Andrea Hill, The Cultural Landscape Foundation
The Cultural Landscape Foundation Hails Decision of Missouri State Historic Preservation Office Finding Springfield’s Park Central Square’s Eligible for Listing in the National Register
Recognition is first ever for work by living landscape architect Lawrence Halprin
(Washington, DC – May 23, 2008) – On May 22, 2008, the city of Springfield, Missouri’s Park Central Square, which had been threatened with almost total demolition, became the first work by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin deemed eligible to the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. The Missouri State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) determined the square “eligible for listing in the National Register” because its design is “the work of a master.” Ninety-one year old Lawrence Halprin, a Presidential Medal of Arts winner and designer of the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC, is known for his visionary urban landscapes such as Freeway Park in Seattle, Washington, and the Chain of Open Spaces in Portland, Oregon, which are celebrated places of those cities.
The determination of Springfield’s Park Central Square’s eligibility is significant not only because it is the first Halprin landscape so recognized, but because the park was designed in 1970, and thus less than 50 years old, a baseline for assessing eligibility. The Square, an early urban design commission for Halprin, was viewed by the city as an agent for downtown revitalization that would yield a “public Square for beauty, convenience, commerce and fun [with] a different feel which will be easily perceptible to everyone.” Constructed for $2 million (nearly $12 million in 2008 dollars), the Square, lauded at the time of its opening, has suffered from years of poor and deferred maintenance, and the city proposed to demolish nearly all of it.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), which saw the Halprin-designed Skyline Park in Denver, Colorado, razed in 2003 – a decision now regretted throughout that city – intervened. TCLF noted the use of state or federal money in the Square’s demolition automatically triggered a federally mandated determination of eligibility, known as a Section 106 compliance review (refers to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act). TCLF became a lead consulting party for the review.
Along with recognizing Halprin’s significance to the Square, the SHPO determined the work proposed by the city of Springfield would have resulted in an adverse effect to the historic site. According to Mark Miles, Director, Missouri SHPO, “We felt that Park Central Square was an extremely important resource, both for the City of Springfield and for the State. It represents the work of a major figure in the field of landscape design and is significant resource from the recent past. We are grateful to the City and FHWA that an alternative approach to the project was developed--one that will permit much needed public and private investment to continue to take place in the downtown Springfield area while allowing time to fully explore preservation sensitive options and alternatives for the Halprin-designed Square. We are confident that design approaches can be developed that address the City's and the citizens of Springfield's concerns as well as protecting the significant elements of this important historic design."
“I must say that I feel immensely honored to hear that Park Central Square is eligible for the National Register,” said Mr. Halprin. “I soon hope to hear that it has gained full recognition for I know that such attention usually leads to renewed public appreciation and involvement. I have always felt that in a democracy, citizens must remain vigilant and involved regarding their important shared resources.”
“We look forward to helping the City in any way we can through this process so they can revitalize their downtown while maintaining their historic assets,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF president, adding, “as the process continues, we trust more and more citizens of Springfield will recognize they have a gem in their midst.”
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), established in 1998, is the only not-for-profit foundation in America dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness of the important legacy of cultural landscapes and to help save them for future generations. For more information, please go to the TCLF’s website, www.tclf.org.
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