This is the last of a series of five articles describing the history of parks in the 1950-70s Urban Renewal Project in Southwest Washington.
By Hayden M. Wetzel
Redevelopment of Southwest Washington, from the beginning, envisioned a great deal of green public space – something not common in the earlier Southwest. This carried into the generous sidewalks and minor street amenities such as the little circles on G Street and the many closed streets made into public walkways. Fourth Street was always a major street in Southwest, and the Urban Renewal plan continued this, both in the first commercial center (which did not cut off Fourth) and the second, the Waterside Mall (which did). An imposing and inviting walk along Fourth to the new Town Center Park and then to the Mall and its plaza seemed natural to city planners.
Besides the new Mall, planners had the freedom of a new school – Amidon – which was built on the superblock created between 4th and 6th/I and G Streets in 1960. The land behind the school, running to G Street, was assigned by the National Park Service to the city “for playground purposes.” At the same time the Redevelopment Land Agency’s (RLA) design office, headed by Stanley Sherman, began work on the “Amidon Promenade” along the western side of 4th Street to consist of “considerable planting and paving” – trees and repetitive lines of bricks, costing $200,000.
Along G Street, behind the playground, discussions from 1961 had separated a 20-foot strip from Amidon and placed it outside the school’s fence. (“The plans for this area became the subject of extended debate,” noted an official.) This area, including benches interspaced with “games” and the current brick “play sculpture,” was finalized in 1965. The park was built in 1967 when it was featured in the RLA’s annual report. A photo of children climbing on the brick structure includes Sherman’s own son. Although never officially named, it is called Amidon Sidewalk Park in the RLA report, and that seems a good title.
This pocket of green adds grace and calm to the neighborhood. One need only walk two blocks west on G Street to 6th, where the playground of Jefferson Junior High School simply runs to the street and then a bare fence. A narrow sidewalk and a row of rather small trees (with no benches) make this stretch of G Street barren and uninviting. How much nicer if it also had a little slice of park running alongside it.
The research for this project, conducted at the request of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, was conducted utilizing documents of the government agencies involved in the Urban Renewal Project. The author is a Washington tour guide and active preservationist.