Mission Dolores Park – Helen Diller Playground

Dolores Park Helen Diller Playground Post Construction


In November 2008, Mission Dolores Park was identified as a priority site for funding under the 2008 Clean and Safety Neighborhood Park Bond. In that same year, the Friends of Dolores Park Playground (FDPP), a volunteer community organization, joined forces with the Mercer Foundation and hired the firm of Koch Landscape Architecture to develop a conceptual plan for the project, and entered into an agreement with the Neighborhood Parks Council (NPC) to act as their fiscal agent.

In April 2009 the Recreation and Park Commission approved a Memorandum of Understanding between RPD and NPC, acting on behalf of the Friends of Dolores Park Playground, which establishes the framework for the joint planning, funding and construction of the playground at Mission Dolores Park. The general terms of the agreement include contributions of bond and other City funding by RPD, and a gift of services/materials/funds from FDPP. In recognition of the girt, the renovated playground will be renamed the “Helen Diller Playground”.

The scope of this project includes: demolition of the existing children’s play area and adjacent asphalt picnic area; construction of a new, highly customized children’s play area; a new access driveway and accessible parking space; and a new storm water collection system, irrigation and lighting within the play area. Three community meetings were held to present the project plan and collect feedback from park stakeholders [4/4/08, 6/26/08, and 5/14/09]. The Recreation and Park Commission approved the conceptual plan for the project in June 2009.

Project Description

Children’s Play Area: The play environment that is proposed for the future Helen Diller Playground has taken into consideration the developmental needs of children; the site’s context; the natural and social history of the area and the culture of the community to create a “sense of place” that will remain an icon of the community for years to come.

Super Slide: An exciting 45 foot long slide is the literal “high point” of the playground as it provides an elevation change of nearly thirty feet. The Super Slide is nestled into the hillside amid boulders, trees and dense vegetation and will provide a wild ride for anyone that climbs up to its entrance. The slide may be accessed via the accessible walkway that leads to the stone stairs or one can climb up the hillside on the rubber surfacing area that is provided surrounding a field of boulders.

Pre-school Play Area (Intended for children ages 2-5):

It is the intent of the designers to create an environment that would provide the infrastructure to support the development of a young child. The Pre-school play area which is nestled into the hillside is reflective of the multi-layers of play that are supported in the larger play environment while creating a safe haven for the younger children to grow and develop without unnecessary risk. The pre-school area is separated from the larger area by a wide concrete walkway. The two stone spiral staircases enable easy access from the lower tier to the upper tier of the playground. A much smaller version of the “hillside” slide is one of the many exciting play features that are the focal point of the play environment. Young children need graduated levels of challenge to allow them to develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally at their own developmental time line.

A range of climbing activities will be provided from the easy to climb spiral stairs; a rubber incline on one side of the slide; a looped climbing pole and a rock climbing wall. These climbing activities will provide access and egress between the two tiers of the playground while providing the opportunity to climb vertically, inclined forward and backwards as well as laterally. The climbing activities provide an opportunity for problem solving as children learn to “map out” their route of travel.

The original playground featured a boat that both children and adults loved to sit and play on. A boat will be nestled into the hillside. The lower tier of the boat will be wheelchair accessible enabling all children to participate in the fantasy play. A captain’s wheel, ship’s bell, telescope and periscope will add to the fun. The crew’s quarters bridges the gap between the upper and lower level of the playground. A flexible cargo net and a vertical ladder provide access and egress between the two levels. A miniature crow’s nest allows the children the opportunity to view the world from a safe elevation looking down across the play area.

Younger children need opportunities to develop their balancing skills. A variety of spinners, stepping pods, spring toys and spring see saws will be used to encourage cooperative and social play while creating the movement so necessary for the development of the inner ear. A series of short crawl tubes and pods will be used to create a maze-like activity that will allow children to create their own environments within the space. Young children are beginning to learn about their own sense of body space and enjoy climbing in, through and on top of the tubes and pods. The younger child is beginning to explore socially but likes to maintain their personal space. The clusters of pods and tubes enable multiple children to relate to one another while remaining in their own “nest”.

Young children are very observant of their natural environment and are mentally stimulated by a variety of color, texture, shapes, smells and sounds. The upper level contains a sensory rich “Sound Garden” where the vegetation creates a calming cooling environment. The rich contrast of color and textures of the rock, surfacing and vegetation are visually stimulating. The “Sound Garden” will feature a variety of opportunities for the children to create sounds by using chimes, drums and rain sticks. Sculptural elements that move with the wind will also add visual interest.

Sand Garden (All ages): Sand and water play is one of the most vital play opportunities that children can experience. The sand box is one of the few places that a child truly has control over their environment. They can construct and deconstruct and construct again. They can play by themselves or work together to build something. People of all ages enjoy the sensation of running their hands through the sand. The sand and water play area is set off from the active play environment to enable children to experience this “deep play” where they become so involved in their creation that they are lost in their play.

This passive play area is surrounded by boulders and natural elements that the children can use to sit on and construct on. The trees in the area will provide afternoon shade. The raised edge of the sand box border will provide seating for those that choose not to sit in the sand. The elevated sand table has a water channel that the children can control. Accessibility to the play elements are provided via the elevated sand table and also by transfer into the sand box. Hidden treasures are cast into the walls of the sand enclosure for the observant sculptor to discover. The sand garden is intended to be used by all ages.

School Age Play Area (Intended for children ages 5-12)

Play Mound: The focal point of the main level of this play area features a raised play mound. The top of this ten foot high mound is accessible via a sidewalk and an elevated bridge. A large lookout area with seating overlooks the play environment. This area is provided at the intersection of the stairs to the Super Slide, the accessible sidewalk and the bridge. The bridge provides a sense of elevation and risk as children walk from the lookout area over to the top of the raised mound. The top of the mound is accessible to persons with mobility impairments providing an opportunity to be part of the play at a high elevation. The play mound has an accessible slide that follows the slope of the mound. The rubberized surface of the mound provides a cushioned surface to crawl up and roll down. Steps provide easy access back to the top of the mound. A variety of climbing opportunities are located on and within the mound. A series of climbing ropes are anchored to the rubber surfacing to offer hand support while climbing up the slope. A series of curved steel tubes provide a combination of climbing and sliding opportunities. One section of the mound has been removed as if a “slice of pie” has been taken from the mound. The retaining walls on the sides of the opening will be a climbing wall. The top surface of the mound continues over the opening as it is enclosed with a climbing net. Openings at the top and bottom of the net allow children to enter the cut out section. Play occurs both on top of and under the net. A tall vertical climbing net provides an opportunity to climb safely up to a high elevation as well as to climb laterally around the net. The combination of climbing opportunities present on the play mound provides a great variety of graduated levels of challenge so that climbers of all levels of experience may achieve success. Boulders and vegetation are used on the back side of the mound to provide a variety of sensory experiences and to blend the mound with its surrounding environment.

Wood Cluster Climber: This climber doubles as a work of art and a climber. Children will interact with the climber in a variety of ways from playing at the base of the form among the timber towers to climbing using carved hand and foot-holds. The configuration allows children to climb vertically as well as laterally. The natural timber material will be in harmony with the environment and will repeat the shape of the landforms that have been created within the play space.

Shipwrecked Boat: The historic edge of the playground is maintained with a contrast of surfacing materials and physical elements. The Shipwrecked Boat is symbolically placed along this historic edge reminiscent of the boat that was in the original playground. A large spiral architectural feature creates a sculptural form that provides access to an elevated walkway to the boat. The form of the boat provides an opportunity for fantasy play with niches to climb in to and platforms to jump off of.

Natural Climbing Stone: Along the lower perimeter of the School Age Play Area a very large natural stone will be placed at the base of the Super Slide. This large stone will provide a realistic rock climbing experience. Smaller stones will be placed alongside the slide. Children will have to use their upper body strength to climb the face of the rock. Children with less experience can climb the base of the rock moving around the rock laterally as opposed to climbing vertically. The smaller boulders placed in the area will also provide graduated levels of challenge as children learn to master the movement of the body across the rock face.

Lateral Net Climber: In contrast to the Natural Stone Climber a ground level accessible climber will be provided that is sculptural in appearance. The climber will consist of a combination of steel tubes, rubber platforms and climbing nets that are visually exciting and physically challenging.

Swing Set Play Area: A separate area for swings is provided at the lower boundary of the playground. The swing area is surrounded by landscaped areas. Five pen belt swings will be suspended from a tall, school age swing set. A therapeutic swing seat will also be provided. The location of the swings along the perimeter of the play area give children an opportunity to swing looking out across the park as if swinging over an edge or they can swing facing the playground with a view of the entire play area.

Site Infrastructure

The renovation of the play area will include installation of new irrigation lines and heads within the boundaries of the play area, as well as security site lighting. A new subsurface drainage system will be installed below the play matting to collect and direct water runoff from rain and irrigation. The project will include a new connection to the City’s combined sewer line on Dolores Street.

ADA access improvements completed under the project are limited to the provision of a new accessible loading zone on Dolores Street, and associated curb cut and sidewalk modifications between that location and the entrance to the park. From the accessible park entrance, an new ADA accessible path will be provided serving the children’s play area. The path may double as a service vehicle entrance point, with a curb apron. All other site related access improvements will be completed as part of the second phase of the park improvements.

Vandalism at Mission Dolores Park

Sadly, Mission Dolores Park has seen a big rise in graffiti and vandalism recently. The Recreation & Park Department has reached out to SFPD’s Mission Station to help control the problem. KTVU captured the vandalism in a recent story – click here to watch. Dolores Park is beloved park by many San … Continue reading

Construction Check-In at Dolores Park

At this moment in the construction process, a lot of “ground work” is occurring, including laying down the drainage systems, trenching for utilities, and grading for the new paths and sports courts. In the next couple of weeks, you’ll start to see some exciting above-ground improvements. A lot of concrete … Continue reading

SF Chronicle: Dolores Park Renovation

By John Wildermuth (Photo via sfgate.com) The thousands of visitors who cover just about every inch of lawn at Dolores Park on sunny weekends will have to squeeze a little closer for the next 14 months. The Mission District park, one of the city’s busiest and most popular recreation sites, is … Continue reading

Helen Diller Playground at Mission Dolores Park Now Open!

San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) announced today the grand opening of Helen Diller Playground in Mission Dolores Park. Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, Mrs. Helen Diller and family, San Francisco Parks Alliance, Friends of Dolores Park Playground, and park advocates gathered … Continue reading

Opening Celebration on March 31st!

You are cordially invited to join Mayor Edwin M. Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg, Mrs. Helen Diller, San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of Dolores Park Playground for the grand opening ceremony of Helen Diller Playground at Mission Dolores Park on … Continue reading

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