Category Archives: Vintage Playgrounds

Ole Smiley – Any Vintage Playground Equipment Where You Live?

I’ve passed Ole Smiley for a few years trekking back and forth from Halifax to Kejimkujik National Park. His face is pocked with rust. The smile is rueful now, the paint weathered to a razor thin veneer. For decades his strong arms have been holding up the swings that rocked the Village of Harmony’s kids under sweltering suns and constellation splashed skies.

Winds gust through those tall, skinny legs unchecked, tangling the two bucket seats. No matter how shrill their whistling shrieks, they are unable to shift the stick man stance. Seemingly invincible, Ole Smiley’s enduring presence will end and kids today will be the poorer for it as diverse designs and equipment bite the dust.

I wonder if there will be feelings of nostalgia associated with commercial equipment installed within the last 5 to 20 years when it is 30, 40 years old. Will the newer equipment even be able to withstand decade upon decade of use?

Do you have any playground equipment, sculptures, paraphernalia dating back to the 1960s or earlier? Send photos and stories if you have them.

Halifax, Nova Scotia seems committed to a path of playground homogeneity. There are a few bright exceptions which present some hope that authorities are receptive to change. The old stock is pretty much gone with a straggler hanging on here and there like this marvelous monkey head slide-climber combo.

In an area the size of a postage stamp close to the downtown core, Montreal’s David Lefebvre Park is a treasure trove. No doubt there is somebody in the community to be congratulated for preserving a stallion, a gliding horse and a spider.

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Closer to my Halifax home, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, I found the starship of my childhood angled for take-off. Back in the day when men first started orbiting the earth, a rocket like this one was our dream station imagining us Toronto kids into deep space adventures.

Brenda Biondo has been capturing vintage play equipment on film for years and has published a book of her photos. Flickr’s scottamus has compiled an impressive collection of old spring riders, swings, roundabouts and more from a variety of locations in Ohio. Then there are communities like San Gabriel, California who just go and rewrite the rule book on the way to preserving a playground as a cultural landscape.

Nostalgia is certainly part of the equation with some of this old equipment, memories of play that predate the constant stream of screen content. There’s more here though than tugs on the heart strings. There are aesthetics, cultural reference points, workmanship – a different ethos, horizon for play. It’s still around, a bit diluted. Remember what it was about the old equipment that you loved and check to see if the characteristics are present where your kids play today. If not, shouldn’t we be wondering why?

Once Upon A Playground

PlayGroundology allows me the opportunity to speak with many fine people from a variety of countries and backgrounds – artists, designers, advocates and activists, theorists and educators, photographers and psychologists, researchers, nostalgists, parents and beautiful dreamers. All are united in a fervent love of children, playgrounds and play and are mostly in it for the long haul.

I love it when we’re able to keep connected over time and PlayGroundology gets updates of new projects. That happened just today when photographer Brenda Biondo sent me a note about her new book, Once Upon A Playground.

Brenda’s photos were featured in PlayGroundology just after it got out the gates in February 2010. This is what was written back then.

Brenda Biondo is a woman on a mission. Over the last six years she’s clocked thousands of miles on the roads of the southwestern United States. Each time she finds a treasure on one of her expeditions of discovery, she parks her car, takes out her camera and proceeds to shoot frame after frame of America’s disappearing vintage playgrounds. Her eyes and sensibilities are recording the zeitgeist of American public play primarily from the 1950s through the 1970s – the pre-plastic era.
Endangered Species – Vanishing Playscapes

That mission now includes the book noted above. Brenda is offering us a sneak peek before Once Upon A Playground is finally put to bed and released to a broader public.

I went through the more than 100 images this evening and they are a real testament to Brenda’s vision and love of the subject matter. Some photos are breathtaking, stunning and deceptive in their simplicity. But don’t take my word for it, go flip through the digital pages yourself at the companion website, Once Upon A Playground. It won’t be hard to select some favourites. I’ve already discovered quite a few.

Brenda is also interested in gathering old photgraphs and stories from readers about their play and playground memories to post on the site which is where you’ll also find her contact information.

Don’t wait, click through to Once Upon A Playground and get your sneak peek of this beautiful book that takes us on a photographic journey from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Brenda, thanks for thinking of us.