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A gymnast practices his ring routine in the middle of a very busy Los Angeles playground in 1929. Courtesy of the University of Southern California Libraries.

Playgrounds are an almost universal element of most urban parks today, but that has not always been the case.

After 1910, cars were becoming a ubiquitous feature in cities. Concerns grew about unsupervised children playing in the streets, disrupting traffic and sometimes actually being killed. Arguments were raised in favor of playground and recreation spaces that would provide places where children could have the benefit of pure air and be free from the “dangers and pernicious influence of the streets.” Some early park administrators felt that playgrounds would be too noisy, or that children would not behave with appropriate respect toward park grounds and facilities, but by the 1920s, playgrounds began to appear in park plans.

Many early park playgrounds included equipment for younger children such as swings, “teeters,” and “sand pits” but much of the equipment was actually intended for older children and youth, such as high bars, pommel horses, rings, and other items that required some gymnastic training and supervision.