#TBT Mercer Island’s Playground Dragon, Washington, 1965 and 2013

For #TBT, the story of the dragon of Mercer Island park dragon, a rare happy ending for a mid-century playground sculpture!

Since its installation in 1965 on the island off the coast of Seattle Washington (photos are from a 1966 feature in Sunset magazine), the 50-foot long, six ton polka-dotted dragon by artist Kenton Pies had gradually become more difficult to keep in repair.   And here I want to point out that this is hardly a criticism; few playgrounds of manufactured equipment–though touted for their durability–would last for fifty years!   All play pieces require maintenance, and none last indefinitely.  But many wonderful vintage play sculptures have been unnecesarily ripped out by municipalities as ‘dated’ or even ‘unsafe’ (thank you, ASTM) without consulting either the artists that made them or the communities that loved them.  

Happily the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department was more enlightened than that, and they sought out Kenton, now 81 and living in Montana, to inquire about repairing the dragon.  After repair estimates proved to be too costly he proposed building a bigger and better dragon that would be around for many new generations of Mercer Island kids.   For $60,000.  And here I want to point out that this custom artisinal creation is *way cheaper* than most formulaic, boring, manufactured playgrounds, whose average municipal installation cost in the US is now around $175,000.    And the community will never love the play space, never build lifetime memories around it, like Mercer Island has around its dragon.

Still nestled in the trees, with the original dragons head close by in the underbrush as an extra play element and also to satisfy adults nostalgic for the play dragon they remember, the new Mercer Island Dragon should last another fifty years.

One Response to “#TBT Mercer Island’s Playground Dragon, Washington, 1965 and 2013”

  1. PlayGroundology said:

    Hi Paige,

    I love this post of a dragon by the sea. So true also about costs for those prefab playgrounds. I just wanted to share with you a little story of a roadside dragon in Bute and Argyle, Scotland that my Dad I came across while on a trip to Islay last April. We returned to Scotland in July and made a day trip to paint the dragon – https://playgroundology.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/chasing-the-dragon/. We hope it is more noticeable to people zipping by in cars particularly those of the kid persuasion. Cheers from Alex in Halifax – love your blog….

    April 11, 2015 at 7:36 am

Leave a Reply