Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park
A successful city is comprised of cultural institutions, events, restaurants, history, and livable spaces. Most importantly, it's made up of people, people who take pride in the city and work to maintain a small corner of that city. Many individual people preserving the beauty of small corners make a unified grand city. This article is about the history of that group that protects and enhances our neighborhood outdoor living room, Matthias Baldwin Park.
We have an early article on the website about the history of the Park (here). There is also an overview of the Park's genesis as part of the Franklin Town Development Project here and here. This article gives the history of the Friends group itself.
The photos below show the Park in 1991. We had a Park then, but there was no Friends group because there were so few committed people surrounding the Park. In general, with notable exceptions, neighborhood investment of time, money, and labor is greater by homeowners. The Hamilton Townhomes were built in 1976 through 1978 and were mostly owner-occupied. The high-rises including Buttonwood Square (now City View and condos), Museum Tower (now NxNW), the Fountains at Logan Square East (now the Watermark), and One Franklin Town were rental apartments built from 1975 through 1987.
Two photos from 1991 of what was then Franklin Town Park.
The top photo is from the southeast and the bottom from the northeast.
In June of 1991, after the Park was finished but before the official dedication, an event planner who lived in Museum Towers was hired to have a coming-out party for the Park. A fundraiser event with local restaurants selling their wares was to have 25% of proceeds donated to "The Friends of Franklin Town Park," although that event is the last that anyone ever heard of that Friends group for 16 years.
Invitation for the food festival in June of 1991.
In the lower right is a mention of the Friends of Franklin Town Park, but this was an event organized by a professional event planner rather than part of a grass roots Friends group. Reportedly 2,000 people attended the event and $1500 was raised.
The Franklin Town Park was formally dedicated June, 1992.
Without sustained commitment by the neighbors, the Park fell into decline. By 2007, lights were broken. The retaining walls and park benches were falling apart. Many trees and plants had died. "What do you think of that public park on 19th Street? Do you want to join other concerned people next week to discuss what we can do? " That is how the Friends began with Mel Seligsohn as he buttonholed people who walked by his condo on Hamilton Street. It was as simple as that. On a cold November evening in 2007, neighbors of the Park got together to resurrect a working Friends of Franklin Town Park, a group to work with Parks and Recreation to salvage the run-down Park.
Committees were appointed. The Planning Committee (Sandy, Mel) was to investigate obtaining an historical marker for the Baldwin Locomotive Works, explore options for the barren strip of land behind the fence on the south side of the Park, and also work to obtain better lighting in the Park. A Community Committee was to make plans for integrating the anticipated residential growth around the Park and work with the City to solve the homeless situation. A Clean-up Committee (Frank, Mary, Mel, and Seamus) was formed to organize volunteer litter pick-up events.
Sandy obtained an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and Paul did the paperwork necessary for the Friends to get non-profit status in 2012. Plans were drawn up to increase membership.
The Friends first president, Seamus Kearney, supervises a clean-up and replanting effort in 2008.
That year saw a significant repair and replanting of the Park.
One of the early successes for the group was in securing the State historical marker that is now in the northwest corner of the Park on 19th Street. Sandy Owens did the research and paperwork to get the authorization for the marker. At that time the Friends of the Park had copious enthusiasm but little money. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and its then vice-president and Park neighbor Dennis Boylan, came through with the money to purchase the marker.
Invitation for the State historical marker dedication in 2009.
The text on the marker is the bottom paragraph.
The early Friends also tried to get the community more involved with the Park. Yearly picnics were held every year from 2008 to the present, the last few in conjunction with Parks on Tap.
The Friends of Franklin Town Park also worked to get the name of the Park changed. The major impetus was to acknowledge the industry that really defined this neighborhood's post-Bush Hill years. Another major reason: 40 years on, a resentment still simmered against the Franklin Town Development, which leveled the area and then put building on hold. The "city-within-a-city" announced in 1971, to be completed in ten years, had stalled after the demolitions, leaving plenty of surface parking available.
The Friends were successful in this renaming effort, and in January 2011 the name of the Park was officially changed to Matthias Baldwin Park (or for those of us on a last-name basis, just Baldwin Park).