Philadelphia’s Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse offers unstructured creative play for children of all abilities ten years and younger. By offering free access to a three story play mansion and 6 ½ acres of open field and wooded play areas, the Smith promotes the importance of play to culturally and economically diverse families. They believe that such play will “stretch their imaginations, improve their physical health through active play, and learn to negotiate and solve problems with their peers in a natural, peaceful setting."1
In the mid-1890s, on the forefront of the American Playground Movement, Richard and Sarah Smith set up a trust to create the play mansion and playground in memory of their adult son, Stanfield.2 By July 23, 1899 the “Playhouse,” a 16,000 square foot, three story brick mansion with floor to ceiling windows and large open rooms, was built, opened to the public, and “dedicated to the spirit of childhood.”3
Six years later in 1905, the Giant Wooden Slide was added to the Playhouse. Children and adults would slide on burlap sacks down a 39 feet long, 13 feet wide and 10 feet high indoor, waxed slide.4 A century later in 2005, Ida Newman restored the slide back to how she remembered it as a child in the 1920s.5 Dedicated to Ida’s daughter, the Slide is now known as the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide.
To address deterioration, safety issues, and accessibility concerns, the nonprofit Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse Inc. was formed in 2004. This citizen organization, besides restoring the Playhouse and playground, also raise funds to support the Smith’s day-to-day operations and expansion projects.
On the playground these improvements have included the Liberty Labyrinth in 2008, the Tot-Lot in 2009 for children less than five years of age, and twenty ground-based pieces of play equipment such as a train, pirate ship, and fire engine. On the Playhouse, in 2010, they renovated the roof, cornice, exterior walls, terraces, windows, and the interior of the first floor.
The Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse “contributes to the development of healthy children, strong families, and safe communities” by offering free family admission, partnering with organizations to reach out to all communities, and advocating for the importance of play.6 Some examples of their year round programs include weekly storytelling, monthly craft programs, school and camp fieldtrips, birthday parties, and family events. The Playhouse has also become a staff and client training facility for child-oriented agencies.7
- 1. “About Us.” Smith The Place Kids Play in the Park.< http://smithplayground.org/about/ > 5 Feb. 2014.
- 2. “Smith’s History.” Smith The Place Kids Play in the Park. < http://smithplayground.org/history/ > 5 Feb. 2014.
- 3. “The Power of Play.” Smith The Place Kids Play in the Park. < http://smithplayground.org/play/ > 5 Feb. 2014.
- 4. “Smith Memorial Playground in Fairmount Park Celebrates Its 113th Birthday.” CBS. < http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/07/21/Smith-memorial-playground-in-fairmount-park-celebrates-its-113th-birthday/ > 14 March 2014.
- 5. “Smith Today.” Smith The Place Kids Play in the Park. < http://smithplayground.org/smithtoday/ > 5 Feb. 2014.
- 6. Op.cit., “About Us”
- 7. Op.cit., “The Power of Play.”