6. Playgrounds

Diana Ross Playground, photo by Rachel Fawn Alban

No playgrounds or ball fields were included in the original Greensward Plan. Around the turn of the century, advocates and planners began to argue for the need for such spaces. However, even into the 1920s, only about 9 percent of the park was devoted to playfields or special programmed events. When the Heckscher Playground opened 1926, it was the first equipped playground within the park. Today, the park has 21 playgrounds, each one with its own unique features and history. The Diana Ross playground is among the youngest, and it has a great story.

Diana Ross dreamed of sponsoring a playground in the park with funds raised from televising her July 1983 free concert on the Great Lawn. Unfortunately, the concert was a legendary disaster. First, a thunderstorm drenched 350,000 spectators, ending the show early. The next night Diana offered another performance, during which the crowd became out of control and stampeded the stage. After leaving the Great Lawn, concert-goers were robbed and beaten by muggers on nearby streets.  The concerts, which were intended to raise funds wound up costing the city over $2 million dollars, and Ross claimed she didn’t have the money either. A few years later, Ross donated $250,000, and the dream was realized.

The ordeal was referenced in by the Beastie Boys in their 2004 song, “An Open Letter to NYC”:

You didn’t rob me in the park at Diana Ross/
But everybody started looting when the light went off. 

Where to find it: Central Park West at 81st Street.