A magical playground awaits a bridge to opening

in Community/Featured/Headline

Construction is nearing completion on the Magical Bridge Playground at Red Morton Park, but how soon Redwood City will be able to throw a ribbon-cutting event has a big Covid-19 question mark after it. “For the opening, we are at the will of the state,” says Chris Beth, the city’s director of parks, recreation and community services. “The order now is to have all playgrounds remain closed due to the gathering and touching of equipment issues.” When the state says it’s okay for parks to reopen, Beth adds, any required safety protocols such as wearing masks will be followed.

It will be worth the wait. Project Manager Claudia Olalla recently provided a sneak peek tour of the playground for this column. The playground is being constructed where a 40-by-100-foot picnic and play area used to be, between the Veterans Memorial Senior Center and an old armory building. First developed in Palo Alto, the Magical Bridge concept is designed to allow children and adults of all ages and varying physical and cognitive abilities a chance to play and enjoy the outdoors. That sounds like a nice concept. But in person this playground with its slides and its musical harp, its private hideouts and its two-story playhouse with adjoining treehouse are an imaginative embodiment of how much fun “accessibility” can mean. For anybody.

“The playground is built for all ages, all abilities and all are welcome,” Olalla says. “So the gamut is basically from 2 years old to 99. That’s kind of the way we see it.”

Providing all the gently sloping ramps with switchbacks to allow easy wheelchair access requires land, and the playground covers an entire acre. At the center is the Slide and Spin Zone, where five different slides mounted against a wall of green artificial turf funnels kids (or adults) down to a rubberized floor “carpeted” with beige and blue swirls representing the sand and the ocean. Amid all that: play apparatus including a wheelchair-accessible carousel and a “dish spinner” to lay down on and let gravity start the spinning. The whole area looks a bit like Disneyland without the teacups. Next to that is a colorful playhouse for storytelling, magic shows, concerts, plays and science demonstrations.

This story was originally published in the September edition of Climate Magazine. To view the magazine online, click on this link.

Responding to community desires, there’s a large Tot Zone with spring toys, a bucket swing and water slide that kids can turn on themselves. That area has one of several custom-built “retreat zones” throughout Magical Bridge where children who may be a little overwhelmed and need space can sit by themselves. Another area of the playground – the Swing and Sway Zone— offers a “sway boat” that an entire family can board and ride back and forth, and two-seater swings for kid-parent swing time. One of the last elements to be completed is an arch-shaped harp, which plays music when people walk under it. Floor lights will also illuminate when stepped on. One of the complications to finishing it, OIalla says, is that the artist lives in New York and could encounter a quarantine after she returns home. Covid again.

By mid-August, playground construction was approaching 100 percent completion with some separate projects including installation of a mosaic and donor tiles still to be done. The playground has four entrances, one of which is from a new picnic area that the parks department staff will be landscaping, in-house. In addition to an accessible restroom, more than 80 parking spaces will be added as a result of Magical Bridge.

So when coronavirus restrictions ease and this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious new playground finally get its grand opening, will it be the biggest thing since Chick-fil-A’s high-traffic debut? Olalla expects that the novelty “is going to be a little crazy” at first but notes that the city updates all its parks to keep pace with changing times and demographics. The Magical Bridge Playground is so different, in fact, that volunteers—especially teen-agers—are being recruited to show people around.

But from there, imagination at this very imaginative park will take over. “That’s the most amazing part of any design is that you never know how people will use the space,” Olalla says. “There’s an intention. There’s an idea. But people will always surprise you.” Of the total cost, it should be noted, more than $3.3 million was raised by the Magical Bridge Foundation and the remainder of the $6.8 million is from the city’s park impact fee paid by residential developers.

Kaiser Permanente’s Redwood City hospital was among 12 Northern California medical centers singled out in Newsweek magazine’s recent “Best Maternity Hospitals 2020” report for providing exceptional maternity care. The national designation, awarded to only 231 hospitals in the United States, identifies leading maternity care programs that have met or exceeded rigorous quality and safety standards. Kaiser Permanente has a total of 22 hospitals in the nation that received the elite designation, representing nearly 10 percent of those named to the prestigious list – and nearly 50 percent of those listed in California, according to Kaiser. For 2019, 2,213 babies were born at the Redwood City hospital, and by July this year, there were already 1,261 deliveries.

A colorful mural that has been painted at Roosevelt Plaza shopping area is the work of artist Talavera-Ballón. Shopping center owner Maria Rutenberg had admired the mural across the street at Key Market and approached the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation about working together on another mural for her center. It was commissioned by the foundation on behalf of the Redwood City Sesquicentennial Committee, according to foundation board member Cary Kelly. An historic theme was selected, and Talavera-Ballón’s mural includes scenes from Redwood City’s early days as a port, the Frank Tannery leather factory—as well as the period when the city was known for its floral industry and many Japanese chrysanthemum growers.

Elevated high above the parking lot via a lift, Talavera-Ballón started painting in June, putting in full days six days a week. For many of them, his wife, Mariela, was down below lot talking to passers-by and giving her husband from-the-ground feedback. She’s the reason, in fact, why the Peruvian artist is in the United States painting murals, he says. They met in his country when she was visiting and attended one of his exhibitions. She liked his painting so much that she bought one. After she got home, their connection continued via the Internet and eventually developed into a long-distance relationship. They got married and live in San Francisco’s Mission District. Mariela works for the Redwood City School District.

Though Talavera-Ballón is a fine artist, he says his wife wanted him to paint murals too, which he’d never done before. Then one day he saw a friend of his working on a mural on a building at Van Ness Avenue and Market Street. Talavera-Ballón, 46, wanted to give it a try and volunteered to take a 9 a.m.-to-noon shift. The time flew. “What?” he protested when he was told it was noon. “I just came here. Twelve o’clock?” So he asked to take the afternoon shift too. Since then, he’s painted about a half dozen murals and loves having a jumbo canvas.

“For an artist, for a painter, it’s the same thing I think to be a musician and give a concert, a big big concert,” he says, waving his arms for emphasis. “It’s the same feeling. People are watching you. They say hi. They talk to you and the interruption with the people as you are painting something so, so big is a challenge. It’s everything. … If I were a musician and I played every day in a little bar and then somebody came to me and say, ‘Tomorrow you going to give a big concert in Central Park New York.’ It’s the same thing.”

Kelly says this is the fourth mural in Redwood City that has been created through Community Advocacy Through Art, an organization under the Parks & Arts Foundation umbrella which works to use art to raise awareness of social issues and participated in selecting the artist.

Rutenberg, who paid half the cost, is delighted with the mural. “I think it’s gorgeous, and I like the proportion and the color. I like everything.”