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Century Playground

Century Playground

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

For well over 100 years, Brighton Beach and adjacent Coney Island were world-renowned as “America’s Playground." At the peak of its popularity, there were three amusement parks, several vast seaside hotels, and countless smaller entertainment venues along the beach between Seagate and Rockaway Inlet.

The land upon which this playground stands was purchased by English Puritan settlers from the Lenni-Lenape Indians around 1645. It remained a sandy-hilled agricultural community until after the Civil War. In 1869, entrepreneur William A. Engeman (1840-1884) built the Ocean Hotel on the nearby shore, attracting crowds by stagecoach, steamboat, and rail. The resort community was given the name "Brighton Beach" in 1878 by Henry Cruse Murphy (1810 – 1882), in reference to the famed English seaside resort of Brighton. A lawyer and amateur historian, Murphy was the founder and first editor of the Brooklyn Eagle. He was mayor of Brooklyn from 1842 to 1843 and later served two terms in the U. S. House of Representatives.

The children’s playground here on West Brighton Avenue between West 2nd and 3rd Streets has a storied past itself. Named for its proximity to P.S. 100, Century Playground was once the site of Elliott’s Novelty Theatre, a clamorous three-story entertainment wonderland. Opened under the proprietorship of the well-known illusionist W.F. Elliott in June 1879, the Novelty Theatre featured balloon ascensions, tight rope walking, concerts, and dramatic performances. Patrons could join the gaiety for a small admission price—10 to 25 cents. The manager of Elliott’s, John Hodges (1821–1891), was a well-known minstrel entertainer who went by the stage name “Cool White.” Some music historians credit Hodges with writing and popularizing the traditional American song “Buffalo Gals.”

Erected in the mid-19th century as a one-story building, P.S. 100 eventually became one of the most crowded schools in Brooklyn.To alleviate this, a second building – today's P.S. 370 – opened in 1923 (the older structure was condemned by the City and rebuilt in 1924). With increased public transit service to Brighton Beach in the 1910s, visitors could sightsee nearby attractions during daytime hours but return home at night, avoiding costly hotel and dining bills. By the 1930s, the west end of Brighton Beach had evolved into a cozy residential community.

For many years, the parcels south of P.S. 100 and P.S. 370 that would become Century Playground were home to summer bungalows, stores, and the Anshe Emeth synagogue. By the 1960s, the lots had been cleared for the present playground, a Jointly Operated Playground (JOP) by NYC Parks and the Department of Education.

Playground renovations were most recently completed in November 2012, converting worn concrete pads into a safe modern playspace. The new design features a nautical theme, inspired by the site’s proximity to the Coney Island Channel. Improvements include upgraded drainage infrastructure, new fencing, a play structure set on rubber safety tiles, and colorful schoolyard games painted atop the new asphalt paving.

Park Information

Directions to Century Playground

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