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Williamsbridge Oval

Williamsbridge Oval Playground

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

This playground is located in the northwest quadrant of a 19.7-acre recreational facility built on the former site of a reservoir. On May 1, 1887 the City of New York acquired the property northeast of Bainbridge Avenue and East 207th Street, and two years later opened the Williamsbridge Reservoir. Measuring 925 feet long by 525 feet wide, and with a 46 foot high embankment, the oval receiving reservoir had a capacity of 120 million gallons of water. It was linked to the upstate reservoir at Kensico by a 48-inch diameter cast-iron pipeline extending 15.2 miles.

By 1934 the reservoir was no longer needed for water supply purposes, and the land was transferred to Parks to develop an athletic complex. A proposal to construct a stadium on the site was resisted by the Williamsbridge Civic Association. They felt that the arena would disturb local residents, and that "the gathering of large and noisy crowds in the stadium would seriously impair the efficiency and usefulness" of the nearby Montefiore Hospital.

A new plan was devised, and the reservoir floor was raised to twelve feet below street level. When Williamsbridge Oval was opened on September 11, 1937 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses during the LaGuardia Administration, it contained a running track, football and baseball fields, a basketball court, 16 hard-surface tennis courts, a horseshoe pit, a large wading pool, a cinder running track, a field house, and two children’s playgrounds. The opening day celebration included a parade and dances in which 200 local children participated. Exhibition track and tennis matches as well as a football scrimmage followed the formal ceremony. The event concluded with a race featuring America’s foremost miler at the time, Glenn Cunningham, later a Congressman from Nebraska.

Williamsbridge Oval is derived from Williams’ Bridge, which was named for John Williams. In the 18th century Williams had a farm on the east bank of the Bronx River in the vicinity of Gun Hill Road and White Plains Road. Some credit him with building the first crossing over the Bronx River. Though the story remains unproven, his farm was closest to the earliest span, and by the 19th century the bridge and surrounding community had become known as Williamsbridge. The neighborhood of the oval is also called Norwood, after an 1889 real estate development.

This playground was renovated through a $499,363 capital project funded by Council Member June M. Eisland, which was completed in December 1996. It includes three distinct state-of-the-art modular play structures as well as new safety surfacing. There is an extensive ground graphic system, consisting of bright multi-colored shapes which create a fanciful path for young children.

Directions to Williamsbridge Oval

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