Franklin Park is almost 200 years old, and had become badly deteriorated since its last renovation in 1935. After more than a year of reconstruction, it opened last week looking greatly transformed. The park is Federal property but D.C. designed and paid for the renovations (thanks in large part to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton work in getting Congress to let D.C. work with the NPS property).
The five-acre park has new plantings everywhere, and plenty of benches to enjoy the view.
There’s a play area for children.
There’s lots of space for special activities, like these events at the opening weekend:
The fountain is nice, although not that large, and there’s plenty of space for tables near it.
This weekend, several pieces of temporary art were painted, and look great against the solemn background of the buildings around the square.
The new park has a fairly generic look after its renovation, but we assume that it will take on more character over time. One of the main attractions will be this building on the south side of the park, offering a cafe plus public restrooms, with a reflective facade mirroring the park and surrounding buildings. This cafe is not yet completed.
The land is controlled by the National Park Service, but the downtown BID is running it, and plans lots of activities this fall, including outdoor concerts each Saturday night in October (schedule of events).
What we miss about the old park
The old trees in the park were spectacular, and just a few of them remain. 63 old trees were removed during the reconstruction – 29 of them were removed because they were in poor health, and the rest were removed for the restoration plans and for storm water management. Here’s how lush the old trees looked before the reconstruction:
Prior to the restoration, the park was a center for people experiencing homelessness or wanting a place for companionship during the day. These residents and services were displaced to nearby locations during the restoration process, but it is currently unclear to what extent community groups will be allowed to resume services such as food distribution in the park.
Here are several local residents who enjoyed the community in the park before its renovation:
Franklin Park’s role in history
Franklin Park, originally called Fountain Square, became part of federal public lands in 1791. It served a critical role for the government, supplying pure spring drinking water to the White House from 1819 to 1898.
Residents built large mansions around the park in the 1800’s, believing that it would become one of the most important centers of D.C.
During the Civil War, there was a large encampment of Union soldiers after the first battle of Bull Run.
The park was always valued for its undulating terrain and has been extensively landscaped for more than a century.
Oh, and that grand statue on one end of the park? You might assume that it is Benjamin Franklin, given the name of the park, but it is actually a statue of Commodore John Barry. Barry was a naval hero in the Revolutionary War and is called “the father of the U.S. Navy.” The statue was erected in the park in 1914 but no one quite knows why it was put there (the Federal authorization was for a statue of Barry but did not specify the location), nor why the name of the park was not changed to Barry Square.