Grounds for Play



Same school, different decade

In the sixties and seventies, if children didn’t get hurt running around the gravel and asphalt playground at Peterson Elementary School, they had a good chance of banging their knees or losing a tooth on the metal jungle gym and merry-go-round.

Although the photograph on the left looks like a textbook illustration of the blight that overcame Chicago in the sixties, it depicts a somewhat more child-friendly era in Hollywood Park history. The freedom we enjoyed to roam the neighborhood is simply incomprehensible in today’s world. And as we’ve discuss earlier here, Peterson School was at the center of a lively business district. The stores and store owners were an intrinsic part of our lives.

The photograph on the right shows a more vibrant playground at Peterson now, but Bryn Mawr Avenue is nearly a ghost town and you probably won’t see children as young as six years old walking to school without their parents.

This is where I remember jumping rope, playing Red Rover and Simon Says and doing the whip in first and second grades. I think third, fourth and fifth graders had recess on another side of the school, by the teachers parking lot. It was where coal was delivered and dumped down a chute. Occasionally we’d find lumps of coal scattered around and use them for hopscotch markers.


Did any other Chicago public grade school have a toboggan slide? Snow or no snow, I can’t recall ever going on it. In the base, there was a locked space used for storing outdoor sports equipment by the gym teacher, Mr. Kaczmarek, or Mr. Kaz as we all called him.

I think Mr. Kaz, who must have taught at Peterson for 20 years or more, arguably was the best teacher I had in my eight years there (I didn’t have Mr. Wahle, all you Wahle fans). He was ahead of his time, giving us a fairly rigorous and well-rounded fitness education. In a discussion about him on Facebook, I found others remember him as I do.

At a time when public grade schools in Chicago offered girls few opportunities to become involved in sports, Mr. Kaz taught us how to play and got us in shape to play. Sit-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups. Broad jumps, long jumps and 40-yard dashes.  Rings and ladders. Softball, volleyball, basketball, and, of course, the game he invented, skizball.

Credits: Top left photo of playground courtesy of Martin Marcus. Bottom center photo of toboggan slide courtesy of Stuart Linderman.

Update: Stuart Linderman found a companion photograph with Kimball Avenue in the background. Stuart noted the proximity of the bench to the batter, another example of the lax safety standards of the day.

Peterson School playground

Typical after-school softball pickup game at Peterson, circa 1961.

Since posting this story, I’ve heard of more playground mishaps. Topping them all is my classmate Rune Gusevik’s story about going down the toboggan on his sled after it had been boarded up at the bottom to keep kids off, thinking he and his sled would slip under the board. Didn’t happen that way, but he lived to tell the tale. Danny Miller’s recollection of kids jumping off the toboggan is a close second.

Update: On the Forgotten Chicago forum, I’ve found mention of toboggan slides in other Chicago public school playgrounds, and they were green, too.

Now that you’ve seen the outside, next week I’ll show you the inside of Peterson School. I went back!

44 Responses to Grounds for Play

  1. Arnie Weinger May 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I got a huge piece of wood in thumb from that slide while in Kindergarten at Peterson. My mom did not drive so our neighbor Ester D’Alba drove us to the ER at Swedish Covenant. I still have the scar 58 years later. I also recall that the school installed a wooden gate at the bottom of the slide after my accident.

  2. Bonnie hanna May 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Love this – looking forward to going inside Peterson with you -again, thanks for the memories xoxo

  3. Frances Archer May 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Thanks, Bonnie. What do you think…did it change much?

  4. Frances Archer May 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    OK, so on top of the scraped knees and bloody noses, splinters were another danger of our playground.

  5. Danny May 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Oh my God, a photo of the beloved toboggan! I wonder when that was built? I don’t remember going down that slide but I do remember climbing up it and jumping off it to the ground. Were we insane? I did lose a good portion of my front tooth on the Peterson playground and can vividly remember the principal, Dr. Stanek, sticking her perfumed hand in my mouth to see if it was loose as she was talking to my mom on the phone after my fall. And we did walk to school by ourselves, from Kindergarten on. You’re so right–that would be unheard of today to let kids that young walk that far alone!

  6. Frances Archer May 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    Danny, did anyone ever break a bone? That was pretty high, or at least that’s how it looks.

  7. Ellen Chernoff May 11, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    Hii Frances,
    Our group (1956-1965) played “4 Square”…it was soooooo much fun. I remember the good old tobbogan slide..they should have kept it, kids nowadays don’t know what outside fun is! And I exceled in the “long jump”! There was also a very cute guy named Tony who I had a crush on that was in charge of the slide…anyone else remember him?

  8. Carmen Rodriguez May 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Hilarious! I can’t believe your ‘now’ picture is the more child friendly, although the perils of the yard you describe do make it sound treacherous (and very fun!). The current iteration has been the source of much wrangle and wrest at Peterson, as we’ve collected money for years now to rehab it. The field, you see, routinely floods – so much so that we attract flocks of geese and ducks – and the kids have very limited opportunities to use it. Also, the construction crews from the massive addition left behind a substantial gravel pit which isn’t too kid friendly, either. A portion of the fence was damaged and hasn’t been replaced. And due to the addition the playground equipment is all the way on the other side of the building – at Kimball and Catalpa – so the kids on the field can’t even get to it from the ‘green’ side of the building. Ain’t it somethin’?

  9. Frances Archer May 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Ha! Ha! All these years and they can’t get the playground right. Nice to hear from you Carmen. If there’s time before this school year races to a finish we should go out for coffee.

  10. Andy Richter May 11, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Elen mentioned foursquare………..Remember Jack (no last name) broke both arms playing foursqauare. Does anyone remeber Bernie? I bleieve he had CP, He had crutches and hung out at the Playground… He was my friend, although, I drove him crazy.

  11. John Erickson May 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    The Peterson playground was “just right” in the 1930s. White gravel surface with no equipment of any kind but lots of space for 16″ softball games, marbles, “I Got It”, and “pinners” against the building. The ventilators were off limits except on those balmy summer evenings when school was not in session

  12. Michael Povlo May 12, 2011 at 2:14 am #

    Ah yes.. happy to see someone else who remembers “pinners” and marble games in the school yard (my heel dug quite a few holes).. Kept my ‘boulders” and smaller marbles for many years.. mostly won in matches.. Mr Kaz would get softball equipment out of the storage shed and we all helped put them back into the tobbogan closet after each game or PE class.. Had jeans torn sliding home on the gravel.. nothin’ like it..

  13. Frances Archer May 12, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Andy, I think it was Mary Hagberg Meyer who also mentioned Bernie. My memory is fuzzy on him, but he sounds familiar.

  14. Frances Archer May 12, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    John, what kind of game was I got it? Interesting to know pinners was played in your day as well.

  15. Stuart Linderman May 12, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Obesity. The bane of our existence. It just this moment occurred to me that there is a very simple reason that we’re now wringing our hands over the sad state of American youth. Just compare the two shots of the Peterson School grounds. One shows a well-worn, heavily-used, activity-rich “kid zone”, the other shows a beautiful (and unused) landscape.

    The fear of liability, I think, had a lot to do with this.

    In the old days, after school, except in the worst weather, the playground was loaded with stuff going on. These days, there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING happening when school lets out.

  16. Frances Archer May 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Stuart, did you see the comment from Carmen Rodriquez to this post? I met her at Peterson, she’s has children at the school and is very involved. According to her description, the kids can’t even get to the play equipment during recess. One thing promising I did see when I visited was that the school is offering the Girls on the Run program, which culminates with all the participants doing a 5K run. But other than that I am sure you are right that no one is playing in the playground anymore.

  17. John Erickson May 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    I Got It was , I guess, the opposite of Tag.. Whoever hollered “I Got It” started the game and remained in possession until tagged by a chaser who the hollered “I Got It!!”. Pretty simple, really…….But we entertained ourselves rather simply in the 30s – anything that didn’t require expenditure of scarce funds.

  18. Frances Archer May 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    John, not that I need more topics to pursue, but it is interesting to think about the way some games lasted for a long time, as pinners did, and then disappeared. “I got it” was gone by the time I went to school, but pinners was not.

  19. Merle Citrin Monroe May 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Does anyone else remember the “high flyers” in the playground near Kimball and Bryn Mawr? There were four or six attached to a tall metal pole. You would hang by your hands, get a running start (in a circle) and then really “take off,” flying around the pole.

    Kickball was a very popular activity in my era (the 50’s)…..during gym class and at recess.

    When I tell people about the ladders, rings, and stall bars….they find those activities hard to believe. Even harder to understand for many people is Captain Basketball…..a half-court game designed especially for girls. There were quite a few girls on each team……only two players per side could roam the floor….the others had to stand in individual circles painted in an arc on the gym floor….and could only put one foot outside the circle in order to catch and pass (and maybe shoot) the ball.

  20. Frances Archer May 12, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Merle, I remember the high flyers. There was also a piece of equipment that spun, which I called the merry-go-round though I’m not sure that’s what other kids called it. The gym still has the ladders, rings and stall bars but of course they can’t use them. Recently I visited the school and spoke with some of the students (more about that next post), and they asked me if we were allowed to use the rings. I can imagine it’s a mild form of torture to see all that equipment and not be able to use it. Captain Basketball sounds very familiar though I wouldn’t have guessed the name.

  21. Michael Povlo May 13, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    Does anyone else remember “Red Rover”? which we played in the playground.. if you do.. then you must remember how we picked teams and played the game.. great fun..

  22. Frances Archer May 13, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Yes, of course, I remember Red Rover. That’s how so many kids had skinned knees, from falling on the gravel as we ran into the line.

  23. Merle Citrin Monroe May 13, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    We also ran to the swings along Bryn Mawr at recess. The merry-go-round was also one of my favorites….riding….or in the middle, pushing.

    Frances, why can’t the rings, etc. be used now-a-days? Will the answer be in your upcoming post?

  24. Frances Archer May 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    The reason is simply they think the equipment would be unsafe, due to age and no routine maintenance or checks. I didn’t get a chance to get a full story, but it sounded like they hadn’t been used in a long time and no wants to take a chance.

  25. Dave Gudewicz May 14, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    While not from the area, similar stories could be told from many other playgrounds around the city. Except for the tobaggon slide. 😉

    I believe we spent more time outdoors than kids do these days. We invented more things. We resolved our own problems. We walked (heavens) or took our bikes to and from places.

    Nice article. Thanks.

  26. Frances Archer May 14, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Dave, we did spend more time outside because 1) there weren’t as many indoor toys/games 2) it was safe for kids to be on their own outside. Thanks for visiting.

  27. John La Buda May 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    There was also something called “social center”during the ’70s, It was on Fridays after school and consisted of table games (which were stored on the balcony of the gym) and was held in the hallways. As a patrol boy we also got an extra gym period on fridays at 2:30. I believe Mr. Kaz was in charge of both programs as he is in my 1975 patrol boys picture.

    And yes, I think I think KG was the only time I was walked to/from school. Not unusual at the time but would be questionable today.

    My other memory of the playground is I was hit by a car coming out of it on my bike. It was at the entrance by the alley on Christiana, mangled my Sting Ray but I was Ok. The poor lady was shook up worse than me, police,ambulances etc. remember it was a mid ’70s pontiac all these years later!

  28. Frances Archer May 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    We called it …. LIGHTED! Short for Lighted Schoolhouse, it was the best! In my day it was a night, starting around 6:30 pm to about 8 or 8:30 pm. Went to Hollywood park afterwards, sometimes. We had a choice of activities for each term, and besides table games, there was open gym and there was also a room with a record player. We could bring our ’45s and dance, though I think it was just girls.

    The dangers of that playground are far beyond what I ever imagined.

  29. Mindy White May 17, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    John LaBuda–Johnny? Don’t know if you remember me, but I was David’s girlfriend who played with the train set you got one Christmas. I think I liked it as much as you did! Anyway, I remember something we called “Lighted School House.” It was on Friday nights, and was really a lot of fun.

  30. John La Buda May 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Hi Mindy, of course I remember you and your bell bottoms! And who could forget that train set, my brother always got me the coolest gifts. I didn’t know you went to Peterson, David went there in ’65-’66 and my sister Sally went right to Von when we moved there in late ’64.This website brings back so many memories, Kiddieland, Lincoln Village, Hollywood park etc.

  31. Mindy White May 19, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Hi, John. Ah, bell bottoms. Were we cool or what? Yes, I went to Peterson from kindergarten through 8th grade. I’ve communicated a bit with Sally on Facebook, and I was thrilled to see your name here. This site is so much fun. I sent Frances a picture I found of Mr. Kaz; maybe she’ll post it. I don’t remember David at Peterson, but then he was a whole year older which seemed like a lot at the time. Maybe I’ll see you on Facebook (I’m going to reactivate my account); I’d love to hear from you!

  32. Roberta Rudy Kurtz June 1, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    That is my house in the first picture in “Grounds for Play”.

  33. Frances Archer June 1, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Roberta, Thanks for identifying your house. When did your family move? I don’t have a photo of the batting cages but I do have one of the ferris wheel I’ll be posting soon.

  34. Barry Z. Masser June 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Less than a year after the toboggan was built at Peterson, the first injury occurred. A kid named Paul somehow broke his leg on the way down. Ernest, a janitor, summoned help.

    My own painful mishap happened during a spirited pinners match: in an effort to hit one out of the park, I took off an index finger nail on the concrete molding that ran, waist-high, around the school. In excruciating agony, I followed my class into the assembly hall to watch propoganda films (Memphis Belle and North Star).

    Then, during a softball game, I dislocated a finger joint. Irv Plotkin at the drug store across the street made short work of the minor inconvenience.

  35. Frances Archer June 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Barry–thanks so much for writing in. Now I just need to the know what year that the toboggan was built. What’s fascinating is that it is so clearly a liability that it’s hard to believe CPS ever permitted it. I wonder if pinners was invited just to take advantage of that molding.

  36. Barry Z. Masser July 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Frances –

    A very good guess on the year the infamous Peterson toboggan was built is 1946. About a year prior to its construction, I remember gazing out of the window of my arithmetic class (taught by miss Burns) and watching a formation of B-17s high above, headed east. That would have been 1945.

  37. Frances Archer July 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Barry, thanks for the information. It’s interesting to see hear that even in Hollywood Park, kids were able to see evidence of our country at war. In the early years of the Viet Nam War, I recall seeing news resports about the war, but nothing so near by. Of course, once there were protest marches, I was more aware of the war. Difference in wars.

  38. Jeff K. November 27, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Wow, I remember all that stuff so clearly. Not sure when they built the toboggan but remember it was very early ’70s when it was torn down. I was at Peterson k-8 (’68 -’77). I remember we would take handfulls of snow up it to pack on it so we could slide down on pieces of cardboard or just on our jakets/pants. I also recall there was a slide they would bolt on it for summer use, it was undulating (one or two humps) rather then a standard straight one. Any one else remember that? Speaking of slides, remember the slide INSIDE the kindergarten room!?!?!
    That gravel wasn’t too bad, bad traction for running yeah but it was smooth and rounded, didn’t hurt too much (think I still have small gravel in my knees from it). I can still hear the sound the ball made bouncing/rolling along it when playing kick ball. My sister was doing a back flip on the jungle jim along the Christiana side, fell and split her lip, couple stitches if I recall.
    I remember too we used to play football on the grass by the main entrance, started out being touch but would always end up turning to tackle.
    On a different note, any one know when schools stopped having air raid drills? I was telling my kids about that this week, how we used to pull down the shades (as they were black out shades) and head to the basements. I remember the ‘Fall Out Shelter’ with the radiation symbol on them.
    BTW great pictures all over the sight.

  39. Frances Archer November 27, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Jeff, thanks for sharing your comments. You started at Peterson just a couple years before I graduated, so it’s interesting to see that we have some of the same memories of the school. My guess is that things were pretty much the same between the mid-50 through the end of the seventies before a lot of these routines changed.

  40. Tom Zentefis June 11, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    @Andy i remember Bernie he did have the crutches I’m not sure you would call his disability CP but he sure had one.Do you remember he would always say Bernie want a Snickers bar?That’s one of the things i remember he would say.

  41. Jerry Schecter October 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Francis, thank you for the picture of the equipment shed and yes Meryl I remember the high flyers near the corner of Bryn Marw and Kimball. I also remember the parrallel bars and high bars that people such as Marshall (the rock) Waldo used to work out on.

  42. Frances Archer October 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Jerry, Just saw Marshall last Friday night at the all-years Von reunion.

  43. Eric November 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    I am a Petersen School alum of ’79 and loved my time there. I spent most of my elementary time at St. Hilary’s down the street at California and Bryn Mawr but my mother was often late with tuition so they used to pull me out of class to sit in the office all day which wasn’t a problem for me but my mother went ballistic, left work and I was registered at Petersen by 1:00 p.m. that day. Navy blue slacks, white button shirt with red plaid tie in exchange for my favorite jeans and t-shirts.. Heaven. I had many friends in the neighborhood so it was a joyous transition.

    My favorite story is about a boy named Jacob Ghet (spelling?) who was a character and a year younger than me. I was not present but he climbed to the top of the smoke stack, spray painted his initials, plus sign and the initials of one of the prettiest girl in my class. And for some odd reason, decided to bend one of the iron rods that protruded upward towards the sky on the very top of the smoke stack. I cannot remember how long this was on display but I believe it was a solid 10-15 years after, maybe more.

    Frances, thank you for putting this site together. Although many of these stories are just before my time our neighborhood (1973-85), I lose hours getting caught up in them.

  44. Frances Archer November 12, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    Hi, Eric. Thanks for stopping by. You’re right this is just before your era. My grade school days at Peterson were 1963-70. I went to Budlong for a couple years before we moved into Hollywood Park. Did the neighborhood seem to be changing as you grew up? For me, it didn’t seem as though it changed at all while I was in school, but looking back now and with all I’ve learned, I realized it was always changing.

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