The small triangle of largely ignored land across Jefferson Avenue from Alamo BBQ will become something a little more considered!
If you’ve been to the Jefferson Avenue corridor in Church Hill, you’ve driven past a little triangle of land that, while not an eyesore, isn’t fulfilling its true potential–the potential to honor two historic hill neighborhoods while providing a place for you to sit down and eat your barbecue!
Scott Wiley’s design, “Two Hill Park,” landed him $500 and a lifelong right to pace the perimeter of the park at 2221 Jefferson Avenue, with bare feet, rolled up pants legs, and a serene expression.
Why is this little triangle significant?
Well, it’s only mildly significant, and only because it is in the right place at the right time. This intersection of three streets–Jefferson Avenue, 23rd Street, and E. Clay Street–is a) right in the middle of all of the Jefferson Avenue improvements, b) also right in the middle of a very rapidly revitalizing area, and c) located on the now pretty much meaningless border between Church Hill proper and Union Hill.1
Jefferson Avenue? Never heard of it!
You either don’t live in Church Hill or you live in Church Hill but do not deign to go north of Broad Street. Allow me to enlighten! Jefferson runs diagonally up across the street grid, starting at 21st and Marshall and cutting over to M at 25th Street. It’s broad in its girth, and it conveniently does away with the impediments created by stop signs. However, draw a diagonal line across graph paper and see how many tiny triangles you end up with–these tiny triangles are potential for weirdly confusing intersections or minute jungles full of unchecked growth and possibly trash.
Not on Scott Wiley’s watch!
3HC, the “junior board” of the Better Housing Coalition decided to have a competition for a design for the park. Some may use the word “crowdsourcing,” and some may follow that word with a “frowning devil mask emoji,” but you have to admit that it’s a very cheap way to get a working design for a park while keeping the community involved. And who knows whether or not this would even be possible without the contest? It would certainly have to be a grant of some sort, externally initiated, so why not source it out to the community?
You can read about the process at jeffersonpocketpark.com, or you can view their Commission of Architectural Review application and the corresponding staff report here.
Remind me real quick why we’re talking about this little triangle?
Because the process of turning a small piece of land into a park is fascinating, and it’ll be interesting to stay abreast of the progress.
Listen, there’s a thing called the Old and Historic Districts of Richmond, Virginia Handbook & Design Review Guidelines (PDF). And the Old’n’Historics, as we should all be calling them, throw a ton of hurdles up to protect our venerable aged neighborhoods from losing their vibes. Their job is to make sure you don’t put up ugly storm windows or paint your house with the Noodles & Co. logo. In my opinion, they don’t drive around enough, because a house on my block has a hand-painted sign above their front door that says “THE BURROW.” In other words, the Commission for Architectural Review is doing holy work, assuming they get around to the Burrow’s residents. Gentlemen, we are not Frat Row.2
Anyway, the competition had to be blessed by surrounding neighbors and businesses. According to all the available documentation, it was, but no specific testimonials were provided. The application was submitted to the Commission on Architectural Review on November 20th, and was passed on the consent agenda on Tuesday, December 15th on the condition that the area be better lit (and a “Gateway Sign” be more clearly defined–no word on whether or not that’s because they are worried that if there’s no plan in place, the sign could turn out to be a gross 1987-style teal palm tree on top of a squiggly pink brush mark) (not to be alarmist).
So what will it look like? Will it have a water feature connecting two symbolic hills?
How…how did you know?
The real reason we’re so into Two Hill Park, as is the name of Wiley’s design, is because of the sheer complexity of this design. Currently, the triangle consists of split rail fences that are in various stages of disrepair, some frequently overgrown grass and clover, and a tree or two. It’s kind of charmingly 18th century, if you like simplicity.
If you don’t, you’re gonna get way, WAY into Two Hill Park.
This looks like a huge undertaking! I thought this triangle was supposed to be teeny
It’s the size of, say, a nice-sized living room. I can’t find the specs anywhere, but you could fit both a Maggie Walker statue and a tree, for instance. Not that you’d ever sully a tree with the likeness of a strong woman, but just for the sake of argument, imagine Maggie, a tree, and maybe a couple of benches to admire their juxtaposition.
But this is why I’m not a park designer!
Scott Wiley’s plan turns the wedge of land into a little scale model of Church Hill and Union Hill, divided by flowing water. The ravine! The ravine is back! Augh! A tiny Union Market will never be able to set up shop in this tiny world without tumbling into the tiny river!
Sounds fun, what other highly thought-out elements does the plan have?
Let’s see, there’s:
Gateway Corridor–A clearly ordered abstract geometry reinforces four distinct quadrants, modeling a delicate intervention on the site. The four quadrants balance and unify the site reflecting a contemporary reinvention of the historical gateway, landforms and drainage divide.
Gateway Plaza–Concentric rings of granite cobbles from historic Richmond Streets encircle a spring representing the origin of the draw between the two hills.
Not to mention the suggested list of trees and shrubs:
- Japanese Apricot
- Evergreen holly
- A ton more, you can see above
Then of course you have brick pavers, custom benches, river gravel (this better be taken from the actual James or I’m outta here), bike racks, tree grates, and boulders.
To sum up, it’s going to be a huge bummer when that first car gets confused by the adjacent oblong traffic circle and careens right into this complex tableau.
If you have a moment…
Check out some of the other finalists’ plans, quotes from which I pasted below but then deleted. I have learned that people will really go all out for a pretty minor cash prize.
What will Scott Wiley do with his $500 Visa gift card?
He has made no public statement as of yet!
- Sure wish we could just call a spade a spade and admit Union Hill was annexed by Church Hill long ago. They are literally no longer two separate hills, as the ravine that separated them was filled, Jefferson Avenue was born, many years of seediness and abandonment followed, and then Alamo arrived. Wait, wait, wait. Could that be true? Is Alamo BBQ responsible for everything Church Hill? ↩
- Whoa, I am both old and historic, it seems. ↩