Morningside Park

123rd Street Playground

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

What was here before?

The site lies within the area settled following the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Created by New York City Mayor De Witt Clinton (1769-1828), the commission was charged with planning the orderly development of Manhattan north of Houston Street. The planners agreed on a system of rectangular blocks, extending from 14th Street through Washington Heights, designed to maximize the efficiency of construction and travel throughout Manhattan. Known as the grid system, the plan arranged 12 north-south avenues perpendicular to 155 east-west cross streets.

The plan provided for parks to be located on 53rd, 66th, 77th, and 120th Streets. The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 astutely predicted the exponential residential growth that would occur later in the 19th century. However, the plan, as realized, failed to include the park acreage necessary to provide adequate recreation for the growing population. In 1867, Andrew Haswell Green, Commissioner and Comptroller of Central Park, recommended that a park be located in Morningside Heights. He argued that it would be “very expensive” and “very inconvenient” to extend the Manhattan street grid over the area’s irregular topography. 

How did this site become a playground?

After the site was transferred to the City of New York in 1870, architect Jacob Wrey Mould and landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux transformed its raw topography into a place for public recreation. The 1887 plan for Morningside Park designated three entrances to the park from 123rd Street, one at each corner and another in the middle. The two easternmost entrances led to meandering paths that convened in a trail circling the field that once dominated the northeastern region of the park. In the 1930s, two trails were straightened, dividing the field into three smaller areas. A playground was constructed on the eastern section, the land on which Playground 123 stands today. It was named Morningside Playground and opened on November 20, 1935.

Later renamed Playground 123 in 2000, its name changed to 123rd Street Playground in 2020. NYC Parks renovated the site most recently in 2019, adding new entryways, pathways, and updated equipment. Benches and game and picnic tables provide the neighborhood’s families with opportunities to connect in a verdant space within a historic Harlem park.

What is this site named after?

This playground is located on the northeast corner of Morningside Park, facing 123rd Street, for which it is named. 

Directions to Morningside Park

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