Design Destination: Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park

Delightful bears cavort in the sand at Mitchell Park. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Few people spending a summer Sunday in Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park pause to marvel at the park’s architectural merits. They’re too busy playing or relaxing. But it is a great work by a great designer.

The park, which opened in 1957, was designed by Robert Royston (1918-2008), one of the founders of modern landscape architecture. It’s well worth visiting even if you don’t have a soccer ball in hand or a few kids in tow.

Parks should seem natural, like they just grew from the land, and this one does. Royston artfully concealed his artistry. But consider the flowing, curvilinear forms seen in the lawn areas, play and picnic areas. Or the artful changes in level, with mounds and trees arranged to create semi-private areas for picnicking.

Bob Royston enjoys conversation on his Mill Valley deck in 2006. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Royston, a playful man who enjoyed a good game of bocce, was well known for his playgrounds incorporating sculpture, and Mitchell Park is typical. It has wonderful concrete animals to clamber atop o simply admire, and a famous set of his “gopher holes” for little ones to clamber through.

Mitchell Park won international praise when it opened and has inspired may other park designs since – so much so that its innovations no longer surprise. But they still charm.

The park is at 300 East Meadow Drive.

The trellis is a typical Royston touch. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

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