AFTER POSTING “REVERSING PAST MISTAKES AT MLK PARK” THIS PAST WEEKEND, I RECEIVED AN EMAIL FROM JIM MENDOLA, BUFFALO OLMSTED PARKS CONSERVANCY (BOPC) VOLUNTEER ARCHIVIST AND HISTORIAN.
Jim was kind enough to forward me historic images of the missing Lily Pond and fountain. These fabulous images show exactly what was lost over the years. It’s hard to believe that this was how the park once appeared.
When we think of the hardships that befell The Parade (MLK Park), we think of the loss of Humboldt Parkway, which essentially disconnected the park from the rest of the park system. We spend so much time thinking about that travesty, that we hardly even realize how much of Olmsted’s original vision was eradicated.
“In 1896 the Parks Commission called for a new design for Humboldt Park to reflect its increasing use as an athletic and recreation park as opposed to Delaware Park’s pastoral themes and Front Park’s scenic location,” writes Mendola. “Frederick Law Olmsted retired in 1895 due to advancing dementia and his son John C Olmsted took over the firm and designed the new configuration to include the three water features. The wading pool (the largest in the world at the time) the lily pond and the contemplative fountain pool resulted. By the early 30s the maintenance on the lily pond and fountain were neglected and they fell into disrepair and were filled in or paved over by the 1950s. The BOPC’s “Plan for the 21st Century” publication envisions the restoration of these features and relocation of the basketball court. But given the enormity of the restoration needs of the park system, no firm date for these projects has been set as yet.”
I believe that these are the types of lessons that should be taught in local high schools. When I was young, I learned about how the US fought for its independence, how European governments functioned, about world wars, and the like, but I never learned much about my own city. I never learned about Ellicott and Olmsted and Larkin and Wright, and how they came to shape Buffalo. I never learned about the importance of the park system that was in our own backyard. I never knew that Olmsted set out to “create a city within a park, interconnected by parkways.” In fact, it was only after high school that I learned that “Olmstead” was actually spelled “Olmsted”. I’ll never forget the day that someone corrected me.
By the way, I’m not saying that the lessons lessons that I did learn were not important, I am simply of the belief that I would have greatly benefitted from learning about the place where I lived as well. Understanding a sense of one’s city is very important. It helps to strengthen our own identities. It helps us to grasp our surroundings, and how to better relate to them. Buffalo’s history is so important, whether we’re talking about industry, the environment, the growth of the nation, the inventions, the architecture, etc.
If my generation had learned more about Buffalo when we were in high school, we would know more about The Parade (MLK Park). We would know that there was once a Lily Pond and fountain. We would know what they looked like, and we would know the stories regarding their demise. We would also have a stronger understanding regarding the importance of their resurrection. From a young age, we would be armed with a sense of loss that we would carry with is for the rest of our lives. That sense of loss would translate to a want for justice, for a city that has been partially stripped of its historic roots.
Take a walkabout at MLK Park.