Relive the days when you swung with abandon and dug enthusiastically in sandboxes with a glance through vintage photos of kids at play in Prospect Park in the early 20th century. While theories about play in parks have changed over time — many hardscape playgrounds have been redesigned with a focus on imagination and exploration — the expressions of delight haven’t changed much.
The idea of formalized areas for play in public parks didn’t actually take hold until the late 19th century when population growth in New York City led reformers to advocate for play space. Pictured above is the opening of the Children’s Playground, also known as the Vanderbilt Street Playground, in 1929.
A woman holds a baby on a see-saw at the Lincoln Road Playground in 1932. The area was redesigned several times and is now known as the Imagination Playground, one of seven playgrounds currently in the park.
Playground construction really took off during the era of Robert Moses, when the number of playgrounds in the city expanded from 119 to 777 during his tenure, according to NYC Parks.
Here a sandbox and swings at the 9th Street Playground, also known as the Bandshell Playground, in 1941. Today it is the site of the Harmony Playground, the musical theme a nod to the nearby bandshell.
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