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Highbridge Park

Raoul Wallenberg Playground

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

Raoul Gustav Wallenberg (1912-?) grew up in one of Sweden’s wealthiest and most prominent families. His father, a Swedish naval officer, died three months before Raoul’s birth, leaving Raoul in the custody of his mother and grandmother. Gustav Wallenberg, his paternal grandfather and an ambassador to the Swedish embassy in Japan, was also instrumental in young Raoul’s upbringing. Fluent in English, French, German, and Russian, Raoul would put these languages to use when he became actively involved with the plight of the Hungarian Jews in World War II. Backed by the Swedish government at the request of the American War Refugee Board, he became a friend and savior to hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Nazi-occupied Budapest.

In June 1944, the War Refugee Board appointed Raoul Wallenberg first secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest. Here, he used drafting skills he acquired at the University of Michigan to design counterfeit Swedish passports, which he distributed on trains bound for concentration camps. He purchased as many houses, villas, and buildings as possible and adorned them with the blue and yellow colors of Sweden’s flag, turning these properties into neutral diplomatic property and safe havens for Jews. Wallenberg also organized and set up warehouses stocked with food to be distributed both as rations to the needy and bribes for Nazi officers. It has been estimated that of the 120,000 Hungarian Jews who survived the Nazi extermination, at least 100,000 were saved by Wallenberg’s efforts.

On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg left Hungary to discuss relief plans with Russian commanders. This was the last time he would ever be seen in public. The Russian government claimed to have no knowledge of his whereabouts until 1957, when Russian documents were released that claimed Wallenberg died of a heart attack in a Russian prison in 1947. To this day, Wallenberg’s fate remains unknown; reports persist from released Russian prisoners who claim to have seen Wallenberg alive as recently as 1990.

Raoul Wallenberg Playground lies within the greater property of Highbridge Park, along Amsterdam Avenue from 188th Street to 190th Street. Highbridge Park derives its name from New York City’s oldest standing bridge, the High Bridge (1848), which was built to carry water from the Old Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River. The Old Croton Aqueduct was the first reliable and uninterrupted water supply system in New York City and the first of its kind ever constructed in the United States.The innovative system used a gravity feed, running 41 miles into New York City through an enclosed masonry structure crossing ridges, valleys, and rivers.

The High Bridge soars 138 feet above the 620 foot-wide Harlem River, with a total length of 1450 feet. The area that is today’s Highbridge Park was assembled piecemeal between 1867 and the 1960s with the bulk being acquired through condemnation from 1895 to 1901. Raoul Wallenberg Playground offers a structured play area for children within Highbridge Park, is a neighborhood playground for Upper Washington Heights, and is also a playground for P.S. 189, located across Amsterdam Avenue. This playground underwent a comprehensive renovation, which was completed in May 1999. Funded by Council Member Stanley E. Michels, Council Member Guillermo Linares, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and the city’s Executive Budget, this playground received $2,085,000 in improvements. The project yielded new play equipment, basketball courts, safety surfacing, benches, repaving, landscaping, a spray shower, drinking fountains, and new fencing.

In addition to this playground, Wallenberg’s legacy graces three other Parks properties. Wallenberg Forest in the Bronx, Raoul Wallenberg Playground in Queen’s Forest Park, and the Raoul Wallenberg Monument adjacent to the United Nations in Manhattan were all named in his honor. Dedicated on November 9, 1998, the Raoul Wallenberg Monument lies on Raoul Wallenberg Walk at First Avenue and 47th Street. Commissioned by the Swedish consulate, Swedish sculptor Gustav Graitz is the designer of the monument. Kraitz’s piece, titled Hope, is comprised of a replica of Wallenberg’s briefcase, a sphere, five pillars of hewn black granite, and stones which once paved the streets of the Jewish ghetto in Budapest. The stones were a gift from the city of Budapest. These Parks’ properties remain a testament to a man whose altruism ensured the safety and survival of many human beings.

Photo of the Raoul Wallenberg Monument in Manhattan

Directions to Highbridge Park

Know Before You Go

ParkHighbridge Park

The historic Brush stairway located at West 157th Street is being reconstructed with the same utilitarian characteristics and simple expression of steel and concrete as the original. While incorporating similar materials, the stairway will be upgraded to meet today's building code. The lower area along the Harlem River drive will be improved with new picnic tables, a game table, benches and landscaping.
Anticipated Completion: Winter 2014

Highbridge Park Weather

  • Tue
    Sunny
    58°F
  • Wed
    Rain/Snow
    40°F
  • Mon
    Mostly Cloudy
    42°F
  • Fri
    Sunny
    35°F

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