Where was New York’s “German Play Ground?”

While browsing the Museum of the City of New York’s Byron collection online archive, I came across the photo from 1903.

Interestingly, instead of going by the park’s real name, it’s mysteriously labeled the “German Play Ground.”

Must be Tompkins Square Park, which was heavily German at the time—so much so that the neighborhood was known as “Kleindeutschland,” or Little Germany.

Of course, lots of neighborhoods were German, such as Bushwick, known for its breweries. But here, I think the winding paths and benches give it away.

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7 Responses to “Where was New York’s “German Play Ground?””

  1. Nabe News: November 24 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    [...] “German Playground” photo from 1903 is likely Tompkins Square Park [Ephemeral [...]

  2. Alex Says:

    I agree that this is more likely Tompkins Square Park.

  3. Lisa Says:

    The Germans pictured don’t look all too playful. Germans just aren’t a frolicsome people, it seems.

  4. Marc Kehoe Says:

    I don’t know about it being Tompkins Square.
    What direction are we facing? Its not toward Tenth Street or
    Seventh, and not B (no St Brigits) West toward A? Not btwn Seventh and Eighth-
    The buildings look too tall. Are we sure this is Tompkins in Manhattan?

  5. TJ Connick Says:

    The photo title probably was not meant to communicate a thing about the visitors or the neighborhood. Planned play areas for children were given serious study by the “social uplift” folk of the time. They admired work begun a generation earlier by a similar set of university-educated analysts with theories about the national benefits that derive from adult-administered play. Where were these pioneers of outdoor pedagogy? Germany. It would have been fashionable about the time of the photo for park administrators to speak about a “German play ground” to indicate that they were up to date.

    Museum of the City of New York appears to have had trouble identifying the location. Their search apparatus spits it out when you search lots of parks in Manhattan. Tompkins Square struck out, and the streets surrounding Union Square, Stuyvesant Square, Washington Square or Madison Square didn’t turn up plausible candidates. So, where is it?

  6. TJ Connick Says:

    It looks like Tompkins Square Park after all.

    We’re facing a portion of the 10th Street block east of Avenue A. The first building on the left whose front appears in full is #313. The last in the row – all surviving – is #329. The open lots to the right of 329 could easily be mistaken as a side street. The remaining houses begin in obscurity to the right of the opening.

    As Marc Kehoe had done, originally rejected 10th St as a candidate, but later discovered that the city had purchased #331 and 333 in the summer of 1903. The two were razed in anticipation of the new branch of the Library, opened December, 1904 on the 50-foot double lot, using #331 address. Byron made the picture during the interim.

    Using the “advanced search” window on the Museum’s site, you can look for Accession Number 93.1.1.7993. It takes in much of the same background, but with a more easterly focus. It is spring, and the library building is in place. The children are using apparatus that was newly installed the previous summer. The August 18, 1903 edition of the New York Tribune describes the newly established playground and “gymnasium”.

    Still looking for contemporary accounts that applied a term like German play ground to the section of the park.

  7. Mystery creatures guard a St. Marks Place door | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was the city’s former Little Germany neighborhood until the early 1900s, resplendent with beer gardens, theaters, libraries, churches, and shooting […]

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