Bronx New Deal - Photo #1 - Williamsbridge Oval

15 March 2023: New Youtube video about Oval Park's New Deal origin

Oval Park 80th Anniversary Celebration 9 September 2017...

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) in 1934-37[4,7]. 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[17] and constructed from granite quarried and cut on the site by WPA workers[3,6,13]. 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 Panorama winter

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.

Oval Park aerial view
Google aerial view - click to enlarge
It includes playgrounds for children, a field for football and soccer games, basketball courts, 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 of school outings, cultural events, concerts, dance festivals, picnics, celebrations, 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 Medical Center 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)


  1. 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.
  2. 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].
  3. Promenade 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].
  4. 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.
  5. NYC Department of Parks Press Release, September 10, 1937.
  6. 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."
  7. 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."
  8. Williamsbridge Oval, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.
  9. Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.
  10. Williamsbridge Oval, Wikipedia.
  11. Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval.
  12. The Living New Deal, University of California at Berkeley.
  13. Soll, David, Empire of Water, An environmental and Political History of the New York City Water Supply, Cornell University Press (2013), pp.77-78.
  14. Cruz, David, ICYMI: Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center Re-Opens, Norwood News, December 16, 2013.
  15. da Cruz, Frank, "Acknowledge Oval Park's Milestone", Norwood News, Vol.30, No.13, June 22 - July 5, 2017 (PDF) [HTML].
  16. Williamsbridge Oval Park, Facebook.
  17. 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 tasked Aymar 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 and Gilmore David Clarke as the Park's landscape architect.
  18. 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.
  19. Williamsbridge Oval Park celebrates 80 years (video after long ad), News12 the Bronx, 19 September 2017.
  20. Willamsburg Reservoir, Bronx, Sergey Kadinsky, Hidden Waters Blog, September 13, 2017 (accessed 13 May 2021).
  21. History and Tales of the Williamsbridge Bronx Oval Park, Brian Kachejian,, 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 Triborough Bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Orchard Beach, 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 website. 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).
Oval Park Panorama Spring
The Recreation Center is barely visible through the trees on the left.
This page last updated: Thu May 13 12:13:42 2021
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