Ancient Playground

Ancient Playground is situated in a triangular area between the east- and westbound lanes of the 86th Street Transverse Road where they meet Fifth Avenue, immediately north of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The existing restroom was built at the base of the hill around 1928. Four different playgrounds have been constructed in this portion of the Park. The first was built south of the restroom in 1936 by adding sand and play equipment under the existing trees. The triangle between the lanes of the transverse was created in 1945, when the road was realigned to connect with the new one-way traffic patterns of 84th and 85th Streets. At this time the playground was rebuilt with a more urban design of asphalt pavement, fencing, benches, and traditional play equipment. In 1953, a second playground was constructed southwest of the transverse road, on the north side of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and named in honor of William Church Osborn, the Museum’s president and former president of the Children’s Aid Society. The Osborn Playground was demolished in 1972 to make way for a new wing to house the Museum’s ancient Egyptian collection, and the existing playground at East 84th Street was reconstructed as Ancient Playground. Designed by Richard Dattner, the new playground was inspired by the Temple of Dendur housed in the new addition to the Met. The adventure-style design was meant to evoke the character of an ancient city. It featured brick-faced pyramids with tunnels and slides, tire and rope swings, and several wooden climbers, all set within a large expanse of sand. Dattner incorporated sculptor Paul Manship’s ornamental bronze entrance gates from the demolished Osborn Playground into his design, at the threshold to a toddler sandbox at the rear of the playground.

The Conservancy reconstructed Ancient Playground in 2009. Aside from routine maintenance, the playground had not been improved since its construction in 1972, and the Osborn Gates, vandalized shortly after they were installed in their new location, had been removed to a Parks Department storage facility.

Ancient Playground was reconstructed to honor the spirit of Dattner’s design, maintaining its unique characteristics, while responding to the expectations of contemporary users and complying with current safety and accessibility standards. As part of the project, the Osborn Gates were restored and reinstalled at the entrance to the playground.

Reconstruction Highlights

• Site-constructed features such as pyramid climbers, water channels, and a water-spray amphitheater were reconstructed to be more interconnected and accessible.
• The water feature, which had not functioned for several years, was renovated, incorporating additional water play element and user-operated controls.
• New custom wooden play equipment was constructed to replace missing and deteriorated equipment.
• Tire swings were installed on undulating play surfacing to encourage adventurous group play that combines running, jumping, and swinging.
• The toddler sandbox and obelisk-shaped slide were reconstructed, and a user-operated water-spray feature for preschoolers was added.
• The swing area was expanded to include strap swings and an ADA-accessible swing, in addition to the bucket swings for toddlers.
• The comfort station was renovated, upgrading the facility while addressing an important security concern by creating separate entrances for playground users and the general public.