This playground, which is jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, has had several names since it was first opened in 1962. The property sits on 164th Street, between Clay Avenue and Teller Avenue. Originally, it was simply called JHS 145 Playground, after the adjoining junior high school. In 1987, the playground and school were renamed for the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957). Toscanini was born in Italy, where he studied music and eventually became a prominent conductor. In 1908, he began work as the musical director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and from 1928 to 1936, he conducted the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. To many however, Toscanini was most famous for his work with the National Broadcasting Company Symphony, which he directed from 1937 to 1954.
After 1987, the name of the playground was again changed, this time to Clay Playground because of the site’s location off of Clay Avenue. There are two possible explanations for the naming of Clay Avenue. It is generally thought to honor Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852), a lawyer and senator from Kentucky. Clay was instrumental in both the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Compromise of 1850; these agreements were meant to maintain the delicate peace between slave and free states. A local Bronx legend however, offers quite a different derivation for the street name. Claremont Park was once the estate of the Zborowski family. The mansion overlooked the Mill Brook Valley, and was landscaped with sweeping lawns and white marble sculptures of Roman and Greek gods. Construction of the estate was severely held up by the excavation of the Black Swamp near the property. Finally, when the workmen found clay instead of mud—which facilitated the work on the swamp—they named the avenue that ran across the swamp Clay Avenue.
Teller Avenue was originally named Fleetwood Avenue because it was near the Fleetwood Racetrack, which stood near where Morris Avenue runs today between 165th and 167th Streets. The name Teller has a rich New York history, and probably has its origins in the days of Dutch predominance. Church rolls from 1680 contain the name, and Francois Rombouts (b. 1640), mayor of New York in 1679, was married to Helena Teller. Further, in accounts of the Revolutionary War, there is mention of a Captain James Teller from the part of Westchester that is now the Bronx. The specific Teller for whom this avenue is named is Richard H. Teller, one of the commissioners who approved the 1871 map of Morrisania, just east of here.
Most recently, in February 2000, the playground’s name was changed to Arcilla Playground. “Arcilla” is the Spanish word for clay, and the new name serves to recognize the important Hispanic influence in the neighborhood. Today, both local children and students who attend the school use the playground heavily. In the center of the playground stands a comfort station, and along the perimeter are several benches. There are also new handball courts, basketball courts, a spray shower, play equipment, and game tables.