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George Rocky Graham Park
Honoring a Community Advocate

By Tegan Hill, RHAA Landscape Architecture + Planning


George Rocky Graham Park, the only outdoor recreation area in Marin City, Calif., had its grand re-opening in 2015. In addition to this multi-story, treehouse-inspired play structure, the park is home to an amphitheater, an artificial turf field, a play area for younger kids, and amenities for adults and seniors.

George Rocky Graham Park in Marin City, the most diverse city in Marin County, Calif., was funded by the state of California Proposition 84 Bond Act. This 1.2-acre community park is the primary play space for the entire community. The playground design focused on four major goals: implementing the vision of the community, providing maximum play value within a finite budget, integrating health and fitness into the design, and incorporating elements of the surrounding natural environment into the design.

The park was named after George Rocky Graham who pushed for low-income housing, acted as a counselor in the Big Brother program and served on the Marin City Community Services District Board. In 1978, Rocky Graham was shot and killed in a dispute in front of a grocery store at the age of 28.


The two custom play structures from Landscape Structures, as well as the GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) climbing rocks, logs and mushrooms situated around the structures, were inspired by nature to help kids get back to their playground roots. The play equipment was also chosen for maximum play value and health benefits.

Originally built in the 1940s for the families of the laborers who moved to the region to build Liberty ships on the waterfront during World War II, the park was dismantled and used as a dump in the 1990s. It remained unused for more than 20 years -- until residents rallied with a petition to revive it.

In 2012, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) led an active community outreach process to develop the initial design for the park and playground that reflected the needs, spirit and history of the community. A local outreach consultant, Marin Grassroots, organized an extensive campaign including paid local ambassadors as well as a steering committee to guide the collaborative community design effort. TPL hired Royston Hanamoto Alley and Abey (RHAA) in 2014 to implement this vision.

The biggest challenge to solve was creating a multi-use space suitable for all ages, while working with a sloped site. The design uses an amphitheater to retain the hillside, carving out a large terrace area and meeting the community desire for a performance space. Below, a large oval walk becomes the central organizing element of the park.


For the fitness area, the community selected mostly static equipment with limited moving parts -- chin up bars for upper body, a sit up bench for core, push up bars for upper body and core, plyometric station for cardiovascular and lower body strength, and a cross training machine. To encourage cardiovascular activity, the adjacent loop has distances engraved in the pavement and signage describes the heights of adjacent stairs relative to area landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Surrounding the oval are separate areas for each age group: game tables for seniors, an adult exercise equipment cluster, two group picnic areas with large barbeques, a seating area, as well as tot and school age play areas. Nancy Peach, a local artist, painted a mural at the top of the amphitheater depicting the history of Marin City. To meet the need for low maintenance, plant material was chosen not only for its beauty but also for its adaptability and durability.

The theme chosen for the playground was nature play to evoke the spirit of the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The structures by Landscape Structures incorporate wood and rocks to suggest the natural environment surrounding the community. Acorn and log seats also integrate the nature theme of the overall playground. The matting incorporates small mounds to suggest the adjacent hills and has a stream with fish and frogs to mimic the nearby creeks.


To meet the community desire for an outdoor performance space, a 24' gazebo from Classic Recreation Systems was placed on the amphitheater. The artificial turf area below is used for both overflow for performances and for informal sports.

The tot lot incorporates a small play structure with a playhouse for imaginative play, slides and climbing structure. Swings and bounce toys help develop balance. In the school age playground, the major structure is a multi-story tree house. The community chose the high structure for a variety of activities, including multiple slides and an assortment of climbers, each requiring different skills. The enclosed playhouse at the top affords opportunities for imaginative play as well as a great view of the San Francisco Bay. Additional structures include swings, seat spinners for balance, and an overhead spinner for upper body development.

Since opening in 2015, the park is crowded every day with community members of all ages. This park truly is the implementation of the community vision, culture and heritage.

Design Team
Owner: Marin Community Services District
Prime: The Trust for Public Land
Landscape Architect: Royston Hanamoto Alley and Abey (RHAA)
Contractor: Robert R Bothman

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2017, Playgrounds.

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November 20, 2019, 1:44 pm PDT

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