This playground commemorates August Heckscher Sr. (1848-1941)--real estate magnate, financier, philanthropist, and grandfather of August Heckscher III (1914-1997), Parks Commissioner under Mayor John V. Lindsay (1921-2000). Heckscher was born in Hamburg, Germany, the son of the German Minister of Justice. He studied in Switzerland, apprenticed at an export house in Hamburg, then moved to New York in 1867.
Heckscher did not speak English, so he joined the Mercantile Library at Astor Place and taught himself to read the language. Wasting little time, Heckscher set about making a name for himself in the business world. He purchased a coal mine near Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and zinc plants in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Sussex County, New Jersey. In the early 1900s, Heckscher entered the Manhattan real estate market. After a few initial investment blunders, he made a number of good investment decisions, yielding millions of dollars in profit. In one instance, Hecksher turned around the Manhattan Hotel (then located at Madison Avenue and 42nd Street) after just six years, for $3 million more than he had originally paid for it.
Heckscher’s interest in philanthropy developed when an officer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children asked him to donate funds for a motorbus. Heckscher refused to give money for the automobile, but donated a valuable piece of property on 5th Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets. The society could not afford to build there, however, so Heckscher donated a block-long building where the Heckscher Foundation for Children could make its home. For years Heckscher lobbied the government to raze the city’s slums and replace them with good public housing.
Hecksher was also a patron of the arts, and in 1920 he founded the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, Long Island. Most of the works in the museum come from Heckscher’s private collection. A naturalist as well, he donated the money to create Heckscher State Park on Long Island. In 1941 Heckscher died in his sleep at his winter home in Mountain Lake, Florida.
Heckscher Playground opened in 1926 as the first playground in Central Park. It is located in one of the three areas designated for play in the original 1858 Greensward Plan for Central Park, submitted by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-1895). Visitors enjoy the swings, merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms, and a wading pool. With over three acres, Heckscher Playground is still the largest playground in Central Park. Famous for its kickball games, Heckscher Park also contains 14 swings and several seesaws, as well as restrooms.
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