Margaret L. Kempner Playground (East 96th Street Playground)

The Margaret L. Kempner Playground (formerly the East 96th Street Playground) is northeast of the Reservoir and just south of the 96th Street Transverse. The original playground in this location was built in 1936, one of many playgrounds constructed inside the Park’s perimeter under the direction of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. It initially contained swings, slides, seesaws, sand tables, and a water spray feature.

The playground has been renovated twice since it was built: in 1980 by NYC Parks, and in 1994 by the Conservancy. The 1980 work replaced nearly all of the original play equipment with wood equipment including treehouses, climbers with slides, bridges and tire swings, a sandbox and picnic tables. The 1994 renovation replaced pieces of the wood equipment that had deteriorated with manufactured pieces, and included new rubber safety surfacing and bucket swings.

Our most recent reconstruction improved the playground’s accessibility and its relationship to the Park; the play experience will be organized into distinct play areas for two age groups, with improved circulation between them.

Our work included:

  • Rebuilding the playground with a central water spray feature and a seating area that connects two distinct play areas—one for children ages 2-5 and the other for children ages 5-12
  • Constructing new custom wood play features with climbers, ramps, and slides, and adding new play experiences including net climbing for the 5-12 age group and balancers and spinners for the 2-5 age group
  • Increasing the total number of swings, and including strap swings and an adaptive swing for children who require full back support, and providing a sandbox with sand tables accessible to all users
  • Creating a wider border between the playground and path, which will enhance the connection between the playground and the Park landscape
  • Restoring the landscape around the playground with enhanced plantings
  • Adding a picnic area in the southern end of the playground that is surrounded by a lightweight mesh fence and plantings, allowing it to be both contained and part of the Park landscape
  • Replacing the seven-foot steel picket fence, which was installed in the early 1940s, with a four-foot fence
  • Regrading the playground, which currently slopes and steps down from west to east, to better integrate it into the landscape
  • Regrading the entrance path from East 96th Street to allow for an ADA-accessible route to the playground, and building a wheelchair-accessible ramp set into the restored landscape.

This project is part of the Conservancy’s effort to guide the continued stewardship of Central Park’s 21 playgrounds, as outlined in Plan for Play: A Framework for Rebuilding and Managing Central Park’s Playgrounds.


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Project Status


East 96th Street Playground, Before East 96th Street Playground, Before East 96th Street Playground, Before

Left to right: Playground before reconstruction; water feature before reconstruction.

Left to right: Playground after construction

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Recreation & Circulation

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