The Riverdale section of the Bronx began as a real estate venture in 1856, financed in part by the prominent Dodge, Goodrich, and Spaulding families. The construction of the Hudson Division of the New York Central Railroad in the 1850s, which included a stop in Riverdale, enhanced the appeal of the area. In the 1860s, the increased accessibility to Manhattan together with the magnificent views of the Hudson made Riverdale a popular site for summer mansions for the city’s elite. Riverdale Avenue was laid out in 1884, providing further access.
Before the commencement of World War II (1939-1945), a number of luxurious one-family homes were built on the landscaped grounds near the mansions. The 1930s construction of the Henry Hudson Parkway and the extension of a bus line into the area spurred further development. After the end of the war, most of the larger estates were sold to institutions and developers, and a number of apartment complexes were erected.
Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1910-1991) realized that the increase in housing developments was creating a need for more schools and playgrounds. On June 30, 1955, the City acquired the area bounded by West 237th Street and Independence Avenue for educational and recreational purposes. In the fall of 1957, David A. Stein Riverdale Middle School began holding classes, and the adjoining Riverdale Playground opened on July 31, 1958 under the joint jurisdiction of the Board of Education and Parks. Equipped with basketball and handball courts, a baseball field, play spaces, a seating area, benches, and London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia) providing greenery, Riverdale Playground serves as a recreational facility for the students of adjoining P.S. 141 as well as children from the surrounding Riverdale and Jerome Park Resevoir areas.
In the spring of 1985, Council Member June M. Eisland sponsored a $294,000 reconstruction of Riverdale Playground. Under the auspices of Corona’s Causeway Construction Company, the ballfield was rehabilitated, the hoops and backboards of the basketball courts were replaced, new surfacing was laid down on the handball courts, and new pavements, benches, fences, walls, water fountains, trees, and grass were installed. In 2000, Council Member Eisland funded a further $250,000 reconstruction of the basketball and handball courts.