Bridge Playground, on the east side of the Harlem River, takes its name from the adjacent Washington Bridge and the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, which crosses the river a short distance to the south. Both bridges connect Manhattan Island to the Bronx.
The Washington Bridge was originally known as the Harlem River Bridge. Before its construction, several designs for the new structure were submitted. The choice fell on the double-arch plan proposed by Charles C. Schneider and Wilhelm Hildenbrand. Schneider had previously achieved recognition for his 1883 design of a railroad span across the Niagara Gorge. The original design, with each arch consisting of 6 parallel pieces of steel, was eventually simplified to reduce costs. The $3 million bridge was renamed in 1889, the centennial anniversary of the presidential inauguration of George Washington, America’s first president.
In the late 1940s, as the city and commuter population continued to increase, the Washington Bridge lost its grass median and much of its 15-foot pedestrian walkways to make way for more traffic lanes. Added to the National Register of Historic Places, it is still considered to be one of the most beautiful bridges in the city. In 1955, New York City Arterial Coordinator and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’s (1888-1981) Joint Study of Arterial Facilities anticipated that the Washington Bridge would be unable to bear increasing traffic. As a result the Alexander Hamilton Bridge was constructed at a cost of $21 million just south of the Washington Bridge, connecting the Trans-Manhattan and Cross-Bronx expressways. The Hamilton Bridge is an eight-lane bridge; its single arch is composed of two parallel steel components.
The land for Bridge Playground, at the corner of Boscobel Place and University Avenue, was acquired in connection with the larger land purchases in the building of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The seven-mile expressway, completed in 1963, connects both the Washington and the Hamilton Bridges. The playground was established on February 14, 1957. Its varied features include London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia), picnic tables, upper and lower sitting areas, and full and half basketball courts.