The “Mounds” … Then, 1977, and Now, Currently Under Construction, Washington Square Park Redesign Phase III

The “Mounds” as they originally were… 1977:

The Mounds 1977

In later years, as they were unused and falling apart:

Currently under construction:

The “Mounds” at Washington Square Park have, in more recent years, had a certain ‘love ’em or hate ’em’ quality to them. They were built as part of the 1970 design and located in the southwest quadrant of the park. When the Bloomberg Administration decided to enforce a dramatic redesign of Washington Square Park, the original plans called for the Mounds to be removed. Advocates, with the help of former City Council Member Alan Gerson, fought for them and they were added back in.

The top picture, which I just came across recently, from 1977 certainly sheds light on what the Mounds were meant to be — talk about a picture that shows an area full of life! It’s unclear to me why the “play equipment” surrounding the original “Mounds” was removed. I heard that the Parks Department at the time re-covered the Mounds in a material in which they were not meant to be encased but I cannot remember the details on that. In more recent years, they had been closed off except when kids would use them for sledding.

Once it was agreed that the Mounds would be restored, the agreement was that they would return to their original height and serve the same function. Unfortunately, the designer, George Vellonakis, always had to change something. Truly, it was almost as if he just didn’t want any semblance of the 1970 (well-liked) design to remain.

So, the “new” Mounds being currently constructed with the play equipment around them certainly would seem not that different from the original implementation (tho’ the original looks like more fun). And although the Mounds are returning (see above, bottom three photos), they are certainly NOT six feet tall as they were; they will also be covered in artificial turf.

From August 2012, New Mounds At Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what Form?:

I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at thepark.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

The Mounds were supposed to be in Phase II but as that section of construction was long-delayed, they and the large dog run were moved into Phase III, expected to be completed sometime this summer (update on Phase III coming).


Photo 1: Bird Feed NYC
Photo 2: Bridge and Tunnel Club
Photo 3,4,5: Cathryn

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9 thoughts on “The “Mounds” … Then, 1977, and Now, Currently Under Construction, Washington Square Park Redesign Phase III”

  1. I used to skateboard the hell out of these things when I was a kid – DreamWheels was just down the street, and RatCage a few blocks away. You would get some new gear – Alva Rocks or a new Tracker baseplate and head over to the park to test them out.

    I always thought they were too mushy for skating, but was still a necessary test.

    • That’s awesome! That’s how I recall the mounds. Riding my Nash skateboard down them lol. I lived right there on 82 Washington place. Was always down at the park.

      • Thanks, Dave, for sharing your memory of the Mounds. They first had play equipment on them but I guess there was still room for skateboarders! Did anyone object at that time?


  2. It looks like the structures they are installing (as well as the reduced height) will mean that there won’t be sledding for the little ones any more….

  3. If that first picture had been just a few years earlier I could have been one of those kids. By 1977 I would have been looking on from the sidelines, secretly wishing I wasn’t too old to play in the playground.

    The quote about spontaneous unstructured play versus the play mandated by equipment is an excellent point. At the same time though, if you give kids a chance they’ll play with playground equipment however they want to play with it — regardless of what it was designed for. Kids keep finding ways of evading or subverting the limitations placed on them by clueless adults.

  4. Georgia, I agree! It has a very nice vibe.
    TA, that’s a great recollection. And just think, then, people wouldn’t have to skateboard on the Garibaldi statue (as they do now)!
    Seth, I think you’re right. a) too low and b) the “cable-net play” structures would seem to get in the way.
    Richard, you might have caught the beginning to use it, no? I agree re: spontaneous unstructured play and also that kids find other ways. But maybe the ‘adults’ keep making it harder…?
    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Thank you so much for the picture–including the “crow’s nest” (climbing tower/s) specifically! I have often searched online for pics of them (there were 3, total) but it felt like they were “erased!” The Mounds in WSP was my absolute favorite in NYC (& my folks took me to all of em: Hecksher, the playground next to the Met, etc.). And I loved climbing to the top of the tallest crow’s nest the best! Kids don’t have those opportunities anymore. They have other (fun) stuff, but I sense in some ways, they’re missing out.


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