Austin has a history of making simple, everyday things seem unique and beautiful, whether it’s a personal yard or a public space, the city is loaded with crazy customized creations and the city’s Sparky Park in particular is a must see for those who appreciate follies and grottoes.
Sparky Park got its name from its previous life as an electrical substation in 1930. For most of its life it was simply a utilitarian lot with a brick Art Deco municipal building to house the machinery (which is now an exhibition space) tucked into a quiet neighborhood of modest and colorful old homes. When the substation was overhauled to accommodate the current grid, the new machines were installed outside and quickly became an eyesore. In 2008, the City of Austin organization Art in Public Spaces, commissioned local artist Berthold Haas to construct a whimsical wall to obscure the new substation and make the park a serene, inviting, and almost fairytale place.
With help from neighbors (who have left their names if you look closely), an assemblage of karst stones, aggregates, mirror balls, slag glass, broken antique glass dishes, ammonites and other shells, painted stucco, petrified wood, molded cement frieze, marbles, repurposed ceramic disk insulators, and more old substation hardware was built. It shows clear influence from Antonio Gaudi’s Parq Guell (and perhaps other Spanish Art Nouveau creations), 60’s psychedelia, the Wonder Cabinets of 1700’s Germany, the early 20th century Midwestern Grotto Culture, and the more conventional grottos seen in stately English and Italian gardens. Many of the materials used are local and impart a sense of place to the serpentine creation, shaded under large old Cedar Elms. Also on the site is a circular promenade with Crape Myrtles, Mexican Plum trees, Yaupon Holly, and a trellis tunnel with Trumpet Vine and Wisteria. Though tired looking in the 105-plus degree heat of mid-summer (mid-June to mid-September), it is lush and a perfect place for a sack lunch during the spring and fall monsoons.
This is a perfect place for children to explore and touch, and for the elderly or those with physical limitations to enjoy something stimulatingly offbeat without having to trundle up some dusty, thorny hillside. Sparky Park is a must see if you are visiting Austin or nearby towns and want to take in the flair of the weird that the city of bats has to offer.
Don’t forget to look in the walls for fun treasures, and bring a few (miniature toys, coins, interesting artifacts) to place in the walls. Parking is a bit tricky since it’s in the middle of the neighborhood
Know Before You Go
Parking is pretty awful, you might not find a spot on a busy day in the neighborhood.