CC Recess: Vanishing Playground Equipment of the 1950s and ’60s

The last time I saw Sammy the Sea Serpent. Scrapping the old playground equipment, Mountview Elementary School, Morris Plains NJ, c. 1990.  I’m sure he’s dead now.


About 30 years ago, I noticed that a lot of familiar things from my youth that I took for granted and thought would always be . . . started disappearing.  One day I decided to take a walk through my old elementary school playground, and I came upon the sight above.  Yes, they were scrapping all the old playground equipment that I knew so well and that I had played on with my classmates so many times.  This stuff was built to last forever–why were they doing this?

You can do an internet search of 1950s playground equipment and you will find many fascinating examples of these whimsical designs–rockets, dinosaurs, geodesic domes–but I wanted to just focus on my particular recollections of playgrounds I had visited.  You can share with us the very special examples that you so fondly remember.

A few blocks from my house was Malapardis Park, which had a small playground.   They had one of these, and remember climbing up and through it.  Not a lot of room to maneuver in there.

Here are the plans, which I’ve never seen before.

Malapardis Pond would freeze over in winter and everyone would come to skate.

On the edge of the pond was a stone outdoor fireplace like this one.  It was nice to get warm, and dry off hats and gloves by the fire.  One day the town demolished the fireplace with no explanation.

In summer we’d go to Bee Meadow Pool.  They had a high dive and two low diving boards.  That’s me on the high dive (top photo).  The high dive was scary–looking down into the deep water it felt like you were about 3 or 4 stories up when you were about to jump!

Recent view shows the high dive has been taken down.  There are now blue plastic water slides and one low diving board (with a warning sign).  Wooden Adirondack chairs are now gone.


In Millburn, New Jersey where my grandparents lived was Taylor Park.  They had a really tall slide like this one flanked by two shorter ones.  It was considered a really big thrill to slide down the tall one.  The shiny metal surface would reach at least 451 degrees Fahrenheit in the hot sun!

This is what the steps looked like.

View from the top!

Mountview also had one of these Funnel Ball things.  It was hard to keep score in your head.

These “ducks on a spring” were, like, indestructible.  There were other animals like seahorses, dolphins, bunnies, turtles.

Odd ducks.  These are really old or weird.


On trips to other parks I was excited to see these very ’50s-looking Space Age rocket designs.

Speaking of rockets, this 1957 Oldsmobile commercial was shot at the Dennis the Menace playground in Monterey, California.  They had some spectacular stuff at that park.  I wonder if any of it still survives (see 2:22 to 4:54)

Classic “monkey bars” a.k.a. “jungle gym”.  Mountview had these too.

Not the real pipe, but close.


Then there was “The Pipe”.  Maybe when the school was built they had this concrete pipe left over and somebody said, “Hey, just leave it here and let the little brats play on that!”  It sat next to the swings, and you could crawl through it (which wasn’t such a pleasant experience).  You could yell into it and hear a weird echo.  Or you could push a Hot Wheels car through (you’d have to first clean out the sand and pebbles and icky bugs that would collect on the bottom).   Eventually somebody punched a hole in the top and broke pieces off the edges, and that was the beginning of the end for The Pipe.  It was not replaced with another one.


No, not “Beavis & Butthead” but my brother and I at the Morris Museum with exotic birds made of discarded automobile parts, 1979.

Christmas was always a special time.  The central square in Morristown was decked out with lights, Santa’s cottage, and a miniature train.  Here I am riding a graceful reindeer, Christmas 1969.

All of the playground equipment I remember from childhood is now gone.  When I visit other parks or schools, I look for surviving mid-century examples.  I seldom, if ever, see any.  What’s forcing all this destruction and replacement?  The insurance companies?  It’s not because it’s “worn out”;  it never seems to wear out–just maybe needs a new coat of paint every couple of decades.

There’s this mentality that everything old must be destroyed and replaced, even if it’s in good condition and crafted with love.  Certain inherent, irreplaceable values that old things have are seldom considered.   For instance, a grandparent can never say on a visit to a park or schoolyard with a grandchild, “I once played on that too!”  And of course a lot of the older designs are interesting, artistic, and educational in their own right.

Am I just being sentimental, or are we losing something here?