Ruth and Arthur Smadbeck-Heckscher East Playground

Project Progress

  • Design
  • Construction
  • Complete August 2014

Our reconstruction of the Ruth and Arthur Smadbeck-Heckscher East Playground created an entirely new play environment geared to pre-schoolers. It also included reconstruction of the plaza in front of the playground that features the popular Group of Bears sculpture.

Built in 1991, this playground (originally known as East 79th Street Playground) was part of a project to improve the landscape southwest of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It replaced the Levy Playground in 1956, which was just west of the current site and has since been restored as a landscape. Relocating the playground closer to the perimeter made it consistent with the rest of the Park’s playgrounds, which are designed to provide convenient access to surrounding neighborhoods and avoid disrupting the experience of larger interior landscapes.

The Ruth and Arthur Smadbeck-Heckscher East Playground is also colloquially known as Three Bears Playground, because of Paul Manship’s bronze sculpture Group of Bears just outside the playground entrance.

Our goal in rebuilding the playground was to make it better suited and more engaging for younger children, as well as better-integrated into the surrounding landscape. Our work included:

  • Reconfiguring the playground’s footprint to create three interconnected, distinct play spaces enveloped by landscape
  • Enhancing existing plantings surrounding the playground
  • Introducing new play equipment and features, including custom sandboxes and an accessible sand table, a climber, a slide, balancers, and a water spray feature
  • Reconstructing the plaza surrounding Group of Bears and the nearby path to be wheelchair accessible, have sufficient drainage, and provide more seating
  • Restoring the ornamental Levy Gates between the plaza and the playground
  • Modernizing the infrastructure that supports the playground and surrounding landscape, including water supply, irrigation, and storm drainage

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.

Left to right: Playground before reconstruction; playground after reconstruction; the plaza surrounding Group of Bears after reconstruction
  • Our Process

    Restoring Central Park is a collaborative effort. Our team of historians, planners, landscape architects, and architects work in partnership with the public to preserve the Park’s original ideals while enhancing the experience for today’s visitors.

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