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Meridian Playground at Good Shepherd Center

Children's Books and a Secret Orchard
4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle

Introduction: Meridian Playground is a special place. The past is palpable here, and a thoughtfully designed playground magnifies the feeling of being transported from busy Seattle to a slower, quieter corner of the city.

History: Meridian Playground sits on land that was originally part of the grounds of the Home of the Good Shepherd, an orphanage and home for "wayward" girls. Opened in 1907 and run by the Catholic Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the looming facility was a neighborhood fixture, both forbidding and intriguing, until 1973. Historic Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Seattle's architectural heritage, (www.seattle.gov/commnty/histsea/default.htm) purchased the site in 1975. The building currently houses a senior center, school, garden organization Seattle Tilth, artist work and living spaces, and many other community groups. More history of the Home of the Good Shepherd is available at www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=3837

The old apple trees that dot the park grounds are remnants of an orchard maintained by the sisters and their charges. Preserved at the insistence of the Wallingford Community Council, the trees still bear fruit,unsprayed and free for the picking. Finding this old- fashioned orchard preserved in the heart of Seattle is true serendipity.

Features: Set inside the garden walls that surround the Good Shepherd Center, Meridian Playground feels secret and very special. Its theme is children's books. The project of Friends of Meridian Playground, built in cooperation with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, was three years in the making and opened in March 2002. It replaced a playground built in 1980. Each play feature has been thoroughly thought through and beautifully executed, and each is unique. Children are welcomed into the play area by a fabulous Dr. Seuss circle game designed by Lisa Burgess Alm. Beginning readers will enjoy sounding out the many book titles and quotations carved into stones embedded in the low wall that separates the play area from the park at large.

The climbing structure, one of the most innovative in any Seattle park, is fun even for older kids who usually eschew playgrounds. A basketball court is in clear sight but not so near as to put toddlers at risk. Other features include broad low slides with stone facings, a large sand play area, a water play area and swings. A life-sized bronze sculpture of Carl, the hero of Alexandra Day's Good Dog, Carl series, was created by Kevin Patel with permission from Day and her publisher Farrar-Strauss. Lisa Kuh, who heads the Friends of Meridian Playground, says that Day generously allowed the group access to her enormous collection of antique children's picture books, greatly aiding the design process. Meticulous care went into this playground, and it shows. It is more than worth a visit.

Don't miss "Meridian Archway," a twisting stone wall ramp leading to the park's northwest exit. Designed by Chuck Greening with Maria Kern and Rob Williamson, it was constructed in 1981.

Access: The numerous bronze statues scattered through the park are touch-friendly. Many portions of the playground are wheelchair-accessible but the routes from parking areas to playground may be tricky. One route is via the long drive that starts where Bagley Ave. dead-ends into the southern side of the Center grounds. Or park in the accessible-parking spaces in the lot on the east side of the Center, follow the path past Meridian School, turn right at the picnic shelter, then left at the end of the path.

Nearby: The Wallingford branch of the Seattle Public Library is nearby at 1501 N. 45th (206-684-4088). Many food options are available on nearby N.45th St., notably Boulangerie (2200 N. 45th, 206-634-3959), Starbucks (2110 N. 45th, 206-548-9507), and Dick's Drive In (111 N.E. 45th, 206-632-5125).

Paula Becker is a contributing editor for www.HistoryLink.org and a mother of three.

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