Rare Playground Find: Miracle/Jamison 1975 Mark IV Imagine City

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):


Parks & Recreation August 1974. Source: Nels Olsen, Flickr (username: nels_P_Olsen).

And this is what I found:


Playground view from the parking lot (June 2018).

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.


Miracle/Jamison ca. 1975 playground, Mark IV Imagine City model.

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.


Source, Bill Jensen: https://www.slideshare.net/billyjensen1/too-high-too-fast-too-fun. Bill has an entire slideshow about playground evolution. Check it out. However, this is Miracle, not Game Time, Inc.


Source: Parks & Recreation Journal, April 1975, page 3.  Miracle & Jamison ad. See full page below.


Found on Nels_p_Olsen flickr: https://flic.kr/p/7xQhkH

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?


The playground is not maintained, as you can tell by the high grass.


Wave slide in the center.

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:


View from above.


View to the lowest platform.


Looking down: You can also climb up the central satellite tower to get to the highest platform.


The tornado slide. I’ll admit, this slide looks painful in the hot sun (maybe even dangerous).


The 2-deck satellite tower. You can climb ladders (through the circles to platforms) to move up this tower and access the slide or move to other sections of the playground.


View from the platform.


Stair details.


It looks like a slide used to be here.



Not only did this playground have a Mark IV Imagine City, but it also had swings and other apparatus.


Flying Pony Swings. I looked for a stamp on these pieces to identify the company, but no luck.


Spring rider.


Concrete creature hiding in the grass, commonly seen in the 1960s.


This playground even has a basketball court with a low-hoop, clearly for the little kids.


Some sort of shuffleboard/mini golf course next to the playground.

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.


Playground Find: Ladysmith, VA

You never know when you’re going to find an old playground. By “old” I mean “vintage”, as in pre 1980s. On a recent family trip, we needed to find a place to stop for a picnic dinner and to let the baby stretch her legs for a while. Anyone who has traveled with kids knows that you don’t always gets to pick your exit – you make do with what you find. We turned off I-95 at Exit 110 for Ladysmith, VA, looking for a park. Not too far from the exit, on Route 639, we found a school.

The school is the former C.T. Smith School, built in the 1960s, which, not surprisingly, replaced a school from the early 20th century. C.T. Smith closed in 2009 due to school consolidation. Since then, the school has become a community space. The grounds still contain playing fields, basketball courts, and a small playground. The only pieces of playground equipment were a jungle gym and a slide, but they peaked my interest.





My elementary school had this exact playground piece, only larger. This one appeared to be for the younger elementary school kids. You might call it a jungle gym. It has monkey bars, climbing bars, and more. My friends and I found hours of entertainment on it during recess. Its official name is the “Giant Outdoor Muscle Man” produced ca. 1971 by GameTime, Inc.


From the book, “Once Upon A Playground” by Brenda Biondo.

The second playground apparatus was a classic metal slide, also made by Game Time, Inc., presumably from the same era.





Also a GameTime Inc apparatus.


Stamped on the underside of the slide steps.

When looking at aerial photos on http://www.historicaerials.com, the playground was not visible (to my eyes) until the 1990s. However, this playground equipment does not date from the 1990s; the 1970s is accurate. It is possible that a) the resolution of the aerial photography wasn’t clear enough to show the equipment and they blended into the ground or b) this playground was moved from another school in the 1990s.

What do you think? And, have you played on a “Giant Outdoor Muscle Man”? Have you seen any GameTime, Inc. equipment lately?

Abandoned Virginia: Central High School, Painter

Central High School is located on Lankford Highway (US Route 13) just outside Painter, Acccomack County, VA.  This 1932/1935 school was constructed in the Art Deco style, common for schools in the 1930s. Central High School joined students from Painter and Keller. In 1984, the school became the district middle school. The school grounds contain recreation fields, outbuildings, and additional classrooms. In 2005, the school closed. Read the National Register nomination here.


Central High School, Painter, VA.


1935 addition.


Side entrance.


Art Deco details above the side entrance.


View through the side door.


View through the windows.




On the athletic fields: “Central Bulldogs.”

In 2008, Tucker Robbins, a furniture designer from New York City, purchased the entire property for $150,000 with a vision to rehabilitate the school into a new home for his NYC based furniture manufacturing business, as well as an environmental-educational facility. Read about Tucker Robbins’ plan on his website. Unfortunately, his vision was not realized; and in 2015, he offered up the school for sale for $525,000. (Source: DelMarVANOW and Eastern Shore Post.) Fortunately, while he owned the building, Robbins did hire a consultant to nominate the school to the National Register of Historic Places (listed 2010).

Currently the property is listed for $350,000. Bonus: the asbestos abatement is completed inside the school building. Check the real estate for interior photographs. See this youtube video for an inside tour. Anyone want to buy a school? I hope this building has a bright future.

Preservation Photos #176


Goolrick’s Drugs in Fredericksburg, VA. A modern drugstore, a soda fountain, food, household items –  since 1863!

Books, Brick Buildings & Backroads

Certain places will always tug at our hearts, filled with nostalgia, good memories, and chapters in the book of our lives that answer questions like: how did we become who we are? What has shaped us over the years? Where were we before this? These are places that may seem far away from the present, but if you stepped into them, memories would flood back to you. These are places that mean so much to us, places you will never forget and don’t want to forget.

Kenmore Plantation: where I spent many mornings cleaning the plaster ceiling with dental tools and toothbrushes.

Kenmore Plantation: where I spent many mornings cleaning the plaster ceiling with dental tools and toothbrushes.

Mary Washington College, dear in my heart.

Mary Washington College, dear in my heart.

Fredericksburg, VA.

Fredericksburg, VA.

Fredericksburg, Virginia, particularly the University of Mary Washington, is one of those places to me. It’s a chapter in my life that I keep with me still (hello, flamingos!) and cherish. Sure, the day to day worries of school exams and track meets and other issues have faded, but the brick lined campus walk, the historic preservation department, the streets that I’d walk or run everyday are embedded in my heart. Whether coffee at Hyperion Espresso, sleepless nights in the drafting lab or computer lab, learning from our professors, or admiring the beautiful historic buildings of Fredericksburg, Mary Washington represents my formative years as a historic preservationist (though I must have been one before I arrived) and it’s where the flamingos first flocked together, a group of intelligent, beautiful women whose bonds mean the world to me.

Flamingos flocked here.

Flamingos flocked here.

Hyperion Espresso in downtown Fredericksburg.

Hyperion Espresso in downtown Fredericksburg.

A visit to Hyperion Espresso.

A visit to Hyperion Espresso.

Suffice to say, when I was invited to be a part of the Center for Historic Preservation’s book prize jury, I was elated, honored and happy to be a part of Mary Washington in a different sphere (as a professional colleague instead of student). This included reading 17 books over the past few months, but it also entailed a springtime visit to Virginia, preservation chatter and scholarship, catching up with professors, meeting fellow preservationists, and visiting some of my favorite people. As evident by the photographs, Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, all in the name of Preservation in Pink entertainment.

The stack of book prize nominations.

See my challenge: The stack of book prize nominations.

Downtown Fredericksburg, VA.

Downtown Fredericksburg, VA.

I realized I was strolling the streets of Fredericksburg with Mr. Stilts peaking out of my bag -- totally not posed!

I realized I was strolling the streets of Fredericksburg with Mr. Stilts peaking out of my bag — totally not posed!

The book prize will be announced in May, so I can’t say anything about it now. I will note that the morning sun in the preservation conference room with coffee, stacks of books and good company made for an excellent segment of my Virginia weekend.

Strolling down campus walk at Mary Washington.

Strolling down campus walk at Mary Washington.

Following a stay in Fredericksburg, my sights were set on rural Hanover county, exploring on a sunny day and arriving at Ali & Hume’s in time for a flamingo mini-reunion evening. {If you revisit that post, the house has come a long way!} The roads to Ali’s were narrow and winding, and brought fond memories of learning Virginia architecture. The landscape struck me: large fields, farmhouses set in a cluster of trees far from the road. Small vernacular and modern houses are brick clad, as is typical Virginia. This was a good reminder of regional architecture. Vermont’s houses are often lined close to the roadway, valleys are deep, mountains reach high and roads follow waterways. Weatherboard is more common than brick in Vermont, storm windows are necessary, and gable front is a common form.

Driving in rural Virginia.

Driving in rural Virginia.

Narrow tree lined roads.

Narrow tree lined roads (blurry, sorry!)

Aside from visual reminders, the quiet rural night brought back memories. Lying in bed in the early hours of the morning, the sound of the nearby freight train rattled on the tracks, carrying across the fields near Ali & Hume’s house. I remembered how the sound carries differently when not in the mountains. And the railroad brings memories of Southern Pines, traveling by train along the east coast (various trips), and living in houses that physically shook when the freight trains passed through town. But that night I felt contently comforted by the rattling lull floating through the fields, lucky to be in the company of preservation friends who are so lovingly working on their Virginia home.

Dinnertime scenery in Hanover County.

Dinnertime scenery in Hanover County.

Flamingos, friends, books, coffee, preservation, winding roads, good food and some exploring in the sun. How could a weekend be any better?
Time to leave Virginia, flying back to Vermont.

Time to leave Virginia, flying back to Vermont.

Thank you Virginia for a lovely stay. See you soon.

Mobile App for Historic Resource Survey in Alexandria, VA

Preservationists are moving forward in 2013! Are you looking for a way to help or are you interested in how the preservation field can incorporate mobile devices & apps for our work. Wouldn’t it be nice to conduct survey with your smart phone or tablet and transfer that information to a database without many in between steps?

You’ve probably heard about the app FieldNotes LT, which can geo-reference your resource and combine it with photographs and notes as a .kmz file. However, the file is dependent on whatever outside platform you’re using to open it (Google Earth in my experience) and you can’t really store it in a database. It’s useful, but not flawless.

So what’s better? What is a new digital & preservation initiative? Read on for news from Alexandria, VA (information adapted from correspondence with Mary Catherine Collins, a preservation planner with the city):

The City of Alexandria’s Historic Preservation division is seeking volunteers to assist with an architectural survey of the Old and Historic Alexandria District. This survey will be the first of its kind in the country using an exciting new GIS-based mobile application designed to expedite the surveying process and facilitate data sharing between the City of Alexandria and other cultural resource organizations.

Like FieldNotes LT, it will geolocate all of our survey data and photos, but more importantly by using a geodatabase format, we will be able to easily transfer our data to VDHR and NPS’s databases. The outcome of this survey is a set of digital transfer standards as well as digital update to our National Register and Landmark listings. Additionally the app will be made available for free on ESRI’s website once the project is complete.

Alexandria is a great place to begin this since, like many of the first designated historic districts, the NR nomination is entirely inadequate at only three pages!

Surveying will begin in early March, with training taking place in late February. We anticipate 2 days of training and approximately 5-10 days of field surveying. Please contact Mary Catherine Collins at preservation@alexandriava.gov if you are interested or for more information.

This is a great opportunity for anyone in the DC area to not only be part of an exciting project, but also to network with other design professionals and preservationists in the area!

Preservationists in the area, including Mary Washington & GW preservation students, I hope you’re listening. Get out, have some HP fun and learn about the digital age in preservation. If you do participate, report back to PiP.  Thank you Mary Catherine for providing this information. Good luck!

Preservation Photos #153

A salt kettle in Marion, VA.

The plaque reads:

Once used industrially in nearby Saltville, brine from wells was evaporated to solid salt in these kettles over wood fires. From 1790 to 1895, such salt was shipped throughout the southeast and was the cause of important battles during the War Between the States.

Kettle donated to Smyth County, Virginia by Dr. D.C. Boatwright and the heirs of Charles J. Duncan.

Plaque donated by Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, Saltville, Virginia.