Photos by David Kramer April 23rd and 24th, 2020
On Thursday my tour of the Barbers of Monroe ended at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square. Earlier in the month, Remembering April 4th, 1968 , I followed King’s career in the civil rights movement — his arch of history — etched on the Timeline at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park.
As I approached the park, I realized I’d never looked closely at the murals designed by Shawn Dunwoody that pay homage to the park’s namesake, along with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, and compliment King’s words inscribed above the terrace fountain. Dunwoody led a team of volunteer painters in transforming the monochromatic modernist “concrete jungle” — to use Shawn’s phrase — into a space of postmodern pastiche: mixing vibrant colors — shades of turquoise, green, purple — words, images, stars and a celestial constellation.
The formerly un-picturesque concrete monolith facing Chestnut Street now gleams with a kind of urban graffiti that turns history into art. One structure that looked like a military pillbox is now splashed with vivid red and white stripes.
Shawn says that people often tell him they saw color from a distance and felt drawn to it. So was I. [SEE ALL PHOTOS BELOW]
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square, formerly Manhattan Square Park, is a rich downtown resource. People party in the park, ice skate, use the playground, touch the waterfall, attend vegan festivals, and watch daredevils scale the Five Star Bank Building during the Fringe Festival.
The website, The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin: Manhattan Square Park 1971-76 • ROCHESTER, NY, provides a history of the site designed by Lawrence Halprin. Halprin envisioned his parks and landscape architecture as urban gardens and open space stages. Shawn’s flower-like murals with their opulent colors and dotted with primordial stars extend Halprin’s vision.
This five-acre site in the East End district of downtown was occupied by tenements prior to 1968, when the city cleared 60 acres for urban renewal. Designed by Lawrence Halprin in 1971-1972, this park was the centerpiece of the Southeast Loop Plan, an open space surrounded by largely unrealized high-density development.
One of Halprin’s most multi-purpose facilities, the park opened in 1974 — a reprieve from congested urban living. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic were separated via Park Drive (now Manhattan Square) and a sky-lit underpass below Chestnut Street. Halprin’s spatial organization alludes to the historic city street grid, 45 degrees off the current city layout. The park was divided into six zones, including a children’s play area with a wading pool, a hockey rink that converted to tennis and basketball courts, a large meadow for athletic events, a bermed seagarden shaded by a grove of trees, and a wide, tree-shaded promenade. The focal point is a sunken, concrete plaza containing a 2,000-seat amphitheater with a restaurant, and a waterfall fountain. A steel scaffold-like frame with viewing platforms and an observation tower allows visitors to experience the plaza from a different perspective. The park’s complex, multi-level spaces were realized through concrete steps and retaining walls arranged in angular patterns.
Today the amphitheater plaza with its steel frame, garden, and promenade remain intact. The children’s play area was updated in the 1990s and the skating rink was redesigned to double as a reflecting pool in 2008. In 2013, it was renamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square.
We’ve been the MLK park on several occasions. I hung out in the Party in the Park with Melissa Barrett during her campaign for Monroe County Court Judge.
And boot skated with yoga instructor Mel Thomas.Che “Of the Town” Holloway also took to the rink, albeit with skates on. My earliest memories of Manhattan Square Park are from the mid-1970s when my grandparents moved from Woodstock, NY (after having lived many decades in Manhattan while wintering in Ft. Lauderdale, FL) into 10 Manhattan Square.
After Louis died, ever the entrepreneur, Anya opened Keni Imports and Exports near her apartment, and also took creative writing classes at MCC. I remember going to the wading pond and waterfall just outside 10 Manhattan Square.
Mostly, I remember evenings at 10 Manhattan Square where Anya taught me how to play poker. In her and Louis’ Hoyle’s Official Rules of Card Games, Anya must have read the sections, “Teaching Card Games to Children” and “Card Playing Etiquette.” Anya agreed with Hoyle; “Familiarity with playing cards and card games can be of tremendous educational and psychological benefit to children, and offers them immediate pleasure as well as lasting advantages.”
For adults — according to the up-to-date rule book — an ability to play card games like poker is a “social asset” in which popularity and good manners are more important than skill. Apparently, card playing reveals much about a person. For example, clumsiness in shuffling and dealing gives a bad impression. This bad impression has consequences beyond an evening of cards: “People associate awkwardness of one sort with awkwardness or ineptness of other sorts.”
Hoyle’s maxims remind me of the saying, “lucky at cards, unlucky in love.”¹ Anya’s poker sessions in 10 Manhattan Square must have set the course for all my future pursuits of money and amore. To this day, I can not determine if Anya taught me well or poorly.
¹ “Those who have the best fortune in pursuits of skill or chance end up having very poor fortune in the pursuit of romantic relationships.” Example: “Great opportunities have always fallen into his lap, and his talent has carried him to an incredibly successful position in his company. Despite all that, he is utterly hopeless when he tries to meet women. Lucky at cards, unlucky in love, I suppose.”
Or, Prov. “If you frequently win at card games, you will not have happy love affairs.” (Can imply the converse, that if you do not win at card games, you will have happy love affairs.)” Example: “Fred: I wish I was George. He always wins tons of money at our poker games. Alan: Don’t be jealous of him. Lucky at cards, unlucky in love.” (the freedictionary)
Across Chestnut Street in front of the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center of the College at Brockport is one Olivia Kim’s stainless steel sculptures of Frederick Douglass.
The park was deserted during my visits. I did meet one man, an EOC maintenance worker clearing debris near the Douglass statue. Wearing a mask, as the man said, is the new normal. With students and faculty gone, the man’s hours have been cut. The workers have been able to fully sanitize the EOC buildings. He mentioned he often sees people seeing the colors of the mural and being drawn to them. I asked him about the nearby bell and flag. He said the bell is rung at graduation and other major ceremonies. I hope King would hear in the bell the sound of freedom.