Fun

Public Play Structures of Alameda, CA: A Taxonomy

Two days, 11 parks, one merry-go-round.

I like to do little experiments and activities that help me remember what it was like to be a kid—building forts, eating Happy Meals every day for a week, coloring with crayons—but I do most of these things in the privacy of my own home. I’m not ashamed, I just operate out of my house, I guess. Recently, I went out into the world to get in touch with my pre-adolescent self. I visited every public park in Alameda, CA—the small town that I grew up in—and explored the play structures. Then I reviewed them for you. Here are my findings:

1. Washington Park

Memory Lane: This park used to have a massive metal-climbing-dome-thingie (yes, that’s the official name), and when I was in the second grade I got stuck on the top of it. After scaling the structure, I froze, suddenly realizing that I was terrified of heights (there was probably a six-foot drop from the top to the sand below). I was too scared to climb back down the way that I’d come up and I certainly wasn’t going to jump, which all of my “supportive friends” were encouraging me to do. I was up there for about five minutes and had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be spending the rest of my days on that dome—I’d eventually get married there, find a job up there, you know, just carve out a life for myself on that piece of playground equipment. My teacher was summoned and came over to help me get down. She was also a proponent of the “jump” solution; however, she proposed the idea in a calm, teacherly voice and—unlike the wild-eyed seven-year-olds gathered below me, chanting “jump, jump, jump”—she didn’t sound as though she wanted me to break my tibia. So, I jumped and landed unharmed, which undoubtedly disappointed a few people.

Present-day observations: I immediately noticed a sign in front of one of the park’s two play structures that said “This play structure is designed for kids ages 2-5,” but I dismissed the warning because I’m a total rebel and a badass. I spotted an amazing little multipurpose, role-playing hut a few yards away that tapped into my unspoken desire to crouch inside of a general store, a bank, and a car at the same time! After spending 10 seconds in the hut living out my dream, I decided that I might as well cross “climb a giant, plastic fish carcass” off of my bucket list—the ladder for the play structure “designed for kids ages 5-12” was shaped like a fish skeleton, which was awesome in a semi-morbid way.

Was I able to achieve childlike sense of joy? I went down the park’s large corkscrew slide and felt a very pure kind of happiness for about a second. That happiness turned into anxiety, though, when I couldn’t help thinking that some kid with urine-soaked pants had probably gone down the slide earlier that day.

2. Littlejohn Park

Memory Lane: I don’t have any specific recollections of the playground equipment here, but I do remember being in the park’s clubhouse when I was 10 or 11 years old and watching two type-A girls get into a physical fight over the correct way to write a lowercase r in cursive. Before the fisticuffs, I tried to defuse the situation by showing them how I personally wrote an r and they both were so utterly disgusted that you would have thought that I’d just tricked them into watching me poop.

Present-day observations: Completely delusional, I tried to squeeze into a microscopic car that I imagine was intended for infants or squirrels. Maybe infant squirrels. Obviously, I didn’t fit, but I’m not one to wallow in my failures or my inability to be fetus-size. I moved on, focusing my attention on the spinning educational panels built into the playground structure and learned that Spinosaurus means “spiny lizard,” something that I may have never known had I not revisited this park.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? Although my ego will likely recover from the tiny-car debacle, my height prevented me from fully appreciating everything.

3. Franklin Park

Memory Lane: I never went to this park as a kid, but when I was in high school I saw this guy that I had a crush on making out with some girl who wasn’t me here.

Present-day observations: Merry-go-rounds are the endangered species of the playground world—I don’t know if parents think that those things are dangerous or if they want to discourage the sort of merriment that kids might experience while “going round.” So I was excited to come across one here. As I was riding it, I thought about starting a merry-go-round preservation society.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? This park has what I’ll call a “stand ’n’ spin.” It’s like a Sit ’n Spin (that toy for toddlers) but you stand on an unstable platform, hold on to a pole, and then swivel around. The entire 30 seconds that I was on it, I was so afraid that I’d get some embarrassing playground-related injury that I couldn’t allow myself to take any pleasure in what was happening.

4. McKinley Park

Memory Lane: When I was six or seven, I went to day camp here.

Present-day observations: I didn’t even try any of the playground equipment because there were a couple of little kids running around. I felt weird about sharing the space with them and was afraid that one of them might be precocious and try to talk to me or something—I have a precocious-kid phobia and there was a small girl wearing a tutu at this park who looked like the type. To make matters worse, one of the dads busted out a melodica and started playing it while walking around the park. Needless to say, that made me really nervous, so I left.

Was I able to recapture a youthful sense of joy? Clearly, no. I’ll have to go back when there are fewer kids/melodica players.

5. Tillman Park

Memory Lane: This park is on the opposite side of town from where I grew up, so I’d never been here before.

Present-day observations: They have an adorable mini rock-climbing wall for teeny adventure-sport enthusiasts! These didn’t exist when I was a kid, so I was jazzed to see it, and I plan on coming back to work on my calf muscles.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? After the thrill of discovering the climbing wall, I could see that my problem wasn’t that I am incapable of fully enjoying playgrounds. It’s just impossible to maintain that enthusiasm for more than a few minutes. I’d say that this has more to do with my capricious personality than my age.

6. Leydecker Park

Memory Lane: I used to have softball practice here, but I’d never seen the playground.

Present-day observations: The foot grips (I guess that’s what you’d call them) on one of the climbing ramps looked like red Klingon bat’leths—that won me, a Star Trek fan, over. The other climbing structure reminded me of Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings, so I pretended to be Frodo Baggins. Though, truthfully, I don’t need a plastic mountain to kick-start my Hobbit fantasies. In conclusion, I’m a nerd.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? I was only here for three minutes when I noticed that parents were glaring at me, or at least that’s when I started to become paranoid that parents might be glaring at me. The socially transgressive act of being an adult on a playground is too much for me to handle when there are a lot of people around. But I was proud of myself for not allowing that discomfort to stop me from entering the play area altogether.

7. Godfrey Park

Memory Lane: I’d never heard of this one before.

Present-day observations: This is a sad little place without much going on. I don’t know who this Godfrey person was, but he or she would probably be disappointed by the lack of rock-climbing walls at this park that’s supposed to be honoring his/her life.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? Eh, no.

8. Lincoln Park

Memory Lane: I had my high school graduation party here. We ate chicken.

Present-day observations: Apparently, Lincoln Park is the spot! It’s where all of the cool little kids hang out. Evidence: one boy had a low-rider bicycle.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? I wasn’t all wide-eyed and giddy while I was here, but this place is legit. The bars are painted red and there are two bridges—I can understand the appeal.

9. Krusi Park

Memory Lane: Another one that I’ve never been to.

Present-day observations: This is the Taj Mahal of my city’s playgrounds. I was so intimidated by the scale and yellowness of it that I just spent my time under a slide, working on an animal puzzle that I couldn’t figure out how to solve.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? Right before I left, two girls on opposite ends of the playground started bawling, and while that didn’t bring me joy, the sound did instantly transport me back to my own childhood. I’d forgotten how integral tears were to the playground experience. Instead of looking for joy, I should have been looking for pain—playgrounds are all about splinters, blistered palms, and scraped knees.

10. Longfellow Park

Memory Lane: My mother says that I had a pirate-themed birthday here when I was in kindergarten, but I don’t remember this alleged party nor have I ever seen any photographic proof that the event took place.

Present-day observations: There was a tire ladder and after climbing it I decided that someday, I’d have to make one of these for my house.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? I wasn’t so gung-ho about this project by this point. Ten parks in a day and a half is a lot. I don’t even think a kid would be able to deal with that. But being so exhausted made me less inhibited while playing. I didn’t care if anyone saw me or judged me for being an adult hanging out in a playground.

11. Woodstock Park

Memory Lane: I used to think that this park was named after the “Peanuts” character. I still don’t know who it’s actually named after, but I’m assuming that it isn’t a yellow cartoon bird.

Present-day observations: This park has the only teeter-totter/seesaw in the city. I didn’t try it out, though, because there are few things more depressing in life than teetering without someone there to totter back. I crawled inside a tube slide and pretended I was traveling through a portal into John Malkovich’s head.

Was I able to achieve a childlike sense of joy? This was the last park that I went to, and when I finished up, I didn’t feel joy, but I did feel like I’d accomplished something. I’d embarked on this project mostly for the sake of nostalgia, but playing on a playground when you’re too big to be playing on a playground is a challenge. There are, of course, the physical difficulties—not being able to fit into things—but also a few mental hurdles that I had to overcome. Thinking that other people might perceive my behavior as inappropriate prevented me from being as free as I probably could have been during this experiment. I’d recommend going on this sort of quest though, if only because I think it’s important that everyone know where the nearest merry-go-round is. ♦

36 Comments

  • kirsten October 17th, 2012 11:11 PM

    “The bars are painted red and there are two bridges—I can understand the appeal.”

    HAHAHAHA best. I love parks with bridges! Merry-go-rounds are becoming an extinct species. So are tire swings!

  • Juleesa October 17th, 2012 11:44 PM

    This post is too funny, cracking up the whole time

  • llamalina October 17th, 2012 11:47 PM

    It’s amazing how much parks look alike in different cities. I could’ve sworn that half of these were parks in my town, but I don’t live in Alameda. A lot of the names were the same, too. I think I might try this sometime now that I have a car. I have a lot of memories in parks that need some revisiting.

  • marineo October 17th, 2012 11:52 PM

    I’ve actually been to some of these parks!

    Now I want to do this in my own town!
    seeing as my town apparently has the largest number of parks per square mile or something like that.

    yeah the burbs are pretty happenin.

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 11th, 2012 1:16 PM

      Gotta love the burbs! :D <3

  • jenaimarley October 17th, 2012 11:54 PM

    OH MY GODS LET’S START THE MERRY-GO-ROUND PRESERVATION SOCIETY PLEASE.

    • jenaimarley October 18th, 2012 12:03 AM

      Also John Malkovich’s head portal… <3

      I have been yelled at by mean parents for trying to swing in the baby swings because they were taking up the precious few big-kid swings with their babies on their laps!!! Anyway I am a little bitter about that but I understand the feeling of not being free to let your child soul out. But parks are really the best!
      Thanks, Amber!

  • morganosaur October 18th, 2012 12:26 AM

    This is the greatest thing. I’m been on this nostalgic kick ever since I turned 15 where I feel like I have to soak up as much of my childhood as I can before SERIOUS TEENAGER-Y things happen. I definitely feel like that person who wasted their childhood trying to act more grown-up, and now I feel like I need to make up for that. I think I might need to take a day to drive to all the playgrounds in my town!!

  • Emily October 18th, 2012 1:04 AM

    The Lincoln Park play equipment but in teal is the exact model that used to be at my elementary school!!!!! But they took it out several years ago because fun sux.
    I had heard in LEGEND that there used to be swings and a jungle gym there too, but,
    “One time a girl ran down the stairs to the playground and ran straight into the jungle gym and knocked her teeth out so now its gone” -My kindergarten teacher.

    That’d be running in a straight line for about 40 feet but sure whatever.

    • chilljill47 October 19th, 2012 12:41 AM

      dude there are totally swings at lincoln park! last time i swung on them was last halloween in the middle of the night and i accidentally smashed my unicorn horn. :(

  • Pearl October 18th, 2012 1:13 AM

    Is it weird that this post makes me want to hijack my local park? My fascination with playgrounds is weirder than I thought it was :/
    http://www.pforpearl.blogspot.com

  • Sierra October 18th, 2012 1:30 AM

    I’m from Alameda and have been to pretty much all of these parks (and one of them is actually at the elementary school that I went to) so this makes me happy!

  • whatsernamewashere October 18th, 2012 2:34 AM

    I grew up around here too :) Good times.

  • NotReallyChristian October 18th, 2012 4:06 AM

    My boyfriend goes to the playground to work out! There’s one near his house that has bars he uses for pull-ups and that kind of thing. We go there to play sometimes too (are we weird?) but usually only in the evening when the kids are gone. I think the playground should be for everyone (and I would LOVE it if some of the things were more grown-up sized) but obviously kids are little and I don’t want to hurt anyone by mistake.
    The funnest time was last winter, when we were just going to go out to the co-op before it shut at 11, and when we opened the door it had snowed! Snow is such a big deal in England that anyone under the age of 40 (and most people over it) must IMMEDIATELY PLAY, so we went straight to the park and hung out there in the dark and the snow, making snow angels in the empty paddling pool.

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 11th, 2012 1:16 PM

      I love this comment! :D

  • mayaautumn October 18th, 2012 9:11 AM

    hagaa AMAZING! looks like so much fun!! and i know it sounds slightly weird, but i really love the architecture of parks/playgrounds! especially oldish ones…

    http://mayathapapaya.tumblr.com

  • raggedyanarchy October 18th, 2012 9:51 AM

    Playing on a playground becomes much less creepy when you have your friends with you. And much more fun too!

  • Mary the freak October 18th, 2012 2:17 PM

    this is so much fun. hilarious and awesome! (:

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Chamiechoo October 18th, 2012 5:23 PM

    ahhh i go to clemyjontri in mclean, VA..best/biggest playground everrr

  • marit October 18th, 2012 9:35 PM

    this is so sweet(:

  • luvcat October 18th, 2012 10:47 PM

    I partially grew up in Alameda and at least 4 of these brought up awesome, dreamlike, kid-perspective memories THANK YEW SO MUCH AMBER

  • elizab October 18th, 2012 11:06 PM

    I was one of your terrifying precocious kids, one of those who explains to everyone she meets the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks. You’ll be pleased to know that I have outgrown my geology phase. I used to interact with playgrounds on a strictly sit-under-the-slide- to-read- and -avoid-the-sun basis but I may have to try again. I do like swings. You have inspired me!

  • jeans kinda girl October 18th, 2012 11:18 PM

    I always admired my brave friends who would slid across the gymnastic-type bars and flip off the top. I wanted so bad to be brave enough to do that but I had my suspisions, and when my best friend did it and landed with a broken wrist, my suspisions were comfirmed.
    Just one of my many playground memories…
    The project-article was great!

  • SweetThangVintage October 19th, 2012 12:11 AM

    You didn’t see Emily Kmetko at any of them, did you?

  • ArianeMmmmm October 19th, 2012 12:23 AM

    Omg I love this! Some of my earliest memories involved living in Alameda as a kid! I live in Virginia now, but when I last visited grandma I drove by my old elementary school, Woodstock, and now it’s a school for adults? Pshaw!

    • ArianeMmmmm October 19th, 2012 12:29 AM

      Also, if your Woodstock Park is referring to a park near the old military base. . . I’m pretty sure it was named after the Peanuts character. I remember how at Woodstock Elementary the yellow bird was our mascot, I still remember how we had Snoopy and Woodstock clocks in our classes.

  • chilljill47 October 19th, 2012 12:44 AM

    alameda in general just seems to evoke a sense of nostalgia no matter where you’re from… do you agree, fellow bay area rookies? :)

    • kruisin November 1st, 2012 11:59 PM

      yes, I pretend like i’m driving through some town on oahu circa 1957. I also frequent the0r lovely tiki bar, Forbidden Island.

  • joyce October 21st, 2012 12:05 PM

    drive on over to Berkeley and check out their Adventure playground, it’s the best!
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/adventureplayground/

  • eliselbv October 21st, 2012 1:16 PM

    Amber I just love the way you write this post was really funny.

    http://www.iloveyourjokes.blogspot.com

  • miranduh October 22nd, 2012 2:47 AM

    I’ve lived in Alameda for six years and had no idea half of these parks existed. Whoops.

    But Lincoln Park is pretty much top notch.

  • nadiashmadia October 22nd, 2012 4:57 PM

    I lived in Alameda from age 2 – 6, so it only exists in my mind as a dreamy, nostalgic, childhood land. All I remember was a park that had an old REAL tank engine (like Thomas!) that we could climb and play in. Was that in Alameda? Does anyone else remember this? This post was wonderful, thank you!

  • amyfoto October 29th, 2012 3:47 PM

    I grew up in Alameda too. Lydecker was my park hang out. Thanks for revisiting!

  • Chloe October 29th, 2012 9:13 PM

    this is just great. this is why i love rookie <3 :')

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica November 11th, 2012 1:14 PM

    asdfasdfjkl;adjkajklkajl;k;jasajkl;ajkadklasfjjklas

    I love this article so much. It’s one of my favorites on Rookie ever.

    I would love so much to see a playground taxonomy from my hometown (a tiny city in a suburb in Chicago :) <3) – I bet it would be so interesting to hear someone else's thoughts on all the places I hung out in during my childhood!

    <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  • Maraqua December 2nd, 2012 2:50 PM

    i have to say i had a mini heart attack of joy when i saw this article was about the place i grew up in. lincoln park was my hangout. there was a huge tree that you could climb inside, and next to the swings is where the not so great tween skater boys would sometimes attempt to do tricks. from earth day for school to just regular old playdates, so many good memories were made there. maybe ill take a walk down there next weekend and get an icee from across the street like my mom used to let my friends and i do. this article made my day. <3