Heckscher Playground

In 1926, the Park’s first equipment-filled playground was constructed with funds donated by the Heckscher family. It included a wading pool at the base of Umpire Rock, separate activity areas for boys and girls, an area containing play equipment, and a comfort station with a central breezeway that served as the entrance to the playground. Heckscher Playground represented the beginning of a new era of providing facilities for active recreation in the Park, and its creation was not without controversy. Its advocates viewed it as a necessary provision for children as well as a way to protect surrounding landscapes from damage and overuse. To its critics, Heckscher was an encroachment that would set a precedent for future facilities infringing on the Park and compromising its primary purpose as a scenic retreat from the city.

Heckscher Playground was reconstructed in 1934. Asphalt paving and new equipment were added and the footprint of the building was doubled in size, the roofline raised, and central breezeway enclosed to create new spaces for programming. The entrance to the playground was relocated off a new pedestrian path. In 1969, a small adventure-style play area designed by Richard Dattner was constructed in the northern portion of the playground. In 1972, Dattner designed a larger water-play area within the existing wading pool. This area comprised a series of elevated, ramp-like water channels connecting granite-faced structures that incorporated climbers, slides, and water spray features. The playground was reconstructed in 2006 as part of a larger initiative to restore the “historic playground landscape” in the southwest corner of the Park, including the ballfields and surrounding landscape.

The 2006 reconstruction renewed defining features from each era of the playground’s history while improving its relationship to the Park and offering a greater range of play opportunities.

Reconstruction Highlights

• Adventure-style elements and the water-play area were rebuilt to replace aging structures and infrastructure and comply with safety and accessibility standards.
• Circular play areas consisting of multi-colored safety surfacing and synthetic turf were added to the middle of the playground to interrupt what had been an undefined expanse of asphalt paving while accommodating unstructured play.
• Transitional areas were created on the north and south end of the playground: Surfaced in wood chips and containing slides, swings, and picnic tables, they reduce the paved footprint of the playground and blur the line between it and the Park.
• New play equipment was added, including a net climber and more traditional slides and swings.
• The Heckscher Building was restored, reestablishing the central breezeway as the primary entrance to the playground. The restrooms were reconfigured to be accessed separately by playground users and the general public on opposite sides of the building.
• New plantings, including several shade trees, were added inside and around the playground, and a trellis that provides seating and shade was added near the threshold to the playground from the breezeway.