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Fort Tryon Park

Anne Loftus Playground

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

Born in Manhattanville, Anne Susan Cahill Loftus (1925-1989) was a beloved resident and invaluable leader of Inwood. During a thirty-seven year business career, she developed an uncompromising work ethic and superb managerial skills, which contributed to her success as a neighborhood administrator. Loftus held the position of district manager of Community Board 12 from October 1980 until her death on September 28, 1989. She ensured the custody and safety of parks and playgrounds for the benefit of the children and senior citizens in the neighborhoods of Inwood and Washington Heights. On June 21, 1990, Community Board 12 in Manhattan unanimously passed a resolution to name the playground in the northeast corner of Fort Tryon Park in honor of Anne Loftus.

Early Dutch settlers referred to this densely forested high ground at the northern end of Manhattan as “Lang Bergh” or Long Hill. The Weckquaesgeek Indians lived in the area until 1715, when they quit their last holdings in exchange for goods delivered by Colonel Stephen Van Cortlandt. The Continental Army fortified this strategic site during the summer of 1776, but the outgunned and outnumbered Americans were ousted from their position a few months later by Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British. Subsequently the battlements were renamed for Sir William Tryon, Major General and the last British governor of colonial New York.

From 1901 to 1905, Cornelius K.G. Billings, an eminent horseman from a wealthy family in Chicago, reputedly spent more than $2 million building the Tryon Hill mansion. His 25-acre property was the most lavish of many elegant estates constructed around the Fort Tryon area. In 1917 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. bought the Billings mansion, which burned to the ground in 1925. Two years later, Rockefeller employed Olmsted Brothers as architects to develop the property into a public park. The land was acquired by the city through a deed of gift from Rockefeller and was designated parkland in 1931.

For the next four years, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of the co-designer of Central and Prospect Parks, transformed the rocky topography and thin soil on this elevated ground into a stunning landscape. While preserving open areas with spectacular views of the Hudson River and New Jersey’s Palisades, Olmsted Jr. designed Fort Tryon Park with promenades, terraces, wooded slopes, a heather garden, and eight miles of pedestrian paths. The park opened on October 13, 1935, providing visitors a picturesque setting in which to enjoy leisurely activities. The Cloisters, which houses the medieval art collected by sculptor George Grey Bernard, was opened in the north end of Fort Tryon Park in 1938.

Olmsted Jr. also gave special consideration to create a place for active play within the 67 acres of this scenic and tranquil park. He created a children’s playground complete with open space for games, play equipment, a wading pool, and a field house. The site of this playground, in the northeast corner of Fort Tryon Park, was specifically chosen for its flat surface and ease of access from the street. The playground is lined with rows of London plane trees which provide shade, as well as a natural transition to the rest of the park.

The $1,438,000 capital reconstruction of the Anne Loftus Playground was funded by Council Member Stanley E. Michaels in 1995. This project included installing new pavement and safety surfacing, fencing, north arrow rosette, and picnic and game tables. The drainage supply and water system were also reconstructed. As this is the only playground designed by the firm of Olmsted Brothers, the reconstruction deliberately evokes the original plan. Restored benches, new trees and play equipment are arranged according to Olmsted’s linear design, and a new spray shower was built on the site of the former wading pool. A large handicapped-accessible play unit, two sets of swings for different age groups, animal sculptures, play houses, and an open performance space were introduced in the new design. The newly restored playground is a thoughtful tribute to one of Inwood’s most dedicated public servants.

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