July's Park of the Month: Shipe Neighborhood Park

Jul 23, 2013 - 3:52 pm

Stone human figures jam to music, reach for butterflies and bask in the shade at Shipe Park’s newest attraction, a glistening poolside mural which was completed in June. It’s a product of community-raised funds, and a demonstration of the self-sufficient spirit which has thrived in Hyde Park since the Austin suburb’s birth.

Five kids stand in front of the new mural at Shipe Park, getting ready to get into the pool.The mural, titled “A Day in the Park”, tells the tale of Hyde Park-area leisurers now and long ago. The neighborhood park at 4400 Avenue G has been a staple in North-central Austin since the late 1920s, said Kim McKnight, Preservation Planner and Cultural Resources Specialist for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“Shipe Park is in one of the City’s oldest neighborhoods, and it’s beloved by the community,” McKnight said. “From the log cabin to the pools themselves, the site and the structures are historic, and it’s a wonderful open space within the heart of the neighborhood.”

A Day in the Park

A black and white photo of the Shipe Park log cabin shelter house.

It only takes a short stroll through Shipe Park to see why the small neighborhood park is so loved by nearby residents.

“We consider Shipe Park to be the heart of our area,” said Alison Young, a Friends of Shipe Park member who lives near the park. “It’s where mothers and children go to connect with other mothers and children on the playground. It’s where lovers come to sit under the trees. It’s where animal owners come to exercise their animals, and it’s where every child in the neighborhood goes to learn to swim.”

The park’s prime location in Hyde Park draws visitors from the homes which immediately surround it. Shipe Park has it all – a small  pool with the gorgeous new mural, a 2-foot-deep wading pool, a playground, swings, basketball and tennis courts, open grassy areas and plenty of trees.

A black and white photo of hte Shipe Park playground in 1940. The playground is crowded with children playing on seesaws and swings. The log cabin shelter house is visible in the background. One of its more interesting features is the in a log-cabin-style shelter house - which is original to the park, McKnight said.

“The early shelter houses were the sites of our very early recreational activities,” McKnight said. Children would perform in the breezeway area, surrounded by parents sitting around the cabin watching the dance recitals or plays. “...the shelter houses in those early parks were these wonderful, multi-purpose facilities that had it all.”

The structure was designed to reflect the character of the neighborhood surrounding it when the park was built in 1928-29. The neighborhood was already booming by that time, according to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association’s website.

“While fairly steady growth characterized the addition throughout the first decades of this century, its greatest building boom occurred between 1924 and 1935.” the website states.

The park got its name from Monroe Martin Shipe, who more or less founded Hyde Park. In 1891, Shipe began marketing Hyde Park as an attractive suburb for the wealthy away from the hubbub of downtown. Shipe envisioned Hyde Park as a self-sufficient community and encouraged the development of churches, schools and stores in the neighborhood. He also provided mail, street lighting and sanitation services, according to the website.

The community thrived, and maintained the independent spirit that Shipe had instilled in it. The park became an integral part of Hyde Park.

“I just love the fact that there’s generations of families that are still in the same neighborhoods, and they’re playing and swimming in the same park that their ancestors did,” Alison said.

Beloved Volunteers

The sign at Shipe Park. The letters are metal and standing on petrified wood pillars. Throughout the years, neighbors who live near Shipe Park have not merely used the facilities, but improved them. In the late 1990s and early 21st century, neighbors recycled petrified wood from the demolished Petrified Forest Motel to construct the rock wall and arching sign at Shipe Park’s northern border.

Galvanized by their success, neighbors formed the Friends of Shipe Park group, which has raised money to plant more than a dozen trees, build an irrigation field to water the trees, plant grass, extend the pool hours, and paint the picnic tables and benches.

The trademark bright blue benches, funded through Friends of Shipe Park, have inspired Sherwin-Williams to name the shade Shipe Park Blue, and the paint color is now used by the Parks and Recreation Department in other parks, Young said.

“When communities come together to commit to improving their own public spaces, the City usually responds in-kind with appreciation and more support for future projects,” Young said. “That’s been one of the greatest things about working with the City that I’ve learned - the more you give, the more you get.”

The Friends of Shipe Park’s newest achievement, the mosaic mural, took an enormous effort to come to fruition. The group started with funds from the Austin Parks Foundation and Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. The vision was to turn a plain wall - which was often a target for graffiti - into a real work of art.

The nonprofit raised more money through small fundraising efforts and appeals for individual donations, and after a year of planning and fundraising, the real fun started.

The mosaic mural was designed and created by artists Holli Brown and Pascal Simon over a two-year period. The artists worked with community members and students from Griffin School to incorporate individual mosaic creations into the larger piece.

Since the mural’s final unveiling in late June, Young said it’s been beautiful watching local kids looking through the mural for the piece they made, and shouting “Mommy, I found it!”

“The mural is such a visual component of the pool now, and we hope that it will inspire other people in other communities to use us as a model, and seek out ways that they can contribute and beautify their own neighborhood park and pools,” Young said.

McKnight said the Friends of Shipe Park exemplify the active volunteer community surrounding Austin’s neighborhood parks.

“They recognize that the most successful parks thrive when there’s an active volunteer community…They’re pretty typical of some of our really dedicated park groups,” McKnight said. “We rely on the support of our beloved volunteers.”