Thursday, May 08, 2008

Square Sinks into Controversy

The debate over famed architect Lawrence Halprin’s involvement continues to haunt downtown revitalization.

(Note: This is an article I wrote for the May 7 - May 20 issue of Community Free Press - Midweek)

by Jackie Melton
CFP Contributor

The City Council called a special meeting in February to pass resolution 9570, “authorizing city staff to adopt the design proposal of Butler Rosenbury & Partners, Inc. (BRP) for the downtown square.”

There were concerns, at the time, about meeting an August 1 deadline on construction of the square. Under the terms of the city’s agreement with the purchaser of the Heer’s Tower, if the city does not begin construction to redevelop the square by that date, the owner can exercise a “put option” and force the city to buy back the Heer’s Tower. The stipulation put the city under a lot of pressure to move forward on the BRP design concept.

At that time, Councilman Dan Chiles suggested the city meet with renowned Park Central Square designer, Lawrence Halprin. He felt consulting with Halprin on the design might stave off challenges by historic landmark groups. There was no apparent interest in the suggestion and the resolution passed by a majority vote of Council.

“It would have been prudent for someone, and I’m saying either the (city) staff or the contractor, to look and see what we have, which is a Lawrence Halprin-designed square,” Chiles said. “It turns out, that guy and his firm is the single, most respected and honored landscape architectural firm in the United States.”

The challenge Chiles feared came in the form of a letter to Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator, Allen Masuda. In it, Jennifer Sandy, the program officer of the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP),advised Masuda they wanted to participate in the Park Central Square review process, pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The NTHP also expressed concern about the city moving forward with plans for the square prior to seeking compliance with the NHPA. Since the city has been granted federal highway money to perform the work, the city is required to insure the money spent will not jeopardize an existing historic work.

In a letter written to the Mayor and members of City Council, Economic Development Director Mary Lilly Smith assured them the city was following the rules. “Staff has been steadily working on this project since the City Council endorsed the design….” Smith wrote.

In a report the city submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in late April, the city built a case that Halprin was minimally involved in the project.

The report claimed employee George McLaughlin and unknown other representatives of Lawrence Halprin & Associates made trips to Springfield but there was no indication that Halprin, himself, ever came here.

“Of the 24 concepts found in the Halprin Collection, only one or two appear to be drawn in the loose, organic sketch and design style of Lawrence Halprin….It appears that neither concept was pursued beyond sketch level,” the report said.

Charles A. Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation disagrees. In an e-mail, Birnbaum wrote there was much more evidence of Halprin’s involvement in the design of Park Central Square than the city suggested. “I am disappointed by the manipulation of the findings,” Birnbaum wrote in response to the report the city of Springfield submitted to SHPO.

“In my conversation with Tim Rosenbury back in early February, he noted that, in his initial presentation to the city, his firm raised the question of Mr. Halprin’s involvement. Rosenbury noted that the city suggested provenance was not a significant consideration and he was dissuaded from researching any Halprin involvement.”

At the special Council meeting in February, Rosenbury told the Council, “…during the presentation that we made to the selection committee we had a slide of another square that Halprin designed in Portland and we made the point that that may be of some significance.”

After BRP’s design was adopted, Rosenbury told CFP he felt a responsibility to observe the use and revitalization criteria that came out of the public input process on the square. That process was said to have included at least 750 people. Many of the people who provided input were members of focus groups chosen by BRP’s programming partner, Partner for Public Spaces.

Former Halprin associate, George McLaughlin, also disagreed with the idea that Halprin’s work was minimal on the project.

“The only one who can professionally be credited with the project design is Lawrence Halprin,” McLaughlin wrote to correct what he felt were misrepresentations in another newspaper.

The concluding paragraph of the city’s report to SHPO reads, in part: “…There is no evidence in the Halprin Collection of the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania that indicates that Lawrence Halprin had an ongoing, direct role in the project.”


Informational boxes:

Park Central Square Redevelopment Timeline

> February 15: Develop and refine design at the detail level

> May 15: Submit plans to Public Works for final approval

> June 1: Release for contractor bid

> July 1: Receive contractor bids

> July 15: Submit bids to Council for approval, prepare notice to proceed and paperwork

> August 1: Start of Construction (August 1 is the date the city is bound to begin improvements under the Heer’s building agreement).

Source: Tim Rosenbury of Butler Rosenbury Partners, Inc. at the February 12 Council meeting

Excerpts from February 12, 2008 Meeting Minutes

> Mr. (Ralph) Manley added his belief that Council should adopt this resolution as soon as possible.

> John Wylie noted his belief that this bill should be passed today.

> Mr. (Dan) Chiles expressed concern that the proposed may violate provisions included in section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

> Gary Deaver noted Council had received an e-mail from Mr. McGowan (purchaser of the Heer’s Tower) expressing his concern regarding further delays.

> Mary Collette noted her disappointment that Mr. Halprin’s design was not discussed earlier.

> Mr. Manley noted decisions need to be made immediately so no further delays will occur.

> Ms. Collette noted a plaque could be placed by the Halprin fountain to commemorate Mr. Halprin’s design.

> Council Bill 2008-052 (substitute #1) Resolution 9570 was approved by the following vote: Ayes: Deaver, Collette, Wylie, Manley, Rushefsky, and Burlison. Nays: Chiles. Abstain: None. Absent: Carlson

Source: Springfield City Clerk Brenda Cirtin, to view the complete meeting minutes go to


tom said...

Then there is always this letter as well.

> Editor
> April 23,2008
> Springfield News-Leader
> Springfield, Missouri
> Dear Editor
> I am writing this to ask you to clear up an inaccuracy that was presented in your paper last week concerning the designer of Park Central Square in Springfield. In this letter I was credited with being the primary designer of the square.
> The only one who can professionally be credited with the project design is Lawrence Halprin. While very flattering to be credited with design, this is not true. I was an architect on the staff of the Halprin office at the time. The Halprin office was hired based on his national reputation for innovative landscape architecture, to design the improvements to the existing bleak, traffic, ridden square. The Halprin office was a large office and as such Halprin could not be expected to do all of the work on every project. My role as project manager/ designer was to, with a small team, execute the job within the Halprin design vernacular. Halprin had been developing this vernacular over the preceding twenty years. I made several trips to Springfield to gather information and to present the work to city staff members and members of the downtown association. Halprin was deeply involved in the Springfield project and every other project in the office from the initial conceptual meetings where the design concepts were established and throughout the life of the project. All my work was supervised by Halprin and one or more of his partners in formal and informal meetings. Park Central Square is most definitely a Halprin project.
> It is completely understandable that few drawings in Halprin's hand were found in the Halprin archives. At the time there was no organized system for retaining drawings during and after the life of the project. We also had very limited amounts of flat file drawer
> storage space and thus could be ruthless in discarding drawings. Halprin's conceptual design contributions would have been in sketch form on very fragile tracing paper, which often did not survive due simply to its fragility. They also could have been discarded after the
> ideas they expressed were incorporated in the more precise drawings.
> I would also like to add that judging from the pictures in the
> article the Square has been very well maintained and has aged extremely well. It appears to have a lot of life left in it. The Square is a very good example of the work of Lawrence Halprin and is certainly worthy of being designated a historic landmark.

Thank you
George McLaughlin
469 Mississippi St.
San Francisco CA 9417

Jacke M. said...

Yep, that is where I picked up the quote:

“The only one who can professionally be credited with the project design is Lawrence Halprin,” McLaughlin wrote to correct what he felt were misrepresentations in another newspaper.

It's a worthy addition to have the letter in it's entirety though, so thanks for adding it. :)