In Remembrance of Astro Park (and the Space Burger)

Recent  events concerning an impending legislative amendment in the State Assembly got me reminiscing about a Googie playground that I helped renovate, oh, back in 1999 (read demolish and replace with something newer).  I’ve been re-certifying as a playground safety inspector since ’99, but it’s only when I started working with a Parks District four years ago that I saw first hand the volume of “incident reports” that flood our offices.  It’s kind of like being locked in a batting cage facing a relentless pitching machine.  The pitches keep coming at you, steadily, on the chance that you’re going to slip up and miss a ball.

The only bat that you have at your disposal is the risk management program that you pray your employer has been following and keeping up to date.  A parks maintenance guy who works for a nearby city told me that his agency recently paid out $25,000 to settle a claim filed on behalf of a child who was horsing around with his friends and fell off a play equipment deck.  The guardrail that was supposed to be there was temporarily removed for repair, and the city had only placed a caution tape at that opening.  The tape, unfortunately, was not enough to keep the kid from getting shoved off the platform.  That’s $25,000 of tax payer dollars that could have been used to fill some potholes.

So I find out, a week ago, that the California Preservation Foundation has been leading a campaign to enact a legislative amendment to exempt certain playgrounds that “qualify” as being sufficiently historic, from the usual playground safety regulations.  The bill ” would place qualified playgrounds and playground sites with historical or cultural significance under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State Historical Building Code.”

The Space Burger at Astro Park
The Astro Ship landed in Oakland in 1964 piloted by the local Kiwanis Club. The spaceship was accompanied in its Googie space-age glory by a rocket ship climber and a concrete Swiss-cheese climber (perhaps themed to the surface of the moon – Swiss cheese?)

Of course, my friend is up there on the spaceship just “for scale.” This is such a juicy piece of play structure to inspect for all the non-compliance issues. Nonetheless, it was a lovely structure to behold.

Armed with voter approved bond money, our project team descended upon the playground for a radical makeover. At the time, the space ship had become a popular hangout for the local teens who appreciated the classy architecture (of course) and the relative privacy afforded between the clam shells for a quick smoke or … whatever. If they had tumbled off the spacecraft and hurt themselves, why, they were not about to file a claim against the City. In fact, their presence likely kept the smaller kids from approaching the spaceship.

There was, briefly, a movement to save the spaceship.
60's spaceship has been obsoleted
But when the time came for the spaceship to be taken away, none of the protesters were there; they had moved on to the next century.
60's spaceship has been obsoleted
The legs were sawed off the spacecraft for safe passage to Area 51 of the City’s Maintenance Yard.

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