Jacob H. Schiff Playground
Jacob H. Schiff Playground
This parkland honors philanthropist and financier Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920). Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany, Schiff emigrated to the United States in 1865. Soon after his arrival in New York City, he found success as a Wall Street investment banker. In 1875, Schiff joined the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Company. As a partner in the firm, and later as its senior partner, Schiff helped Kuhn, Loeb and Company to become one of the most prominent investment companies in the world, second only to J. P. Morgan.
Conscious of the plight of many other Jewish immigrants, Schiff became involved in numerous charitable causes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1884, he helped found the Jewish Montefiore Home. Originally located on 84th Street and Avenue A (now York Avenue) in Manhattan, the hospital treated the chronically ill among the city’s poor. With Schiff as its second president and primary benefactor, Jewish Montefiore Home rapidly expanded and later moved to its present location in the Bronx. Throughout the 1890’s, Schiff also financed the work of Lillian Wald and Mary Brewster. Wald and Brewster, two nurses, provided medical care to the thousands of immigrants on the Lower East Side. With Schiff’s backing, they created the Henry Street Settlement in 1895. The settlement house offered food, shelter, and medical treatments for the poor, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.
In addition to his charitable work for the poor and sick in New York, Schiff contributed to many educational institutions, including Columbia University, Harvard University, Cornell University and Barnard College. Schiff also helped found the Jewish Theological Seminary, and provided the funds for the establishment of the department of Semitic Literature at the New York Public Library. Five years after Schiff’s death, Harvard recognized his unstinting support of education by creating the first Jewish Studies department in the United States in his honor.
This parkland, which is shared by Public School 192, also known as Jacob H. Schiff School, was once home to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. By World War II, the orphan asylum closed and was transformed into army barracks. Shortly after the war, City College acquired the building for use as a classroom and dormitory, naming it “Army Hall.” The building eventually closed in 1952 and was demolished when Parks and the Board of Education jointly acquired the land in 1956.
In 1987, the Schiff School playground received a $918,623 renovation and was officially named Jacob H. Schiff Playground. In May 2000, the park underwent a $650,000 reconstruction funded by Council Member Stanley E. Michels. The renovation included new play equipment, safety surfacing, benches, new pavement, landscaping, and a spray shower. In 2004 parks completed a $895,000 renovation funded by Council Member Robert Jackson. Work included the installation of an artificial turf field, new bleachers, a drinking fountain.