A Crying Shame

Despite my swagger, I’m a softy.  I well up in tears when I am moved by something–not usually landscapes or gardens.  In most professional situations, I am able to contain myself.  At Lawrence Halprin’s Heritiage Plaza in Fort Worth I was not…it made me cry.  I felt privileged to be able to visit on a private tour while in Fort Worth with APLD.  There I go again–moist eyes.

That a city with as much wealth as Fort Worth has let this park deteriorate is a travesty.  That the 8 million dollars needed to restore it hasn’t been raised is shameful.  Across town Phillip Johnson and John Burgee’s Water Gardens from the same era (1974) is a vibrant public space despite its stark and hard edged brutalist design.

Unlike the Water Gardens which could be dropped down in any open field, Halprin’s design honors the land it occupies and is/was a living hymn to the city’s past as well as its future.  There is growing grassroots support for its restoration, but make no mistake about it, it’s endangered.  Its future is in question–the necessary funds have not been raised.

Honoring the past and the future

Heritage Plaza was built in 1977.  In an effort to help protect it, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places this year.

The central plaza

Surrounded by chain link fence since 2007, this modernist marvel of design and engineering is in an advanced state of disrepair and closed to the public.  It is a  ghost town. So empty in fact, that the day we visited a grey fox was hunting in the central plaza–climbing the tree in the lower left hand corner of the image above and then disappearing down and empty rill into the wild beyond.

The main pavilion and 'source' for the water works

As it is across town at the Water Gardens, H2O was a central theme here, but instead of being a series of wet monolithic vignettes, its intimate spaces helped to tell the park’s story and humanize its experience.

The first 'drop'

Rills, falls, intricate water courses, ponds and wet walls follow a path throughout the park.  Even without the water, its suggested intent is clear.  To walk the plaza, you would have had  to interact with the water by listening to it, walking over it, along side it and under it.  It guided and followed.

Stepping 'stones' across a rill

Beyond the modernist concrete bones of Halprin’s vision for the space, built on the site of what was once the actual Fort Worth, what’s left now are poor repairs, rills filled with leaves and the overwhelming sense that something magical is missing.  There I go again…moist eyes.

Where's the water?
Poorly patched and empty water course

My photographs only begin to tell the story.  The park needs to be experienced to understand its full impact–even without the water so central to its design.  Halprin’s interlocking and intersecting grids are clear. The presence of the constantly moving water–now missing–would have softened hard edges and added shimmering and reflective qualities not seen without it.  It would have created a sound barrier from the noise of the city beyond its walls.  People and water would have breathed life into the now abandoned space.

Path across a ghost pond
The water wall just above the ghost pond
View from the level above

There is a short history of the park and its decent and the struggle to save it on the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.  For now though, the rills are everywhere, below, beside, above and even through the walls….yet they are empty, rotting and sad.  There I go, moist eyes again.

8 thoughts on “A Crying Shame

  1. What a shame. I wonder how many people know there’s a gem hiding behind the fence? I hope the people of Fort Worth wake up soon and make this park’s restoration a priority. Thank you for sharing this amazing park with us.

    Thanks for the comment Angela. I suspect there’s a better chance now that there’s a firm budget and some interest.–s

  2. I can only imagine … the stepping stones, the tumbling water.

    The intent is very clear when you’re there. It’s my imagination that was my undoing.–s

  3. Ghost town is right, Susan. Walking through that garden was like exploring a derelict ship, full of strange and unusual constructions that the mind marvels to understand. Amazingly, there is no public way of obtaining an address for this place without actually contacting the city. Those would-be advocates, preservationist and financial backers could drive right past this place and never even know it was there. Thanks for shouting from the rooftop!

    That I couldn’t find a good picture of the park in its heyday on line speaks volumes.–s

  4. I can see why it made you cry. A space that could be so beautiful with a bit of love and care (and money) being left to fall apart is very sad. I hope the citizens get their act together and rescue the space before it gets more neglected. Few things are sadder than an empty concrete pool with dead leaves inside it. Water is such a a touchstone for human beings – because there’s so much of it in us – that the lack of it where it ought to be creates such a barren symbol.

    You are right about water being a touchstone for human beings.–s

  5. Hi Susan
    I am a client of L Form Design, too; Ian Loew told me about your blog today to help me better understand how it could work. I have to say I am very impressed by the wonderful job you did in describing the park in Ft Worth that has fallen on hard times. Beautifully written and well photographed, too, you made me care about the issue. I have a great love of public space and believe it is our duty to bring situations of neglect and disrepair like the one described in your blog, to the attention of the people responsible for their care. We all know how bad Central Park in NYC –Olmstead’s design gem—had gotten back in the 70s and 80s but when people like you got involved the Park was steadily returned to its rightful glory.

    I will read your future posts with interest and wish you much continued success with your endeavors

    Warm regards
    Keith Kulper

    Thank you so much for taking the time to visit, Keith. Public spaces are ‘gardens’ for everyone, yet often have so few champions.–s

  6. Hi Susan, my name is Kate. I was wandering around looking at gardening sites and I found your site a day or two ago. I have gone on to other sites but I keep coming back to yours, just enjoying reading your posts in my spare moments. I would find this garden sad too. When I was five my mother used to take us up to an abandoned garden at the top of a hill. I imagined it was a roman garden (I had a book on greek gods) and that I might discover a nymph or a faun it in. It had an empty pool and what I imagined to be marble (I think they were concrete) waterways filled with leaves. We brought brooms up and tried to clear it out a bit but entropy had too firm a grasp on it for small hands to reverse the tide of things.

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