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Van Cortlandt Park

Classic Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Playgrounds and play equipment have always been designed with the goal of developing child creativity and improvisation. Classic Playground is named for the collection of traditional play equipment, seesaws, swings, and slides, in the playground.

In 1891 Charles Stover (1861-1929) created the New York Society for Parks and Playgrounds with the hope that the city would build more playgrounds with play equipment for children. Mayor Seth Low (1850-1916), NYC’s first mayor after the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs, appointed Stover commissioner of Manhattan Parks. Stover worked with Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940), head of the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side, to establish the Outdoor Recreation League. The league constructed nine playgrounds with swings, slides, and seesaws. Parks began recreation programs in 1902 to promote athletic activity and community involvement in the parks and playgrounds. In October 1903, Seward Park was dedicated as the first municipal park with play equipment. The play equipment served as a model for playgrounds across the city.

The playgrounds of New York City saw great change during the tenure of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981). Through Federal projects like the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration Moses funded the renovation of playgrounds making sandboxes, wading pools, swings, seesaws, and benches the norm. As Commissioner from 1934 to 1960, Moses increased the number of playgrounds in New York City from 119 to 777. In 1967, during the term of Mayor John V. Lindsay (1917-2000) and Parks Commissioner August Heckscher (1914-1997), “adventure” play equipment was first introduced in Central Park. Designed after European models, adventure playgrounds included catwalks, cargo nets, and free form climbing apparatus to encourage creative play.

Classic Playground is located in Van Cortlandt Park between Gouverneur Avenue and Orloff Avenue, along Van Cortlandt Park South. The playground features handball courts, basketball courts, a comfort station, a flagpole with a yardarm, benches, slides, seesaws, swings for tots and kids, and play equipment with safety surfacing. Council Member June M. Eisland provided $875,000 in funding for a reconstruction to be completed in 2002. The renovation brings new play equipment to the playground while preserving the traditional environment of Classic Playground.

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