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The Asphalt Jungle Gym: 1941

The Asphalt Jungle Gym: 1941

July 14, 1941. "Vladeck Houses, Madison Street, New York City. W.F.R. Ballard; Sylvan Bien; Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, architects." The Baruch Charney Vladeck Houses on the Lower East Side. Gottscho-Schleisner photo. View full size.


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When Kids Were Allowed To Be Kids

None of that pamby bamy rubberized or sandy landing area just good old hard asphalt or slightly harder cement at the bottom to cushion your missteps.

It prepared us for real life with the chance to climb to the top to be King Of The Hill but with the danger of a misstep that could result in some harm to either our bodies or clothes.

If we had our druthers we would go for the body injury since a little Iodine (ouch) or better yet Mercurochrome aka Monkey Blood (ahh painless) could heal our scrapes but if you ripped a new pair of jeans or shirt there would be the heck to pay.

For better or worse concrete and asphalt playgrounds made my generation tough and able to survive and thrive the 60's.

Brings Back Memories

I grew up on Madison Street in the 50's, not far from here, in the Smith Houses. What resonates with me are all the open windows, not an air conditioner in sight. I can still see all the mothers at the windows yelling for their kids to come home for lunch or dinner. We would hang upside down on those monkey bars by our knees and I'm amazed I survived to adulthood.

NYC jungle gyms

I believe that there is one, and only one, of these square jungle gyms left. It's in Fort Tryon Park, near Dyckman Street (not in the playground that's all up in the northeast corner of the park, but a little further south). It's there because Park Commissioner Henry Stern grew up nearby and insisted that it remain. See this article.

Fasten-ating Fact

The good monkey bars were welded. These are clamped and bolted, offering more places to catch clothes and skin.

Re: Trees and windows

As it looks today, from approximately the same angle:

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Monkey Bars II

Same here. We had some big ones like this at our school back in the 60's. We had a blast. Of course we got hurt once in a while, but so what? Back then, it wasn't that big of a deal. About the time I started high school a girl finally took a header and broke her fall with her face on the concrete around one of the poles. She pretty much busted every bone in her face. It wasn't long before our beloved old monkey bars went to the knackers yard. The problem with the way they put them things up was they dug post holes, set the pipes and poured concrete around them. After a few years, the dirt around the poles eroded and left the jagged edges exposed. Plus we didn't have mulch or foam padding, just dirt and gravel. We were a lot tougher back then and you didn't have lawsuits like you do now.

Monkey Bars

Until I scrolled over this image, I had all but forgotten about these types of "monkey bars" that used to populate every playground. I spent a majority of my childhood on these things, but can't recall having seen one for the past 40 years. I suppose they are deemed unsafe with to many hard edges for today's children. Modern youth have to be content with brightly colored plastic playground equipment erected on foam padding ground cover.

Trees and windows

The trees are taller now, and at some point more modern double-hung windows were installed, but otherwise the 1500-unit Vladeck Houses haven't changed too much physically in 73 years. The tenant mix has changed quite a bit, however. Originally, most of the tenants were Jewish, in fact the project takes its name from a prominent Jewish newspaper editor, but by the 1960's the project was largely Hispanic. In recent years more and more Asians have moved in. While the Lower East Side has become a hipster destination of choice, strict income limits have kept the fedora-and-Pabst Blue Ribbon brigade out of the Vladeck Houses. So far.

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