Play at Beautiful Donovan Park in the Historic Heights

9/27/17 - By Kate M

Houston is full of many wonderful parks, including parks with lots of shade essential for almost all months of the year, which is important on our frequently sunny days. Donovan Park is another great park that is worth visiting and has shady and covered areas. Donovan Park is an imaginative and attractive neighborhood park that is situated at the northeast corner of 7th Street and Heights Boulevard. This park is hard to miss with two large, castle-like wooden play structures. As you enter the park, you are greeted by colorful, hand-painted mosaic tiles that create seating inside and outside of the entrance. The park is surrounded by a large, wrought-iron fence with a latched gate that prevents children from running into the busy street and allows parents and caregivers to relax while little ones run and play freely.


Two wooden play structures and the signpost, view from the train 

A wooden signpost at the entrance of the park gives information about its rich history. The property was once the home of a small wooden general store built in the late 1890's called Wimberly Store, which carried general goods and livestock feed. A few years later, the first neighborhood gas pump was added to the site. The store was named after the three brothers, William, James, and Stonewall Jackson Wimberly, who eventually rebuilt the store as a brick structure in the late 1920's as one of the first "self-serve" grocery stores in Houston. The store was eventually torn down after it shuttered during the Great Depression. The property then sat vacant until it was purchased by the Houston Heights Association (HHA) in 1979 to prevent the construction of a tractor-trailer repair facility. The HHA has worked to revitalize the Heights and to build a sense of community.

Wooden train play area

The park was built with a railroad theme due to its proximity to the Union Pacific railway lines and was originally completed in 1983. A highlight of Donovan Park is the brightly-colored, quarter-size wooden train to the left of the entrance. This was a feature that was added years after the park was built but is the first spot most kids run to. Kids can go inside all the train cars, wave out the windows, and pretend to conduct the train. 

Large play structure

The playground itself was constructed over five consecutive days in 1996 by the Houston Heights community. These volunteers transformed an under-utilized park into the vibrant playspace you can visit today. Local area school children contributed ideas that were incorporated by architects along with the railroad theme and Victorian-era turrets, which reflect the historic character of the neighborhood. 

Little kids play structure with additional covered seating

The large play structure is for bigger kids and has many exciting features. From a huge, curving slide and a tunnel slide to hidden lookouts and bridges, balancing and climbing structures, and monkey rings, this play area has it all. What makes this playground even more kid-friendly is that the other play structure is geared toward smaller children and has mini versions of many of the features on the bigger play structure. The smaller side has a mini-slide, a mini-climbing web, a mini-balance beam, and even mini monkey rings. It also has a small train that kids can climb into and a wooden path that leads to a lookout over the neighborhood. 

Small wooden train, picnic table on a hill and park entrance in the background

The two play structures are connected by a covered seating area that offers parents and caregivers a central place to observe active little ones and escape the sun. There is an abundance of seating throughout the playground including other areas that are covered. There is also an area with a variety of swings, including a swing for children with special needs. 

Covered central seating area to the left, mini-monkey rings, and view of the swing area

Here's a little more history from the entryway signpost: James G. Donovan, the park's namesake, was the City Attorney for Houston Heights, which was an independent municipality from 1896 - 1918. Mr. Donovan is known for authoring the city ordinance in 1912 that designated Houston Heights as a dry area "until time runneth not." Even though this ordinance is still partially in effect, you can still grab a beer or a cocktail at one of the many nearby restaurants in the area as long as you join the "drinking club," which basically just means handing over your ID so you can be entered into the club database. A major bonus of this park is all the nearby restaurants, coffee shops, and dessert spots. The central heights location makes Donovan Park the perfect destination to encourage the kids to get some energy out before a sit down meal or as a fun add-on to a special sweet treat. This park is also a wonderful spot for a picnic with an abundance of picnic tables, many located picturesquely on top of small hills. 

One of the many picnic tables on a hill

Plenty of street parking is available on both Heights Boulevard and 7th Street, as well as other nearby streets. There are no restrooms so make sure to plan accordingly. Also, note that the park has wood chips so make sure that children are wearing proper shoes. 

All photos by Kate M

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