene (1990). Central Park, 1857–1995: The Birth, Decline, and Renewal of a National Treasure. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-02531-4.
  8. ^ "GALLATIN DISCLOSES A PLAYGROUND PLAN FOR CENTRAL PARK; Expects to Alter 16-Acre Area From 61st to 66th Street on West Side". The New York Times. April 25, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  9. ^ "PARK PLAYGROUNDS DRAW DIVERS VIEWS; Mrs. John C. Kerr's Opposition Brings Quick Defense From William B. Roulstone. SHE SEES STERN REACTION He Holds Plan Is Not Alteration but Improvement -- Heckscher Sets Aside $50,000 for Mulberry Bend". The New York Times. April 26, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  10. ^ "LANDSCAPE SOCIETY HITS PARK PLAYGROUND; Architects Hold the Heckscher Plan Is an Opening for Further Encroachments". The New York Times. May 11, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  11. ^ "CLUBWOMEN ASSAIL PARK PLAYGROUND; Speakers at Federation Convention Call Heckscher Plan a Private Memorial". The New York Times. May 2, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  12. ^ "SEES PLEA TO RICH IN PARK PLAYGROUND; Heckscher Says He Proposed Central Park Project to Waken Wealthy to Child Need. CALLS ATTACKERS EXTREME Agrees Want Is Greater Elsewhere, but Prefers One Where It Can Open the Public's Eyes". The New York Times. May 1, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  13. ^ "HYLAN ORDERS HASTE ON PARK PLAYGROUND; Commands Gallatin to Proceed Speedily and Assails Opposition to Heckscher Plan. CALLS CRITICS NOISY PESTS Community Councils Is First Civic Body to Endorse Project -- Eight Have Condemned It. HYLAN SEEKS HASTE ON PARK PLAYFIELD". The New York Times. May 7, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  14. ^ "ALDERMEN REJECT CENTRAL PARK PLEA; Resolution Declaring Against Encroachments Is Voted Down. INTRODUCED BY QUINN Measure Specifically Opposed the Heckscher Playground Plan". The New York Times. May 13, 1925. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  15. ^ "TO RAISE $3,000,000 FOR CENTRAL PARK; August Heckscher's Proposal Is Approved by Mayor and Park Association. HE PROMISES TO GIVE PART Half From Public Subscription and Half From City--30,000 at Playground Opening. TO RAISE $3,000,000 FOR CENTRAL PARK". The New York Times. June 22, 1926. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c Berger, Joseph (April 12, 2005). "Central Park Restroom Roof Burns as 3 Hydrants Fail". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  17. ^ "HECKSCHER FAVORS MORE PLAYGROUNDS; Hopes All Entrances to Central Park Will Have Them -- Is Feted by Children". The New York Times. September 8, 1933. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  18. ^ "Moses Snaffles Plot to Bridle Playground". New York Daily News. May 4, 1934. pp. 160, 162 – via newspapers.com open access.
  19. ^ "PARK WILL REBUILD LARGE PLAYGROUND; Memorial Fountain to Sophie Irene Loeb Planned in the Heckscher Tract". The New York Times. February 20, 1935. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  20. ^ "PLANS ARE MODIFIED FOR HECKSCHER FIELD; Baseball Diamonds Not to Be Banished From Playground in Central Park". The New York Times. March 29, 1935. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  21. ^ "MISS LOEB HONORED MEMORIAL; Mayor Lauds First President of Child Welfare Board as Monument Is Unveiled. GIFT OF AUGUST HECKSCHER Playground Drinking Fountain Is Carved With Figures From Alice in Wonderland. MISS LOEB HONORED IN PARK MEMORIAL". The New York Times. October 4, 1936. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  22. ^ "32. Spur Rock Arch". Greensward Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  23. ^ "11. Driprock Arch". Greensward Foundation. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  24. ^ "Driprock Arch". The Official Website of Central Park NYC. Central Park Conservancy. February 12, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  25. ^ "PLAYGROUNDS GET A CULT OF FITNESS; Creaks Often Echo Cracks of Adults' Softball Bats". The New York Times. May 16, 1964. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  26. ^ Campbell, Barbara (June 5, 1970). "Playground Opens in Subway's Path". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  27. ^ Ranzal, Edward (February 27, 1971). "Transit Authority Agrees to Modify Central Park Plan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  28. ^ "Demonstrators Scrawl Protests Against Excavation in the Park for a Subway Tunnel". The New York Times. August 21, 1971. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  29. ^ "That's No Bulldozer, Sancho, It's the Fearsome TA Dragon". New York Daily News. August 21, 1971. p. 140. Retrieved November 21, 2019 – via newspapers.com open access.
  30. ^ Hammel, Lisa (June 30, 1973). "Playground Is Alive With Running Water And Soaked Children". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  31. ^ "A Central Park Area Near Subway Restored". The New York Times. July 7, 1977. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  32. ^ a b "Heckscher Playground : NYC Parks". Central Park Highlights. June 26, 1939. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  33. ^ a b c "Central Park Map" (PDF). centralparknyc.org. Central Park Conservancy. 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  34. ^ "Field and Court Usage Report for Central Park : NYC Parks". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. June 26, 1939. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  35. ^ Bleyer, Jennifer (October 7, 2007). "The Zen of the Rock". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  36. ^ Sherman, John (1994). Stone crusade : a historical guide to bouldering in America. Golden, Colo: AAC Press. pp. 226–228. ISBN 978-0-930410-62-9. OCLC 36603863.