Thursday, March 1, 2012

After years of delays, work on the latest renovation to the Union Square park finally began on December 28, 2011. Neighbors suddenly heard the sounds of jackhammers and awoke to find heavy equipment and barricades around the fountain and pavilion in the park. Entities involved in the $437,400 project include: the Union Square Association (USA), Engineering Services of Recreation and Parks, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation (CHAP), Allied Contractors (Licensed #30489403), and Grieves Worrall Wright & O’Hatnick, Inc./Architects (GWWO).
Work starting on the fountain.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl
 
As one might expect, this major project created a spirited conversation in the Union Square social media, including the Facebook Union Square Open Group. Beginning December 29, comments were posted by Union Square residents Bill Adler, Chris Everett, Robert Greb, Graham Mooney, Fran Rahl, Salvatore Seeley, Chris Taylor, and Eboni Zook. To see the Facebook discussion, follow this link: Union Square Open Group on Facebook
Old fountain removed and granite curbing set aside for repair. Plumbing excavation started.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl.
Sometime after City water started being piped to the houses, the City closed-off the public spring house below the gazebo with a concrete ceiling about even with the sidewalks. Granite curbing and iron fence between column plinths was removed. The contractor is removing the concrete in this photo, having installed heavy timber support from underneath. I'm nervous about this step.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl.
On February 8, Union Square Association president Christopher Taylor posted the following details:
Below is an up-to-date profile of the park restoration. A representative from Park and Recs will be at USA March meeting:

Project Awarded to Allied Contractors - Licensed # 30489403-. Notice to Proceed 12/27/11. Allied has done numerous historic renovation projects (ie., Druid Hill Park Award Winning Pavilions, Wyman Dell Stone Wall, War Memorial Plaza, State Circle Annapolis, Jerusalem Mill Harford Co., to name a few). Allied is a very well qualified local contractor who has assembled the necessary subcontractors with suited required skills.
1. The Spring house demolition was completed 1/31/11 to remove top slab and brick veneer.
2. Our structural engineer toured the Spring house on 2/3/11. The existing brick bearing walls exposed were found to be in sound condition.
3. At this time there is a lull in the action on the Spring House portion while we await results of mortar sample analysis.
4. Project submittals for the reconstruction portion items are currently being submitted and reviewed for conformance to the job specs sample.
5. Upon receipt of mortar info, a new mortar will be selected and a sample panel is the next order of work.

On the Fountain end, demo is completed and items for reuse (marble, granite, fencing , historic book plaques, etc.) are being stored in Allied's Yard offsite. The existing damaged fountain head will not be used in the project but is stored on site.

Fountain details are being reviewed and material for the put back are being acquired. The new fountain head (as approved by MHT, CHAP, and the USA) will be installed as one of the last orders of work.

It should be noted this office has received several complaints concerning the work but were directed to voice their opinions through the recognized Union Square Association so this Department can be sure that all are speaking through the one association of record and the approved documents are followed as agreed upon.

Also note we have been in contact with CHAP and the City Council President's Office concerning related details. Should you desire a representative of this Department will attend your next regularly scheduled meeting.
On February 21, Melody Simmons (reporter for the Daily Record) posted "Union Square Association replacing Mencken monument"- a lengthy article detailing various aspects of the renovation.

The park has a long history that begins when the two-and-one-half acres was approved for that use and donated to the city by the Donnells on May 10, 1847. From that beginning, the park has seen many changes, new features, additions, removals, and renovations.

This earliest known illustration of Union Square was published in 1866.
Union Square Park (viewed from corner of S. Stricker and W. Lombard) Note fence with gates around the park, pavilion to the right, Willow Brook mansion in distance at left.
From "The Stranger in Baltimore" (Page 80)
"A new hand book, containing Sketches of the Early History and Present Condition of Baltimore, with a Description of its Notable Localities, and other Information useful to both Citizens and Strangers."
Illustrated. Compiled and Published 1866 by J. F. Weishampel, Jr., Bookseller and Stationer
Corner Baltimore and Eutaw Streets - Weishampel's New Monumental City Guide
In 1875, the fence around Union Square Park (as well as Franklin Square and other city squares) was removed in accordance with a Baltimore City ordinance. At the time of this illustration (1866), Mrs. Emily McTavish had already donated Willow Brook (built in 1799) - AKA the Donnell mansion - to the House of the Good Shepherd (1844) for "incorrigible and vicious white females under the age of eighteen years." Over the years, several structures and a high wall were added to the Willow Brook property - the cornerstone of the first addition (including a chapel) was laid July 10, 1886. The House of the Good Shepherd was eventually torn down (1965) to make way for the Steuart Hill Elementary School.

Architect John F. Hoss designed the iron Greek-style pavilion with fluted columns in 1850 - it covers a natural spring that was once accessible by steps and, at one time, supplied water to the B&O Railroad. The source of the name “Union Square” is uncertain but probably reflects the patriotic sentiment of this time before the Civil War.
Union Square Postcard postmarked November 1913. One of the earliest photographs of the fountain and pavilion, it is believed to be dated 1881.
Photo credit: Fran Rahl.
Later photos of the park show the original fountain, spectacular urns at the park entrances, the pavilion, and an elaborate mystery public structure on a location currently occupied by a small utility building.
Image of the park viewed from the corner of S. Gilmor and Hollins streets. The fountain is in the center with the pavilion in the distance on the left. The large structure with the elaborate roof and porch (to the right) appears to be a public space on the location currently occupied by a small park utility building.
Photo credit: The Baltimore Sun archive dated 1924.
This image was taken from the corner of S. Gilmor and W. Lombard streets. You can recognize the pavilion to the right and the fountain in the center, but the building with porch rails in the park (to the left) is a mystery. Currently, a small park utility building is in that location. Like those fabulous urns in this old photo, the original building appears to be much larger and more elaborate than the current replacements. c. 1924 (?)
The original fountain remained in the park until 1941 when it is believed to have been melted down for its iron in the war effort. This 1940 photo is the last know image of the original Union Square fountain.
Photo published in The Baltimore Sun, Aug 10, 1967 with description noting, "Residents of the Union Square section of Baltimore plan to dedicate a replica of this fountain to H L Mencken."
Photo Credit: A. Aubrey Bodine (Image ID 45-046) | Title: Union Square Baltimore | Date: 1940
Records indicate there was no fountain in the park between 1941 and 1971 until the community began an effort (noted in The Baltimore Sun 1967 article) to replace it. From the Melody Simmons article, "It was designed and purchased with proceeds from the sale of the decorative book plates and was dedicated to Mencken in 1971 during a ceremony that drew local residents, historians and then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, said JoeAnne Whitely, a former Union Square resident who spearheaded the fundraising and memorial tribute."

Between 1971 and 2011, the replacement fountain was the only fountain known by an entire generation living in Union Square. Valiant community efforts continued to keep the fountain functional until it deteriorated and eventually stopped working after the beginning of the Millennium. Similar to the 1967 effort, the community began a new fountain replacement plan in 2005.
One of the last images of the no longer functioning replacement fountain c. 2010
As Fran Rahl noted on January 8, 2012:
The fountain just removed was a well-intentioned effort on the part of the first wave to do something special with the park. Unfortunately, the design could not be cast in iron because there was no knowledgeable art casting person involved. In the end, the best that could be dome was to cast it in resin. This could not withstand the environment of weather and vandalism and finally got to point where those of us patching it together could no longer do it. There was a lot of (understandable) anguish at the notion of replacing it with a real cast iron fountain typical of the period. The Association bought the replacement from a working foundry in Birmingham. It is made from original patterns but is not as elaborate as the resin fountain. This will disappoint some folks who are emotionally invested in the resin design. Replacement was cleared by the Maryland Historical Trust, CHAP, Rec and Parks, and others, after a sincere battle on both sides of the issue. As I understand the proposed disposition of the resin fountain, the Association voted to recommend it be transferred to Franklin Square. If it is installed up there, they will have the same problems as Union Square as far as keeping it alive and safe. Since the resin fountain belongs to Rec and Parks, they will have the ultimate authority on the move. I don't go to Association meetings and am not speaking about the transfer from first-hand knowledge. Maybe someone in authority can weigh-in on this, but as I understand the plan the fountain basin, plumbing, etc will be repaired and the new iron fountain installed. The gazebo will be renovated and stabilized to extend its life and improve its appearance. Overall it's pretty exciting - not considering the disagreement over the replacement fountain.

The deterioration of the first replacement fountain was pretty severe as shown in these images.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl
The pavilion has also gone through a number of changes over the years.
Early 1980s just after first renovation. Really it was at least the second renovation, but the first one that was neighborhood-driven. Earlier major work included replacement of the roof and closure of the spring house below the gazebo. Dates unknown for that work.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl
Union Square pavilion decorated for Christmas 1986.
Photo credit: Fran Rahl
Prior to the current restoration project, deterioration of Union Square's signature landmark created serious concern about its survival.
Deteriorated roof.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl
Jan 2012 ceiling condition.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl
January 2012 deteriorated condition.
Caption and photo credit: Fran Rahl