Playgrounds from the 1970s are almost extinct, at least the interesting (read: fun) equipment. Finding one in the wild is a treat and a scavenger hunt. By pure luck, while driving south on I-95 in Virginia, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a playground. I saw a metal spaceship-looking apparatus, which I assumed was a playground – or a carnival ride. Unable to switch lanes and get off at the exit, I made a mental note of the mile marker so I could search later.
Since I could knew it could be seen from the interstate, I traveled up and down I-95 on Google Earth until I spotted what looked like the spaceship playground (how I described it in my head). With the help of Google Street View, I found it! I was pretty certain I knew the manufacturer of the playground at this point (because I am a nerd and spend lots of time studying historic playgrounds). Fortunately, I had the return trip to look forward to so we could stop and check out this playground.
The playground is set between the interstate and a questionable motel that appears half operating, half closed. The restaurant on the property is closed and any reviews you read of the hotel are terrible. To get to the playground, you have to drive around to the back of the hotel.
This is what I expected to find (bottom right):
And this is what I found:
It matches! I’m not ashamed to say that my excitement rivaled that of my childhood self. And if it weren’t 100 degrees outside, I would have slid down the slides and tested out the swings. Those old playgrounds can burn in the hot summer sun, as most of you probably know. Alas, I had to settle for climbing to the top and taking photographs.
Take a look at the advertisement images below. You can see that the playground is indeed the Miracle/Jamison model, and there are slight differences in the configurations displayed. This playground has the central tower (center), 2-deck satellite tower (left), the tornado slide (right), a large wave slide (left) and a small wave slide (center), among the elements.
I’ve never seen such an elaborate, metal playground. How does this playground exist in 2018? Most have been removed in the 1990s for safety reasons and CPSC regulations, and because of lawsuits (including this 1985 lawsuit that required all tornado slides be removed). I assume that because this is on private property (hotel property) it has seen less use than a public playground and it is not in the most accessible location, and it seems structurally sound, so no one is forcing the owners to remove it. I hope it stays around for a while. Now, how about a tour of the playground, and some historical context?
If the playground says “spaceship” to you, then you’re thinking in the right mindset. Playground equipment of the 1960s-70s had a space theme to it. Think of it in American historical context: the era of NASA, the Space Age, the moon landing, adventure, the unknown. Consider Googie architecture (mid-century design influenced by the Space Age) and the famous LAX airport theme building, resembling a flying saucer landing on its legs. Doesn’t this playground remind you of the terminal?
Playground equipment followed suit for architecture and societal interests. The names of equipment included radar screens, satellites, rockets, lunar lander, space cruiser, geodesic dome, and others. When you think about playground design it that way, it’s easy to spot playgrounds from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s another example as to how our built environment tells our history.
Now, back to the playground tour:
Have you seen a playground like this recently? Do you remember playing on one of these playgrounds? Enjoy, and keep your eyes out for playgrounds, big or small. In the meantime, if you’re in need of an internet rabbit hole, check out these advertisements from Miracle Equipment company.
9 thoughts on “Rare Playground Find: Miracle/Jamison 1975 Mark IV Imagine City”
This is amazing thank you for posting this w Think of all the fun and squeals of delight that has came from children over the years. To bad someone doesn’t clean up the area and repaint the equipment. Thanks!!!!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I love all your posts and especially this one. It is awesome. Exactly where is it located? Would make a wonderful side trip IF I ever get to the East coast. The cost of gas that dream is slowly fading. I don’t want to take a bus trip, as I think you miss so many wonderful sights.
Thank you! I’m keeping the location quiet – in hopes the playground will last longer – but if you email me, I’ll give you more specifics. How far away are you located?
I live in So. Indiana, so that is a bit away. I many never get there, but this is one of my favorite posts. Love all the older homes, as I grew up in an older neighborhood years ago and think older homes are awesome.
Wow! What an awesome discovery!!
When I was in the second grade in 1974-5, my mom was on the committee to buy new playground equipment for my elementary school. All of the committee moms pulled their kids out of school one day and we went all over the region playing on school playgrounds to try out all kinds of equipment. What a great day that was! We kids helped select the equipment our school ended up buying.
I don’t know where we got our equipment from but there were two stations that were problematic. One was a super-tall slide that shot kids out the end at such velocity that they’d frequently smack into other kids who were passing by too close. But the other one was a tower exactly like the one you wonder above whether a slide was once attached to. The answer: nope, it’s just a tower. And kids kept falling off the thing and injuring themselves. Over the years they kept cutting the tower down, making it shorter, trying to keep it from being so dangerous.
All of that playground equipment is gone now. The school was completely renovated and expanded in 2010, and the expansion claimed the old playground. The school itself is a lovely building and I’m very happy it was made to serve many more generations: https://blog.jimgrey.net/2010/11/08/school-renovation-completed/
I know where this is and I wonder if in 2021 it’s still there. It was there in 2019. Thanks so much for documenting it! It’s always been a delight to drive past!
A friend and I were just discussing playgrounds as they were when we were growing up in the late 70s through the 80s. At the pool my family belonged to when I was growing up, there was a modest playground by the kiddie pool. The highlight piece was a shiny metal saucer that one (or two, I guess) kids rode while others spun it around. There was no shade to keep the saucer somewhat cool – the sun hit it so perfectly – so kids usually put their wet towel on it to try to make it a bit more tolerable. Nothing like kids getting a bit seared while riding a sizzling spinning saucer which also made you dizzy and a wee bit nauseous.