Community groups and the city Department of Parks plan to honor the 80th anniversary of Williamsbridge Oval Park with a sign dedication ceremony set for Sept. 9.
Before becoming the epicenter of Norwood, Oval Park served as a reservoir for the borough during the late 1800s.
But it wasn’t long before fresher water was found in the Catskills and a better water transferring system became operational. The reservoir was shut down in 1919 and drained in 1925. Robert Moses, the famed though ruthless city planner with a fondness for building and preserving park space, converted the reservoir into a 19.7-acre recreation space in 1934. Three years later, the refurbished land opened with a parade, dances from school age children, and a football scrimmage between Fordham University and Manhattan College.
Mosholu Preservation Corporation (MPC) was inspired to broach the idea for an anniversary plaque after its director, Jennifer Tausig, read an op-ed article by Frank da Cruz, a Norwood resident, who believed the park deserved its due and proper acknowlegment. The article was featured in an edition of Norwood News, which is published by MPC.
MPC shares a unique bond with the park. Since 2000, it’s headquartered at the Reservoir Keeper’s House, a stone cottage specifically built to house the reservoir’s supervisor. Matthew Mallahan was the lone supervisor to occupy the L-shaped home when the reservoir was operational. Dr. Isaac Barkey, a private citizen, later spent years wrangling with New York City to buy the rock-faced ashlar home. He finally did so in 1946.
“The Williamsbridge Oval is the social center of the neighborhood; a resource that we all use and treasure and depend on for our well-being and peace of mind in these stressful times,” da Cruz told the Norwood News in an email. Da Cruz, however, was unhappy over Parks scrapping a plaque in favor of a sign detailing the park’s history.
Da Cruz’s admiration for the park lies in its back-story. With the 1930s Great Depression creating a severe jobs shortage, construction of the park was funded through President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program. The federal government’s now defunct agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), sponsored the construction that put Americans back to work.
The New York City Department of Parks, which oversees Oval Park, will facilitate the installation of the sign.
“The Williamsbridge Oval is a gem of New York City’s park system,” said Bronx Borough Parks Commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa. “For 80 years, it has been a life-changing resource for Bronx residents, and we are continuing to make even more renovations so this park can be used by many generations to come. Soon we’ll start construction on a brand new skate park here at the Oval, which I know many kids are anxiously awaiting.”
Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval (FOTWO), the volunteer park group promoting the benefits of the neighborhood park, will help usher the sign dedication.
“This park means a lot to the neighborhood. There’s a lot of people who use it, not just the people who live around here,” Sheila Sanchez, president of FOTWO, said. “Discovering the park was probably one of the best things that happened to me.”
Editor’s Note: The sign dedication ceremony will take place at the Oval from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.