At a rainy ceremony today, Chestnut Park became John F. Collins Park, renamed to honor the pocket park’s designer who passed away in 2011.
Collins designed Chestnut Park in the 1970s, as a serene pocket park amid the hardscape of Center City, slipped into the 1700 block of Chestnut Street. The park was built by Dorothy Haas after she visited Manhattan’s Paley Park, and decided Philadelphia should have a similar pocket park.
“Today we all take for granted that quality urban spaces are part of great cities. John was really a visionary and pioneer in that in this park and several other spaces,” said Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District. Collins also designed the Society Hill walkways, Three Bears Park, early designs for Schuylkill River Park.
Collins’ son, also named John, said, “Of all the places the Delta Group designed in Philadelphia, Chestnut Park more than any other held a special place in my father’s heart. The park easily received as much, if not more, of his personal attention than our own backyard in Mt. Airy.”
After Chestnut Park opened 1979 Collins coordinated its maintenance for decades, conscripting anyone willing to help keep the park up. Collins’ son said his father “often was discouraged with the neglect and lack of maintenance he witnessed in many of his firm’s projects. Given the park’s small scale, he believed it offered a chance to personally demonstrate that it was possible to keep a public space clean, lush and beautiful as it aged gracefully.”
For more than three decades, Chestnut Park was owned by the PenJerDel Foundation, and in 2010 was transferred to the Center City District (CCD). Thanks to support from the William Penn Foundation*, CCD engaged KieranTimberlake architects to refurbish Chestnut Park, and after a year of construction the park reopened in April 2011. Today the park hews to Collins’ design intent, but is refreshed. The park feels more transparent and inviting thanks to new gates that complement Christopher Ray’s decorative metalwork and improved lighting.
Here are some images of Chestnut Park from Summer 2011 and Wednesday’s ceremony renaming the park for John F. Collins:
* Funding for Eyes on the Street comes through a grant to PlanPhilly from the William Penn Foundation.