History

 

In the early twentieth century, with the emergence of immigrant neighborhoods at the park's borders, attendance reached its all time high. Progressive reformers joined many working-class New Yorkers in advocating the introduction of facilities for active recreation. In 1927, August Heckscher donated the first equipped playground, located on the southeastern meadow. When plans were announced to drain the old rectangular reservoir at the park's center, Progressives urged than it be replaced by a sports arena, swimming pool, and playing fields. Other New Yorkers, influenced by the City Beautiful movement, proposed introducing a formal civic plaza and promenade that would connect the two museums at the park's east and west borders. Landscape architects and preservationists campaigned against these design innovations, however, and the site of the reservoir was naturalistically landscaped into the Great Lawn. Such debates over modifications of the Greensward Plan and proper uses of a public park have persisted into the present.

In 1934, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia placed Robert Moses in charge of a new centralized citywide park system. During his twenty-six year regime, Moses introduced many of the facilities advocated by the progressive reformers. With the assistance of federal money during the Depression, Moses built 20 playgrounds on the park's periphery, renovated the Zoo, realigned the drives to accommodate automobiles, added athletic fields to the North Meadow, and expanded recreational programming. In the early 1950s and early 1960s, private benefactors contributed the Wollman Skating Rink, the Lasker Rink and Pool, new boathouses, and the Chess and Checkers house. Moses also introduced permanent ball fields to the Great Lawn for corporate softball and neighborhood little league teams.

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