07 May Historic Smith Memorial Playground
In 2006, the Smith Memorial Playground reopened after having been closed for almost a dozen years. The playground is a Philadelphia institution that has served generations of families from in and around Philadelphia since 1899. Situated in Fairmount Park and covering 6 acres, it is one of the oldest playgrounds in the City.
In the 1990’s due to budget constraints, the City closed Smith. It was showing its signs of age and the City simply did not have the resources to restore the playground. A group of concerned citizens formed an alliance and began to forge partnerships with local corporations in an effort to secure funding. The goal was to raise $10,000,000 to not only restore the playground and playhouse, but to provide funding for future maintenance and expansion.
The Smith Memorial Playhouse was built in 1899 by a wealthy local family, in memory of their son. This very large, Victorian style mansion was never a residence, but was built solely as a children’s playhouse. Another feature of the playground is the beloved Giant Wooden Slide, which has served generations of Philadelphia families since it was added in 1905.
Even today a creation such as Smith Memorial Playhouse would be incredible, but at the end of the 19th century it was absolutely a new and unique idea. The Playhouse and its surrounding property were not a municipal project, but were and always have been operated as a private entity supported by donated funds.
At that time very few cities were sponsoring public playgrounds. Joseph Lee had recently begun his research and social work on the importance of play, and safe play areas, for children. His work had been launched in Boston in the previous decade, and in 1888 Philadelphia joined the American Playground Movement by appointing the Small Parks Association to develop playgrounds.
The development of playgrounds was seen not only as a creating a safe place for the children to experience recreation and play, but also as an important platform for the development of moral and effective social behavior. As supporters of the American Playground Movement, the Smiths endowed the SMITH Trust for the Playhouse from their wills. Although their efforts were at the very forefront of the Movement, this was the precursor to what would become the National Recreation and Parks Association, and lead to the high emphasis placed on play areas today.
Article to be concluded next week…