Williamsbridge Oval (commonly called Oval Park or The Oval)
is the official name of a park in north central
Bronx, NY, at Van Cortlandt Avenue East and East 208th Street. Its name
comes from its oval shape, inherited from the
reservoir[1,8] it replaced. The park was built by
the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA)
This might not be the most ambitious New Deal project in the
Bronx but it very well might be the one dearest to the most hearts.
Pictured above: Oval Park's Recreation Center in
WPA Classic Moderne
style, designed by Aymar Embury II and
constructed from granite quarried and cut on the site by WPA
Oval Park is located in the center of the Norwood section of
the Bronx, one of the most culturally and racially diverse
neighborhoods in the City, if not the world. Oval Park was added to the
National Register of Historic Places on May 24, 2015, Registry ID
15000229. To see more photos of Oval Park, click the ▶ symbol above the top photo (but
first read more about the park below).
Oval Park in Winter 2012
(Click image to enlarge)
Oval Park is built on the former site of Gun Hill
Williamsbridge Reservoir, constructed in 1884-89, that supplied drinking
water until 1919 and then served as a swimming hole until it was drained
in 1925. It was converted into a park and
playground in 1934-37 in a 1.5 millon-dollar*
New Deal Works
Progress Administration (WPA) project, opening on September 11, 1937,
with renovations since then, most recently in 2010-2013.
Google aerial view - click to enlarge
, a field for football
, tennis courts
a 400-meter running track
, wading pools
and sprinklers, dog runs, picnic areas, benches; trees, grass, flowers, and
foliage; elevated promenades around the perimeter, and
a recreation center
with a gym, game
room, computer room, and public restrooms. It is also the site
, cultural events
, and just hanging out; it is
perhaps the most heavily (and well) used public space in the Bronx. The
fenced off area at lower left in the 2012 panorama above was part of a renovation
project completed in November 2013
. In the background: Montefiore
buildings. The park is more beautiful in the Spring,
Summer, and Fall, but then you can't get a panoramic view because of the
foliage; see image at bottom
* $1.5M 1935 dollars is equivalent to $26.8M in 2017.
Click below to view a gallery of photos from 1890 to 1945...
(new images added 17 May 2017)
- 2 Reservoir Sites to Serve as
Parks, New York Times, April 4, 1934, p.23
[broken link replaced 11 May 2021]:
“Two city reservoirs unused for fifteen years, one in Manhattan and
the other in the Bronx, have been offered to Park Comissioner Robert Moses
to be used as park sites, Maurice P. Davidson, Commissioner of Water Supply,
Gas and Electricity, announced yesterday. ... The 13.1 acres of the
Williamsbridge Reservoir, just south of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx,
might best be drained and used for park and playground purposes, in
Mr. Davidson's opion. The reservoir is forty-one feet deep.” This
Times article is cited by
Wikipedia as the source for its claim that the reservoir was originally
a natural lake but the Times article says no more about Williamsbridge
Reservoir than what is quoted here. Furthermore, old maps
such as this one from 1867 show no lake
at the site.
- Moses to Get Two Unneeded Reservoirs As
Sites for Stadium and Swimming Pool, New York Times, April 5, 1934,
p.23 [broken link replaced 11 May 2021].
to Cap Huge Play Center, New York Times, Thursday, May 9, 1935,
p.15: A detailed account of the initial plans for the park and rec center
[broken link replaced 11 May 2021].
- New 20-Acre Playground Opened in
Bronx, New York Times, September 12, 1937, p.1
[broken link replaced 11 May 2021]:
This article affirms the creation of Oval Park by the WPA:
”...the Park Department obtained control of the site on June 27, 1934.
Since then ... about $1,500,00 [sic] has been spendt [sic] in buildng up the
new facilities. The job was done as a WPA project.” The opening
ceremony was presided over by Park Commissioner Robert Moses, Bronx Borough
President James J. Lyons, and Captain Howard L Peckham, deputy Works
Progress (WPA) administrator.
Department of Parks Press Release, September 10, 1937.
- Williamsbridge Playground
news release, NYC Department of Parks, February 12, 1938:
"[T]he area includes ... a granite faced reinforced concrete
recreation building and field house. The building is constructed from stone
taken out of the old reservoir."
- Williamsbridge Reservoir,
National Register of Historic Places listings in Bronx County, New York:
"The Williamsbridge Reservoir property came under the control of the New
York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on June
27, 1934. A new sport and play area covering 20 acres (8.1ha), known as
the Williamsbridge Oval Park and Williamsbridge Playground and Recreation
Center, opened there on September 11, 1937. A Works Progress
Administration project, the facilities cost $1,500,000 to build. It
features a Beaux Arts landscape and Art Moderne recreation center."
Oval, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.
Oval Recreation Center, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.
- Friends of the
- The Living New Deal,
University of California at Berkeley.
- Soll, David, Empire of Water, An environmental and Political History of the New York City Water
Supply, Cornell University Press (2013), pp.77-78.
- Cruz, David, ICYMI:
Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center Re-Opens, Norwood News,
December 16, 2013.
- da Cruz, Frank, "Acknowledge
Oval Park's Milestone", Norwood News, Vol.30, No.13, June 22
- July 5, 2017 (PDF) [HTML].
Oval Park, Facebook.
- Electic [sic]
Group of New York City-Area Properties Nominated for Historic
Designation, Wall Street Journal, 6 April 2015: "The
Williamsbridge Oval Park in the Bronx was once a 41-foot reservoir
before it was rebuilt into a 19-acre public park in 1937 as part of
the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration program, which took on
relatively small projects with otherwise unemployed and unskilled workers.
New York City received the most federal money for parks in the mid-1930s
and, by 1936, more than 70,000 people were employed in city park projects,
according to state historic preservation records. Mr. Moses, the
controversial urban planner and "master builder" of New York City, searched
for any idle or vacant land and found the obsolete Williamsbridge Reservoir
in Washington Heights, purchasing it from Department of Water Supply, Gas
and Electricity. He
Embury II, who had built several city landmarks including the
Central Park Zoo,
Prospect Park Zoo and the
New York City building at
the 1939 New York World's Fair, to design it."
Besides this reference, numerous Wikipedia and Gpedia pages credit Embury
for the design of the Recreation Center
David Clarke as the Park's landscape architect.
- Plans of Westchester, West Farms, Morrisania
Westchester Co. and Part of New York County, 1867 map of what is now
most of the Bronx, showing the lay of the land before the Williamsbridge
Reservoir was constructed.
Oval Park celebrates 80 years (video after long ad), News12 the
Bronx, 19 September 2017.
Willamsburg Reservoir, Bronx, Sergey Kadinsky, Hidden Waters Blog
September 13, 2017 (accessed 13 May 2021).
and Tales of the Williamsbridge Bronx Oval Park, Brian Kachejian,
classicnewyorkhistory.com, 2018 (accessed 13 May 2021). Memories and photos
from the 1960s.
FDR's New Deal designed, constructed, and/or paid for a great many Bronx
landmarks besides Oval Park, including the
the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge
the Maritime College campus
at Fort Schuyler,
Van Cortlandt Stadium
the Bronx General Post Office
Crotona Park, pool, and bathhouse
plus many neighborhood post offices and numerous schools, parks,
playgrounds, murals, mosaics, sculptures, infrastructure improvements,
surveys, and on and on, which are the subject of this
. To see hundreds of other photos of Oval Park (and other Bronx
landmarks, scenes, and slices of life) CLICK HERE
Oval Park panorama in May 2017
(Maximize your browser, click image to enlarge).
The Recreation Center is barely visible through the trees on the left.