Category Archives: California

Are the Kids in Monterey, California Getting Railroaded?

The Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, California is stirring up passions again and community action is building up steam. The old Southern Pacific Company’s engine #1285 donated to the City and installed in the playground in 1956 is at the centre of all the fuss. It has the hallmarks of another case of safety zealotry run amok.

Photo credit – D&S McSpadden. Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Is there a record of how many accidents have occurred since 1956? Has there been previous litigation against the City of Monterey? For over 50 years, kids have clambered, climbed, surefooted themselves across and over this workhorse from the days of steam.

Only two of ten switch engines made in the 1920s by Ohio’s Lima Locomotive Works for the Southern Pacific Company’s Pacific Lines have escaped the scrap yard. Only one, #1285, has brought so much joy, excitement and imagination powered adventure to so many kids. It has done so since the playground’s opening day but this could be about to change.

This YouTube video posted by the City to celebrate over 50 years of the Dennis the Menace Playground displays archival photos from the Monterey Public Library’s California History Room. The arrival and placement af steam locomotive #1285 was a key event back in the day.

Now the City Council is considering options which include a complete fencing off of #1285 so there is no access whatsoever for kids, or removal of the steam locomotive from the site altogether. Many in the community, and further afield, are up in arms and are organizing to keep the train in situ.

On August 23, the new Save The Train at Dennis The Menace Playground Facebook Page got up and running and continues to pick up speed with nearly 6,500 likes and almost 8,500 people ‘talking about’ the page.

In response to a letter from a citizen, the City Manager responded as follows.

Thank you for voicing your concerns regarding restricting public access to the steam engine at Dennis the Menace Park. I heartily agree that the train is a Monterey legacy and a favorite feature of the park enjoyed by generations of children.

Unfortunately, because there have been several incidences in which children have sustained injuries, we were compelled to review the safety aspects of retaining the train as a play structure. The result of the review is that the steam engine does not comply with current laws and regulations that have been established by the State of California. In other words, the play structure (steam engine) is not safe to play on. That fact can’t be disputed and is reinforced by the many comments we received that mentioned “mastering the climb on the steam engine without a fall” as something to be proud of. Frankly, falling from a 20′ high steam engine and getting severely injured is not something that this generation of parents and grandparents will tolerate.

Not only is the City obligated to comply with current mandatory play equipment standards, we also feel a strong responsibility to the public to do our very best to ensure their safety. We must seriously consider whether continuing the tradition of allowing access to the train outweighs the risk to the welfare of park visitors. After careful deliberation, staff is recommending to the City Council that erecting permanent fencing around the train is a solution that would allow us to keep the train as a historic feature of the park while ensuring that park visitors maintain a safe distance from the structure. Other options for the Council to decide among include keeping the steam engine accessible for future generations (and being liable for future claims stemming from falls of the engine) or, the Council could decide to remove the steam engine altogether and locate it elsewhere in our City or County, thus clearly distinguishing it as a historic monument and not a play structure.

These recommendations will be presented at the August 21, 2012 City Council meeting. No decision has been made as of yet. If you feel strongly that there is another solution to this issue, please come to the meeting to voice your opinion. We welcome any and all suggestions you may have.

Once again, thank you for your concern. I am very happy that you have enjoyed your visits to Dennis the Menace Park in the past and hope that you will continue to frequent our local parks.

Fred Meurer
City Manager

Dania King Ketcham Ranes, daughter of Dennis the Menace creator and playground benefactor, Hank Ketcham, has also posted her thoughts on the matter to Facebook.

To the Mayor and City Council,

My name is Dania Ketcham-Rhames and I am writing to ask that the train at Dennis the Menace park stay open for children to explore. The train has been there for the past 56 years, and now all of a sudden it’s going to become just a museum piece? I understand that this is a serious piece of equipment, but so are all the other play structures.

As children we learn how to play on these structures by climbing, sliding and exploring, I feel that the train is no different. My father was a very instrumental part of bringing this park together, the train being his idea, and it would be a sad day to see his vision fade away. The train, the bridge, the tunnels and the maze are the only original parts left of the park that I remember from my childhood.

Please don’t take this away. I know there have been accidents on the train but children fall and hurt themselves daily on bikes, skateboards, climbing trees etc… We all had to LEARN how to play on the train, and I believe it’s part of growing up in Monterey!

People come from all over to play at this park because it’s like no other, and I would really like it to stay that way. The train is an important piece of Monterey, and as a parent myself I want my child to be able to explore it when she is big enough. In the mean time I follow her on every piece of equipment there until I’m sure she can do it without me. It’s MY responsibility to make sure she is safe, as it should be of every parent. Dennis the Menace park is a special place to learn and grow for everyone, young and old.

Source: Save The Train at Dennis the Menace Playground Facebook Page

Traditional media are also weighing in as this editorial from Joseph W. Heston, KSBW President and General Manager illustrates.

Locomotive not loco parentis

We all know what a special place the Central Coast is to call home: rich with renowned beaches and “must see” family attractions, an international destination of unique activities and places to visit.

For over two generations now, one of those landmarks has been Monterey’s Dennis the Menace Park and the famous locomotive that was gifted to the city in the 1950s.

Over the years, that train engine’s served as a depot of sorts for the special memories built together by so many parents, grandparents, and children. But now, like Amtrak, that train’s in trouble!

You’ve likely seen or heard about the city’s temporary fence around the locomotive — and in September it will consider permanently sealing it off from the children with an iron fence like this one.

What a shame it is that we’ve come to this. To be fair, the city may be legally exposed because the locomotive doesn’t meet state minimum safety standards for playgrounds. Lawyers advise that signs cautioning parents of their need to supervise their children likely don’t go far enough.

But taking that to its logical conclusion, where do we draw the line? Do we chop down any and all trees in the park to keep little climbers from taking big falls? What about the climbing wall and monkey bars? Do we require all children who enter the park to wear a helmet to protect them from a child-endangering foul ball from that pesky baseball diamond next door? Of course not.

Bottom line: there’s no substitute for adult supervision, whether in the home or at the park. Ultimately that should be the solution. And we urge city leaders to find a creative and gutsy way to balance risk and benefit.

Don’t derail Monterey’s playground locomotive, simply hiding behind an argument that we want to keep children safe.

City Council is currently scheduled to have the train on the agenda for their October 2 meeting which begins at 7:00 p.m.

Southern Pacific’s old locomotive #1285 at The Dennis the Menace Playground is mobilizing public opinion about reasonable balance vis à vis safety issues. Let the kids play – have they changed that much since 1956 when the park was opened? It was a wilder, funner, more adrenalin charged place then. We could do with a bit more edge, more in keeping with the original type Dennis Playground and Europe’s Adventure Playgrounds and less with the bubblewrap, all contingencies covered, litigation free, antiseptic playspaces.

You may also be interested in reading:

Dennis is Dead, Long Live Dennis
Newsreel-Upside Down at Dennis The Menace Park
Dennis the Menace and Burning Man

For the story of California neighbours who reversed a City Hall decision, based partly on safety issues, to have a playground destroyed:

Monster Mash – Conservation Wins the Day in San Gabriel, California

Water jump, Sky run, Earth bounce

We’re sliding into a post-holiday groove following our San Diego adventure. Noah-David is reunited with his buddies at school. Mélanie is shipshaping SS Domestic Bliss. I’m on the daily cross harbour commute to work and four nights a week some combination of the three kids are lacing up their soccer boots. Thankfully, sleep rhythms are almost realigned to our east coast time zone.

At the end of our first day back in The Passage, I ask Nellie-Rose if she is glad to be home. Her eyes light up. “Yes, papa,” she replies “but I miss San Diego.” I’m curious about what she’s pining for and ask. I get two words back – “the playground”.

We didn’t do a lot of purposeful playgrounding in southern California but we did check out a few. The most fun were expansive, multi-level spaces within major attractions. Nellie-Rose was remembering the good times at SeaWorld. Wobbly tunnels suspended in the air, undulating mats soft to fall on and springy rope rigging to grip, pull and climb are some of the features of this always busy playscape.

See the photos below and in this flickr slideshow to get a taste of play at SeaWorld, San Diego.

Water jumping

Sky running

Earth bouncing

And to wrap this post, here’s an aerial view of the play area courtesy of Google Maps that gives some idea of its scope.

Newsreel – Upside Down at Dennis the Menace Park

Back when PlayGroundology was a baby in early 2010, I ran across a great Facebook page called, I played at Dennis the Menace Park and lived! The intrigue was too much for me to resist. I quickly got in touch with page administrator and creator, Daniel Annereau to find out more about one of America’s first ‘extreme’ playgrounds. You can read that story here.

Imagine my excitement yesterday when I came across this film footage featuring the ‘helicopter’ ride, aka spinny thing of death. The 36 second clip starts pretty innocuously but the last 10 seconds or so pack a real punch with risky behaviour galore.

This is the playground that I would have loved to visit as a kid. I can imagine myself hanging upside down although I’m not sure I would have had the guts of the upside downer kid in the film.

Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey, California was an early example of a destination playground. Designer Arch Garner outdid himself on this project conceived by Dennis creator Hank Ketchum. Kids couldn’t get enough of it and who could blame them.

ScreenShot Mondays – Playborhood

Cyberspace is humming with inspiration and information on every topic under the sun and then some. This clickable, digital universe is ever expanding with new ideas and new perspectives coming on the scene at a dizzying pace. What a great place to play and discover what’s happening in the wide, wide world. It’s a virtual venue for passionate individuals and mindful organizations to share experiences and create content in every imaginable format.

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology will screenshot a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope that readers will dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.


Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Thanks to Mike Lanza and Playborhood for our inaugural ScreenShot Mondays. From the first sighting, I loved the Playborhood sign. It’s full of fun and whimsy and serves as great branding too. There’s plenty more at Playborhood including Mike’s posts and a great list of books, articles, blogs and other web resources. Enjoy.

Paying Homage to Adventure and Free Play

If you’re in LA, or passing through in the next two days, check out Kelly Barrie’s exhibit at LAXART. His photos sing out a catchy song of freedom and play. If you’re like me and LA isn’t in the cards in the immediate future then enjoy Barrie’s photos right here at PlayGroundology.

Double Toe Rope Netting, 2010
Digital C-print
125 x 92 inches
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

For all photos, click for larger image.

Get ready because they jump off the screen. I’m inspired to climb, run, dangle and skittle down steep inclines. These photos are laughter ringing, play being, adventure believing. I hope you’ll enjoy these images. Even motionless, they are bursting with kinetic energy.

Reclaimed Sewer Pipe, 2010
Digital C-print
74 x 110 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

Negative Capability was inspired by Barrie’s memories of the junkyard playgrounds of his youth in England. Thanks to Sharon Mizota at the Los Angeles Times I found out about this exhibition and subsequently contacted Barrie.

Plank Ladder, 2010
Digital C-print
14 x 74 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

I have never had the pleasure of playing in an adventure playground. They were unknown in the places I grew up. Everything that I see and read about them though convinces me that I have to make sure my kids will get a chance to experience their wonder.

Heel Spin Pyramid, 2010
Digital C-print
74 x 92 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

This is a tunnel to an alternate form of play, to a space that is challenging, to new discoveries.

Reclaimed Sewer Pipe (detail), 2010
Digital C-print
74 x 110 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

This is the great escape – freedom to play, imagine, and to be.

Installation view LAXART, 2010
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

Below is the news release issued by LAXART for the exhibition.

LAXART is pleased to present a new project by Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Barrie. Inspired by the junkyard playground in London where the artist played as a child, Negative Capability is inspired by the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child (which was amended to the Universal Human Civil Rights Declaration of 1948) that states:

“The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.”

Despite its passage in 1959, this Declaration did not become legally binding until 1989. As a result, this particular right that guarantees free self-directed open space play would ultimately find concrete expression between the 1960's-1980’s with the emergence of junkyard playgrounds and other non-authoritarian play spaces such as adventure playgrounds. Today, due to real estate demands and increasing gentrification, the adventure playground has all but vanished in the US, though they remain popular in Europe.

Barrie’s series of leaning photos/drawings recreate the archetypal components of the historic junkyard playgrounds, such as a reclaimed sewer pipe and rope ladder. The framed photographs are installed in such a way that they convey a sense of idle transition–as if they could be picked up and moved to a different corner of the room. The exhibition title, Negative Capability, refers to a literary concept introduced by poet John Keats that is rooted in the idea that a state of idle receptivity is a means for observing the truth. The manner in which Barrie’s photographs and drawings are installed in the gallery reflect the impermanence of the playground’s components, further evoking a sense of idle transition. For the artist, the gestures conveyed in his photographs address the tension of free versus fixed play. In this case, Barrie’s reconstituted adventure playground will allow for the viewer to abandon the constraints of an existing social order; generating a platform to explore and “actively do nothing,” much like a child at play.

Kelly Barrie was born in 1973 in London, England and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Kelly Barrie received his BFA in 1996 from Hobart College, Geneva, NY, and his MFA in 1997 from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. He is a 1998 graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program. Barrie’s photography has been exhibited at the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, Australia and the 2008 California Biennial. He’s had solo shows at Miller Durazo Fine Arts and Angstrom Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. His work has also been presented in numerous group exhibitions in various venues including Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY; Queen’s Nails Projects, San Francisco, CA; Artists Space, New York, NY; and the Museo Alejandro Otero, Caracas, Venezuela. He is a recipient of the Durfee Artist Completion Grant.

Many thanks once again to Kelly Barrie for sharing his fine photos with us.

For more on Kelly Barrie check his site and ArtSlant.

Great Playground News from the California Legislature

Historic playgrounds in California are one step closer to preservation and protection. Assembly Bill 2701 was approved by the State Senate yesterday and now advances to the Governor’s desk for signature. This legislation is the first of its kind in the United States and could serve as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to create a legislative framework for the preservation of historically significant playgrounds. San Gabriel’s La Laguna Playground designed by Benjamin Dominguez in the 1960s served as the inspiration to move this bill forward.

For more information on the preservation of San Gabriel’s La Laguna playground visit Friends of La Laguna and read PlayGroundology’s post, Monster Mash – Conservation Wins the Day in San Gabriel, California.

Photos courtesy of Friends of La Laguna.

Playgrounds in the Media II

Imagination Playground’s Flagship Opens in Manhattan

It’s been a breathless sweep of media coverage this past week for Imagination Playgrounds, the Rockwell Group and New York City. A crowd of kids and dignitaries, including architect David Rockwell and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, descended on Burling Slip in Manhattan to put the first permanent Imagination Playground through its paces. There was big, blue fun and delicious visuals of dreamful play. This new world is sketched using a moveable feast of oversize building blocks, the outline of a sailing vessel and sand and water play. The scenes are ever changing.

According to this National Public Radio report, Imagination Playgrounds, in addition to representing a revolution in play and design, can also play a role in economic development. The kids also get their say in this piece spelling out what fun is all about.

Click here for the Imagination Playground’s own media roll up – everyone from The New Yorker to Time. Check the rockwellgroup – click Portfolio and then Educate for another series of articles. Other write ups worth a peek include Rockwell Makes a Ruckus at Imagination Playground in The Architect’s Newspaper Blog, Rockwell’s Imagination Playground Is a Cutting-Edge Learning Experiment in Co.Design, Burling Slip’s Imagination Playground Opens its Mind to Downtown in Curbed NY, and David Rockwell, Bloomberg Open Imagination Playground in The Huffington Post.

For background on the Imagination Playground concept visit their faq (frequently asked questions). A couple of other points worth noting – the Rockwell Group’s work is pro bono and a national partnership has been established with KaBOOM! to help implement and develop Imagination Playgrounds across the US. Finally as New York City is an enthusiastic supporter and the Mayor is apparently big on playgrounds, it’s only fair to link to the Mayor’s Office news release for those who may wish to give it a read.

More on Imagination Playgrounds available here

Ka-BOOM! Keeps on Buildin’ and Boomin’ in the Gulf Area

Ka-BOOM! has been working with local communities building badly needed playgrounds in the Gulf area for the past five years. The non-profit issued a news release last week to mark the 5th anniversary of playground reconstruction in the region. To date there doesn’t appear to have been much pick up. It’s a great story of rebuilding that remembers the kids and their need to play. Read the release here.

Playground Threatened by Developers in Laindon, England

Residents are collecting signatures to present to Basildon Council with the hope of saving a playground and sportsfield from redevelopment into a housing estate. Not everyone is happy with the prospect of the land that currently is home to the playground being sold to help pay for a state of the art sports facility at another location.

The petition campaign is being led by 73-year-old Terry Adam and is being reported in The Essex County Echo. Councilors indicate it’s still too early to provide a definitive answer on the playground’s fate. We’ll check in with the Echo and other local media to see how Terry and the save the playground campaign are making out.

Although it doesn’t always work, concerted action can turn the tide in the favour of community members who do not share the same vision as city hall. Witness the Friends of La Laguna who last week placed number one in the cultural landscapes category for the L.A. Conservancy’s Top 60 of the 60s People’s Choice Awards. Had it not been for civic engagement, La Laguna playground would have been bulldozed long ago. Read the PlayGroundology post here.

Photo credits

All photos courtesy of Imagination Playgrounds.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.