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Mariposa Park, Mountain View, California
Inclusive Playground Includes Music

Landscape Architecture by Robert Mowat Associates



The playground structures for Mariposa Park in Mountain View, Calif., are from Landscape Structures and Little Tikes Play Equipment, with customized EPDM safety surfacing and benches from Victor Stanley Inc.
Photos: Treve Johnson Photography

Mountain View, California (pop. 74,066) is in the San Francisco south bay area, with Palo Alto to the north and Los Altos to the south. The south bay area of course is in the heart of Silicon Valley and is home to tech giants Apple (Cupertino) and Facebook (Menlo Park); Mountain View boasts the headquarters for Google, Linkedin and Microsoft.

The project's initial focus was to create a green public space on a mostly paved .75 acre site with 9 residences. A Victorian house and barn were built on the site in 1910. In 1938 the lot was subdivided, with a home and some cottages soon constructed. In 2007 the city of Mountain View began plans to remove all the buildings to make way for the park. The city purchased two adjoining lots and demolished the buildings. The Victorian home remained until 2010. The city's programming of a small park (less than 1 acre) typically includes 3-4 benches, 2 picnic tables, a lawn, a drinking fountain and a play structure of some form.


Musical instruments are located at ground level for easy access for children of all ages at Aven's Village in Greeley, Colo. In the sound garden, towering "Contrabass" chimes provide resonant tones while five tuned drums by Harmony Park offer an opportunity to set a steady beat. A custom music station offers four instruments in one location. A wooden marimba, steely metallophone, rain wheel and Brazilian hardwood tongue drum provide opportunities to harmonize with friends or to feel the music reverberate with every strike of the rubber mallet. Reminiscent of a large, native cottonwood stump, a log drum custom-built by Landscape Structures helps to tie the area to the playground theme.


The waterplay/sand table was designed by the landscape architects and constructed of precast concrete by Quick Crete Products Corp.


Butterfly reference everywhere! The white precast concrete spheres are meant to suggest butterfly eggs, also represented in the safety surface as white circles.

Robert Mowat Associates saw the opportunity for more than a traditional infill park. Early in the design work park concepts were vetted with city staff and subcommittee members. Once several park concept ideas were chosen, a series of public input meetings were held for response and input.

The design charrettes put on by the landscape architects introduced the concepts of water treatment, recycled materials and habitat creation. Research and graphic presentations by the landscape architects convinced the city to go with a butterfly habitat concept, with a focus on monarchs, and supporting the idea of increasing butterfly awareness and population as a primary goal. After the fourth public meeting, the idea of a butterfly themed park was overwhelmingly endorsed by the neighborhood.

The project incorporates sustainable features common to green projects, such as retention ponds, bioswales, detention structures, recycled materials and extensive use of California natives. The project's real value is in providing migrating Monarch breeding habitat, including, forage, protective weather cover and water, all essential to the monarchs during their long migrations. This authentic habitat attracts new butterfly species that now harbor and breed here. The concept is a front line strategy illustrating that active public parks can provide appropriate wildlife habitat.


The larval stage of Lepidoptera (butterflies) is the caterpillar, represented on the playground in concrete, and designed by the landscape architect.

Educational panels double as history lessons of the neighborhood and the biology of native butterflies. These compelling educational and environmental park elements exemplify a striving for a holistic viewpoint on play and recreation. The park imagery includes many examples of biomimicry where structures of nature have been morphed into park furniture, play apparatuses and educational park elements.

All storm water traverses the site to a native California rain garden that annually captures 7.5 lbs. of sediment, 1.5 lbs. of nitrogen, .6 lbs. of lead, .27 lbs. of zinc and .18 lbs. of phosphorus. The storm water treatment solutions, California native plantings, recycled materials and the inclusion of historical detailing from nearby homes into the parks' imagery were key to the design.

This small city infill park reflects and exemplifies the possibilities that public open spaces can be more than just a collection of traditional park elements. What was once an assortment of haphazard residential buildings is now a new community park and program of microhabitat for migrating monarch butterflies. Integrated within a larger scope of environmental responsiveness and architectural historic context, a new neighborhood social hub and wildlife rest stop has been created.



The larval stage of Lepidoptera (butterflies) is the caterpillar, represented on the playground in concrete, and designed by the landscape architect.

Mountain View's Mariposa Park is now a habitat for the monarch butterfly. Monarch populations have steadily decreased by nearly 90% over the last 25 years particularly from deforestation in Mexico, along with corn and soybean genetic engineering, which has increased the use of herbicides, wiping out thousands of acres of milkweed breeding habitat. Monarchs migrate from southern Canada and the U.S. in autumn to central Mexico, and make the return trip in March. While not all monarchs migrate, the eastern monarch population can fly 4,830 miles to overwintering in Mexico. The migration takes place over several years, with the butterflies stopping at feeding and breeding areas. The butterflies like to hibernate in oyamel fir trees in Mexico, and eucalyptus trees in California. As their lifespan is only 6-8 months, the monarchs that return to a particular habitat are the grandchildren or great grandchildren from the previous generations. This location memory is passed on to succeeding generations via their genetic code. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department is currently reviewing the possibility of listing the monarch as an endangered species.

Client: City of Mountain View, Calif.
Landscape Architect: Robert Mowat Associates, San Francisco, and Napa Valley.
Designers: Robert Mowat, John Dalrymple, Bob Kagiyama and Anne Marie Starr
Civil Engineer: Mark Thomas & Co.
Contractor: Star Construction
Board Images/Verbiage: Nick Perry
Butterfly Board Images/Verbiage: Robert Mowat, John Dalrymple
Benches: Victor Stanley Inc.
Bricks: McNear Bricks
Play Structures: Landscape Structures; Little Tikes Play Equipment
Play Structure Graphics: Robert Mowat Associates
Precast Pieces: Quick Crete Products Corp.
Signage: NVO Industries
Trash Bin Graphics: Robert Mowat Associates

As seen in LASN magazine, September 2017.

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October 15, 2019, 4:53 am PDT

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