Restoration of West 85th Street Playground

The restoration of West 85th Street Playground will acknowledge the prominence of this playground within the Seneca Village site and re-envision the playground as a play and family gathering space connected to the surrounding landscape.

West 85th Street Playground (currently known as Abraham and Joseph Spector Playground) is one of Central Park’s largest. Originally constructed in the 1930s as Marginal Playground #16, it was renovated by the Conservancy in 1991, keeping the same footprint. As play features have reached the end of their useful life and been removed, the playground has become more open and lost much of its play value. Other dominant features of the playground are the large sand play area, shade from large canopy trees, and wood-and-concrete benches.

Ongoing investigations into the history of Seneca Village, the predominantly African-American community that existed in the decades preceding the Park’s construction, have provided detailed information on the location of pre-Park features within and adjacent to the present-day playground. The area that is currently occupied by the playground would have been near an important center of activity within Seneca Village, with churches, homes, and important streets. Today, the Conservancy’s Seneca Village–focused tours often use an area near the playground entrance as the first stop to orient visitors to the site.

In the past year, the Conservancy has held several community meetings to discuss the landscape restoration, interpretation, and commemoration of Seneca Village with historians, descendants, community members, and Park users to determine how to emphasize the enduring physical features of the site, highlight its history, and honor the memory and significance of Seneca Village. Learn more about Seneca Village and the Conservancy’s commemoration efforts by clicking here.

Project Goals

  • Reflect the goals of the Central Park Conservancy’s Plan for Play initiative to:
    • Improve the relationship between the playground and the Park
    • Enhance the quality and variety of play experiences
    • Maximize user accessibility
    • Ensure compliance with current safety standards
    • Preserve unique and successful aspects of existing designs
    • Practice sustainable design and construction
    • Design innovative solutions
  • Acknowledge the prominence of this playground within the Seneca Village site and re-envision the playground as a play and family gathering space connected to the surrounding landscape
  • Enhance the distinctive topography and site features of the surrounding landscape
  • Create an accessible route from the west side and to West 84th Street playground

Scope of Work

  • New protected water service, drainage infrastructure, and manual irrigation infrastructure
  • New benches, pavement, drinking fountain, and plantings
  • Reconfiguration of the playground entrance area to better accommodate Seneca Village–related gatherings, tours, programming, etc.
  • New perimeter fence to be replaced with lower, four-foot high fence. improvement of overall playground layout to better integrate the playground within the landscape and give more space to mature trees.
  • New play equipment including swings and play structures/climbers. Water areas will be included.
The W 85th St Playground in Central Park, slides and climbing structures

Current state of the West 85th Street Playground

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