Once Upon a Playground

A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920–1975

Brenda Biondo

Before today’s safety-minded structures of wood and plastic, America’s playgrounds were full of tottering seesaws, dizzying merry-go-rounds, and towering metal slides. Documenting the evolution of American playgrounds between 1920 and 1975, Once Upon a Playground is a visual tribute to these iconic structures, celebrating their place in our culture and the collective memories of generations. In it, contemporary photos of vintage pieces of playground equipment are juxtaposed with images of the very same pieces as they were shown in classic catalogs, postcards, and photographs. The result is a haunting time capsule showing a rapidly vanishing part of our country’s cultural heritage. Whatever the playgrounds of your childhood looked like, the gorgeous photographs in this book will transport you back in time and remind you of just how important play can really be.

Cloth: $29.95
ISBN-13: 9781611685121
Pages: 188 | Size: 8.5 in. x 11 in.
Date Published: May 6, 2014


  • Although Biondo’s goal was documentation, her arresting images will appeal to fine art lovers as much as nostalgic readers.

    Publishers Weekly
  • Writer/photographer Biondo's visually appealing book of photographs provides a healthy dose of nostalgia for lunchtime recesses and summer mornings spent on monkey bars and jungle gyms. She structures her book so that playthings appear chronologically; every two decades share a chapter, from the 1920s until the 1970s. A foreword by playground historian Susan Solomon and an afterword by Kaboom! founder Darell Hammond offer historical and contemporary context, respectively. Images from archival catalogs and pamphlets, as well as a few historical pictures, portray children at play on evolving playground structures. The bustling scenes from the play equipment companies' promotional materials serve as a foil for the modern-day photographs of many of these "antique" playgrounds, all of which are empty, no children in sight. In several of the images, contemporary play equipment in plastics and bright colors have been installed alongside the older, faded metal structures; readers can see clearly how approaches to children's play spaces have evolved over time. VERDICT This book is both a reminiscence as well as a fitting commentary on our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a surging preference for techno-centric activities.

    Library Journal
  • Where did all the high slides go? Ten years ago, Colorado photographer Brenda Biondo was at a local playground with her baby daughter and realized the equipment looked a lot different from what she remembered. As she visited other parks, she rarely found the traditional metal slides, monkey bars and seesaws of her youth. When she did, she took pictures. That search turned into a larger project, in which Ms. Biondo traveled to different states photographing old playground equipment. The results are in her new book, Once Upon a Playground.

    Wall Street Journal
  • Brenda Biondo documents vintage playground equipment in Once Upon a Playground, her book about the disappearing metal slides, swings and other rides beloved by Baby Boomers.

    Denver Post
  • Once Upon a Playground celebrates the playgrounds that sprung up across the nation between 1920 and 1975. The book includes more than 160 contemporary photographs, along with vintage images and a forward by playground historian Susan G. Solomon.

    Colorado Springs Gazette

About the Author

Brenda Biondo

Brenda Biondo is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Denver Post, USA Weekend magazine, and many other publications. Her photography has been exhibited all over the country, and images from her playground series are in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. A native New Yorker, she’s been a resident of Colorado since 1999 and currently divides her time between Manitou Springs, CO and Marfa, TX.

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