Rumsey Playfield is most synonymous with the Park’s famous SummerStage performing arts festival. World-renowned and emerging artists have performed here, including Curtis Mayfield, Toni Morrison, the Beastie Boys, and Vampire Weekend.
The site we now know as Rumsey Playfield has provided entertainment in the Park for more than a century. The commissioners originally requested that Calvert Vaux design the Casino, a ladies’ refreshment salon that overlooked the Concert Ground to provide a welcoming environment for women.
In the 1920s, the simple restaurant was redesigned in sumptuous crystal and gold—converted into an art deco nightclub. “Gentleman” Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York City, his mistress, and other members of high society came here to dine in splendor. The Casino had two orchestras, and featured the talents of Eddie Duchin and stars such as Ethel Merman.
After the glitter of the Roaring ’20s passed, the City did away with the high-end nightclub. The elegant building was razed by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses in the 1930s and transformed once more into a playground for children. After decades of use, the playground became rundown. By the 1970s, it was in such bad shape that few children were eager to use it.
In 1985, the Central Park Conservancy restored it as Rumsey Playfield, a place for school groups to play sports, as well as a venue for performances.