August 4, 2015

Preservation in Play: Five Old Playgrounds Worth Visiting

  • By: Julia Rocchi

Giant Stride ca. 1910-1915 as would be seen on a Model Playground. Credit: Library of Congress.
This piece of playground equipment is called a Giant Stride, ca. 1910-1915.

By this point in the summer, with humidity building and activities dwindling, kids on break from school are likely to turn to the most classic of childhood activities: a visit to the playground.

Though you might not think of them this way, these ubiquitous community spaces have a fascinating background all their own, as Kaitlin O'Shea (of Preservation in Pink fame) shared with us in her post, The History of Playgrounds. So, in honor of the dog days of summer -- and all the industrious kids bringing their imaginations outside -- we're sharing five older or historic playgrounds around the country that might inspire you to do the same.

Seward Park -- New York City

Seward Park. Credit: Paulina Tam.
Quotes from local residents set in stone at Seward Park

Back in the 1900s, numerous crammed tenement housings surrounded the Park’s vicinity. The over-crowding presented problems for children and adults who had no space to rest, play, and enjoy their neighborhood. The Outdoor Recreation League, an organization that supported the construction of parks from unused property, changed all that by taking the initiative to transform a condemned piece of property located by the tenements into the playground now known as Seward Park. Learn more.

Animal Court Playground -- Chicago

The concrete sculptures were designed for children to climb and play on. The largest of the Animal Court sculptures consists of a bison, and what appears to be a mountain lion and her cub. Credit: National Public Housing Museum, Chicago, IL.
The concrete sculptures at Animal Court were designed for children to climb and play on.

For decades, the concrete statues of the Animal Court Playground on Chicago’s near west side stood as icons of the local landscape. Designed by Edgar Miller and erected in the 1930s as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project that also built the nearby Jane Addams Homes, the figurines included the shapes of a buffalo, a lion, and a bear, among others, and served as a play place for local children who lived in the surrounding public housing projects. Learn more.

Riverside Park -- Independence, Kansas

One of two “tall” slides on the Riverside playground manufactured in the early 1900s by the Fun-ful Company. Credit: Michael Bates, Flickr,
One of two “tall” slides on the Riverside playground manufactured in the early 1900s by the Fun-ful Company.

Originally designed by renowned landscape architect George Kessler and built at intervals starting in 1914, Riverside Park eventually gained a monkey island, built by Works Progress Administration workers in the 1930s, as well as a zoo, duck pond, coin-operated carousel and train ride, and band shell. Learn more.

Los Arboles "Rocketship" Park -- Torrance, California

The Rocketship Park. Credit: Neil Klemer, Flickr.
The Rocketship Park overlooks Torrance, California.

For generations of children who have grown up in Torrance, Calif., traveling to outer space was as easy as visiting Los Arboles “Rocketship” Park. The highlight of the 6.3-acre park, completed in the 1960s, has long been the 28-foot-tall rocket ship play structure, purchased from a catalog of playground equipment shortly after a local developer donated the land for the park to the city. Learn more.

Isamu Noguchi Playscape -- Atlanta, Georgia

The Isamu Noguchi Playscape: Is it a park? Is it sculpture? Let’s call it visionary playground design. Credit: wallyg, Flickr.
The Isamu Noguchi Playscape: Is it a park? Is it sculpture? Let’s call it visionary playground design.

Kids can definitely get their hands and feet all over this sculpture installation. The Isamu Noguchi Playscape, a colorful world of reimagined play and art, is found in the Olmsted-designed Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia. At the Playscape, swings, slides, and jungle gyms are reconceptualized as sculpture. Likewise, sculpture is rethought for its communal function, blurring the line between fine art, landscape design, and good old childhood fun. Learn more.

Julia Rocchi is the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.


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