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October 4, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Playgrounds from years gone by. Bonus. Previous playground stuff and stories on mefi.
posted by cashman (35 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
posted by humannaire at 6:34 PM on October 4, 2009

"years gone by"??????? what a bunch of kids... HERE is a picture of "years gone by"..

get off my lawn!
posted by HuronBob at 6:39 PM on October 4, 2009

Two weeks ago, I took two of my favorite tiny people to go play at the playground behind the local elementary school. Recently built is what the kids are calling the "Castle", and I swear to jebus, that damn thing will kill you! I immediately forbade the two year old and four year old I was with from going down its deathslide (after I took a couple of rides myself to satisfy my morbid curiosity), but I tipped my hats to the eight year olds who go down that monster hells bells every day at recess. Also I have to give props to parents in North Carolina who are still willing to build contraptions that their kids could potentially injure themselves on. Severely.
posted by msali at 6:40 PM on October 4, 2009

As Cosby points out, this thing is essential to a good playground. It's hands-on training in physics!

With contusions!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:50 PM on October 4, 2009

Road signs advising motorists of nearby playgrounds in my neighborhood are kind of anachronistic. The symbol for "playground" is a see-saw or teeter-totter although the equipment itself has disappeared. (They are now considered dangerous.) The signs must be nonsensical to actual children.

I still vividly remember my own "monkey-bars" mishap.
posted by Morrigan at 6:51 PM on October 4, 2009

Oh man, we still have a "buck-a-bout" in the park behind my house. Of course, only one of the four giant coil springs is still attached to the ground, but they recently replaced the seats, so hopefully they won't pull the whole thing out. Spent many hours on that thing growing up.

And by the way HuronBob replace that metal slide in your photo with a plastic one and you've pretty much got the same thing we have now in the same park.

(That's what they replaced the old merry-go-round with when I was in 6th or 7th grade.)
posted by Kimothy at 6:59 PM on October 4, 2009

God, this thread really makes me wish I had pictures of the epic wooden structure we had at my elementary school. :-/ AFAIK, it only lives on in epicness in my dreams.
posted by Decimask at 7:12 PM on October 4, 2009

Oh man the stupid things we used to do at those 70's "non-safe" playgrounds.

Like 6 kids in a plastic wading pool all going down the slide together.....

posted by MrLint at 7:20 PM on October 4, 2009

Loved that Barrel of Fun thing, LOVED IT! There was one in the park across from my grandparents' was awesome. And dangerous.
posted by jeanmari at 7:24 PM on October 4, 2009

I too was overjoyed to see the rocket slide again. Damn I loved that thing. Can you actually play on that thing in the BONUS link?!?!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:55 PM on October 4, 2009

msali: "Recently built is what the kids are calling the "Castle", and I swear to jebus, that damn thing will kill you!"

Decimask: "God, this thread really makes me wish I had pictures of the epic wooden structure we had at my elementary school."

I think I know what you're talking about -- the massive wooden playgrounds that look like castles? I've seen them all over the eastern U.S. I used to have a blast at one in Tampa during the 90s. And there was one here in Tuscaloosa when my family moved here in '99. And I just recently saw one in New Hampshire a few weeks ago while visiting relatives.

They're all custom-designed, but have some common features -- the black-rubber bridge, the metal zipline, the "tire well", the "walky-talky" that would echo your voice from one post to another on the far end of the structure. When I took my stepsister out to play at the N.H. one I looked for a manufacturer's logo on the signpost but couldn't find anything. Is there a company that makes all of these?
posted by Rhaomi at 8:02 PM on October 4, 2009

Our "castle" has a narrow 177 rung ladder, a wobbly bridge that really. wobbles. A fireman's pole that drops into freshly clipped kitten claws, and a death slide that is greased then baked daily in a can of crisco, guaranteed to shoot you off the map, and if you land just right, dislodge that impacted bowel you've been having trouble with.
I give mad awesome props to NC parents for allowing that hellishly wonderful deathtrap to be built on public property using tax money.
posted by msali at 8:21 PM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

> I think I know what you're talking about -- the massive wooden playgrounds that look like castles?

Similar idea--ours was open-topped. Stood from at least 1987-1999 (I climbed it after graduating high school and smoked a cigar), all pressure treated lumber. Could have been cedar, I suppose, but that many cedar 4x4s would have been expensive. IIRC, there was one section that you could only get to using suspended rings, hand-over-hand. If I ever go back to my hometown, I'll have to check with the school to see if they have photos (or if any of the newspaper archives have photos).
posted by Decimask at 8:35 PM on October 4, 2009

I clicked on the link and I was all "pleasepleaseplease let there be awesome 70s pictures of The Rocket"

Holy cow, me too! Before I clicked I was thinking "I wonder if I'll see the robot from what we called Robot Park?" And there it was. I was literally stunned. The internet is awesome.

Only I don't remember it being an evil angry robot.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2009

wheeee!! I have no plans to own a house, but should I someday decide to own a house, it will be primarily so I can have a SPECTACULAR backyard with an AWESOME playground. Not for kids. For me. And my grown-up friends. Who can live there too if they want. (There will also be indoor porch swings. My friends have a porch swing in their dining room and it is the greatest.)

My hypothetical backyard will also have space for bonfires. And be far enough from neighbors that we can play music as loud as we want. And shoot off fireworks. And hang out naked, on the playground. And have a still. There may also be a swimming hole in the vicinity.

I just realized that I've basically described my parents' house, but with more fun. Who wants to move back to Kentucky with me a couple of decades from now and live at my naked bonfire playground commune house??
posted by little e at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Playscapes is a blog about playground design which has many pictures of interesting playgrounds, vintage and otherwise.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:53 PM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My elementary school playground had all kinds of Navy SEAL training camp looking stuff that was replaced a few years after I was there for tame plastic junk.

I grew up about a mile from an elementary school playground whose defining feature was an enormous, completely enclosed multi-level wooden fortress/catacombs that you could crawl around inside, frequently coming close to getting stuck as you twisted your body into the pretzel shapes necessary to make it around corners or from one vertical level to to the next. The long twisty corridors in there were just barely kid-sized, and as escape from the various blind alleys was possible only by wiggling backwards on your belly at some length, I used to wonder if anybody had ever gotten lost and starved to death at the ill-lit end of one of them. The thrill of danger was part of the allure: you knew it was claustrophobic and you knew you were going to get some splinters and maybe a scuffed knee every time you spent a few hours in there, particularly if you were playing Capture the Flag or tag or some other game involving chasing or being chased. You also knew that if you ever got into more serious trouble deep within the structure, there was no way adults would have been able to get to you short of pulling the entire monstrosity to pieces. And since it had been built with three-inch-thick landscaping beams, giant iron bolts and liberal amounts of concrete, getting it apart and getting you out would have been a pretty tall order.

From what I understand, the playground fortress was the pet project and labor of love of some neighborhood dads, a couple of whom were general contractors, and you could see that what they had built was nothing less than coolest thing they could ever have imagined having access to when they themselves were kids. Construction was in the late 1970s, when the legal and regulatory environment, and the culture itself, were more tolerant of childhood scrapes and bruises and of the sorts of play activities that could cause them.

My God that place was fun. A few years ago I was sad but not terribly surprised to see that the entire playground had been torn out and replaced with hypoallergenic smooth low brightly-colored plastic stuff -- injection-molded and installed, I am sure, by a fully-licensed and indemnified manufacturer, whose rounded corners banished the scraped knees and serendipity of a childhood experience that used to be a bit less carefully bounded.
posted by killdevil at 8:59 PM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a post in playscapes blog (mentioned above) about the city of Toronto destroying 172 playgrounds because they were deemed "unsafe" which mentions the comment by a parent that “The only logical thing to do is have lawyers to design the playgrounds,... Here are some pieces of equipment our kids will soon be playing on; The Litigator Teeter-Totter: As soon as children get on the equipment, they are tied up in red tape so they won’t be thrown off… . The Paralegal Bars: Similar to parallel bars from which kids can hang, but with much lower standing. Children will have to scrunch down to get under them… . Contract Bridge: Before children can run across the hanging bridge that links one side of the climber to the other, they must sign a waiver…
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:16 PM on October 4, 2009

There is a famous steam roller in a park in Nedlands used as a play thing. If memory serves it's been there 50 years or more.

Nedlands is a very weathly suburb full of lawyers.

Nedlands Council want to remove the big old nasty metal play thing.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:28 PM on October 4, 2009

Wow, they had a Rocket-Ship Slide in LA too? Growing up in STL my favorite park was the "Rocket-Ship Slide." We went there all the time. I visited it after having moved away for a long time and was surprised to see the damn thing still standing, though it was pretty torn-up.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:45 PM on October 4, 2009

Anyone remember the gigantic wooden thing and slide at Creve-coeur park? I cried a tear when that thing got removed too.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:46 PM on October 4, 2009

We not only had rocket ships in our parks, but decommissioned aircraft as well. Scroll down to West Covina to see one such example.
posted by jvilter at 10:19 PM on October 4, 2009

Rhaomi, Decimask, and killdevil : you do realise that, when those wooden castle things were first built & started becoming the norm, they were the "safe" alternative to traditional playground equipment?

When I grew up in the early~mid 70's, a good playground in Australia had a 12' high slide made out of rusted waterpipe for a frame, with the slide itself made out of rolled steel sheet polished to a glistening friction-free shine by the shorts of millions of neighbourhood children, and razor-sharp edges where the welds on the sheet had broken away from the frame. Swings stood 12' high, had 1-1/4" chain hanging from the frame, the seat was made from 1-1/2" thick hardwood stair tread, and was set so that it was simultaneously a little too high to safely sit yourself on, but would also smack you in the face and break your nose when you landed on your arse after trying to swing up level with the crossbar. There was usually also a roundabout, made by burying one end of an old truck axle and building a frame on the other, with bearings that were simultaneously too frozen to start but approached air-table frictionlessness at speed. These were usually placed right next to some suitable solid structure - a drinking fountain, the war memorial, a random piece of broken concrete with reo-bar sticking out - so that you had something to hit when centrifugal force took over.

At the very best playgrounds there was also an old loco or steamroller dating from the 30's with the floor of the cabin rusted out, allowing you to either shred your 5-year-old potbelly when climbing through the hole to explore underneath, or tremble in fear at the thought of falling head-first into it as you crawled your way back through the hatch after exploring the inside of the firebox.

Oh, and the local rocketship, in my case in the middle of the main carpark at the biggest shopping mall? It stood as high as the building and, when I was little, it had a ladder up the outside. I remember being pissed when, on the day that I decided my mother was finally going to let me climb that ladder, we went there & the ladder was gone - taken away, no doubt, by some proto-OH&S minded nubnub. I had to content myself with climbing up to the very nose inside, pushing aside the broken bars, and climbing around the outside.

I hurt myself at a playground once. I ran head-first into a bamboo tree and knocked a tooth out.

Good times, good times…
posted by Pinback at 12:07 AM on October 5, 2009

Pinback: you realize that those 12' high rusted waterpipe slides were the "safe" alternative to even more traditional playground equipment? When I grew up, the playground consisted of an old leather shoe and a straight razor. And we had to bring our own shoe.
posted by Justinian at 2:12 AM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

Luxury! When I were a lad, our "playgrounds" consisted of jumping into an active volcano! Etc, etc.
posted by kcds at 5:10 AM on October 5, 2009

there was a small but murderous playground in my neighborhood, early 1970s - in the woods (?) right across from the elementary school - it consisted entirely of strange structures made out of telephone poles that had been cut to various lengths and then sunk vertically in irregularly poured pools of concrete - some in rows like organ pipes, and some in clusters forming pyramids & such

so, you'd go clambering all over them and inevitably slip & fall - and then it was like falling down several staircases all at once, with a nice concrete facesmack at the end

so! much! fun!
posted by jammy at 6:42 AM on October 5, 2009

jeffamaphone: STL must have been some kind of center of 70s park greatness. I am going to take my kids to see if the No 1111 (spaceship) is still standing by my park in So County. I know that they took up some of the larger zuggeraut-sand-water-and pipes sites -- the best playground of all time must have been the one at Queeny park. Is that the one you were referring to? Apparently is it still there.
posted by cgk at 8:41 AM on October 5, 2009

I was hoping to get in here earlier in hopes someone could tell me where this is . I love those slides, you never see them anymore, but recently I did. There's a newer playground that has a very short slide made from these rollers. They also included these "spinning chairs" I had never seen before, simple movements of your torso or legs cause this thing to continue to spin, it takes more work to hold on than to make spin. It's awesome.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 9:42 AM on October 5, 2009

Too cool! Looks like the kids in our family weren't the only ones that named local parks by their primary item of attention: Covina (CA) park was Fire Engine Park (engine's been removed removed), Rocket Park was Charter Oak Park (rocket's been removed), Airplane Park, and our favorite, Gopher Park (where my brother was bitten by a gopher!). Of course, Kelby Park just had metal monstrosity of a structure (replaced with a kinder gentler monstrosity so, of course, was monstrosity.

I'm getting old but since I'll be visiting my hometown later this week, I think I'll do a tour of the parks just to see how things are sooooo much safer for kids these days.
posted by Man with Lantern at 10:38 AM on October 5, 2009

My dad helped build the playground at the preschool I went to. It was made of wood, rope, and 55-gallon drums and had a insanely steep slide.
posted by vespabelle at 11:19 AM on October 5, 2009

We had one of these suckers, only it was made out of steel pipes. You could hook your knees over one bar, hold on with the tops of your feet on the next bar and hang down headfirst about 5 feet over the hard-packed dirt and gravel.

We were like indestructible young Gods on the playground.

Well, actually, I was more than likely over on the bleachers reading a Hardy Boys book and hoping no one noticed me.
posted by marxchivist at 11:33 AM on October 5, 2009

Chaplain Park, North Toronto. 1970s.

Park equipment included hot and dangerous metal slides, monkey bars and teeter-totters and a brutal heavy merry-go-round. Swings were great, especially the bucket swings made out of leather strapping with a metal safety bar. Load a toddler in one of those and it's like playing dodge'um with a freaking cannonball.

A spindly metal rocket tilted optimistically towards the heavens. A wading pool that was 50% urine by volume.

And two huge rocks that were impossible to climb when I was a kid. Now a days, they come up to my hips.
posted by salishsea at 11:59 AM on October 5, 2009

My favorite old skool playground that still exists (because it is more safe than not) is the structure at Indian Boundary Park in Chicago. It has an enormous castle-like structure with nooks and hidden passages and slides and bridges that has been around since the 70's and has tons of fans. The only weird thing is that it isn't that well known in Chicago unless you stumble across it or live near it. And I'm having a hard time finding pics of it online!
posted by jeanmari at 12:35 PM on October 5, 2009

Ah! Here are some more pics (here, here, here) of this 70's park that you can visit RIGHT NOW if you live in Chicago. Enjoy!
posted by jeanmari at 12:43 PM on October 5, 2009

Anyone from Toronto remember a giant Godzilla-shaped climber in a park near the Beaches? Man, playgrounds used to be cool.
posted by Go Banana at 12:56 PM on October 5, 2009

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