STUDYING WASHINGTON PARK'S LANDSCAPE

Judy Shepard Staff writer
Section: LIVING TODAY,  Page: C1

Date: Wednesday, October 28, 1987

A historic landscape report on Albany's Washington Park will be prepared by a group of three landscape architects and historians for the Washington Park Conservancy.


The study will examine the original design of the 19th century park, how it has changed, the status of vegetation and structures and how the park is used, according to Paul Bray, an Albany attorney who serves on the planning committee of the non-profit group. "Hopefully, it will be a splendid tool for understanding the historical significance of the park landscape, and a tool for fund-raising," said Albany Parks Commissioner Richard Barrett. "I'm personally very pleased. We couldn't have gotten to this project in-house. This is what the conservancy is all about."


Bray explained that a historic landscape report is usually a prerequisite to federal or state funds for landscape preservation or restoration.


"It is a technical document and one which requires a high degree of specialization," Bray said. The budget for the project is $10,000.


The group includes Patricia M. O'Donnell of Landscapes, in Westport, Conn., a landscape architect, planner, author and editor who has worked extensively in the preservation planning for 19th century landscapes.


Joining her is historian Charles Beveridge of Washington, D.C., editor of the Frederick Law Olmsted papers and consultant to park preservation projects, and Joy Kestenbaum of New York, an art and architectural historian of 19th century architecture and landscape architecture.


Washington Park is often mistaken for an Olmsted park, which it is not, although it contains many of the elements of the work of the prominent 19th century park designer.


O'Donnell said, "Washington Park has, in a smaller park, features typical of this period condensed into a smaller area. There is a lot going on."


Nineteenth century city parks were designed to bring natural settings into cities, she said. "The parks brought a sense of freedom and openess to contrast with the confined streetscape."


Woods, water and meadows were three key elements of such a design. These elements exist in Washington Park along with others of the style such as curving paths and undulating water's edge.


But there are also the geometric, formal gardens and statuary that give the park a more intimate, fussy air, Bray said.


The report will identify goals and objectives and shape a management plan, although it is not meant to be a master plan, Bray said.


In addition to the specific historical questions of park design, the study must also reflect the general approach to park preservation.


"Just trying to restore it as a set piece is not really the intent," Bray said. "The intent is to restore and adapt. This is a public park and it has been changed by the public. You have to recognize this."


O'Donnell agreed. "The issues are not singularly historical. We need to look at existing use, future use, maintenance, and security as well. It is not realistic to expect to make people wear hoop skirts and ride in carriages."


The report is expected to be completed in June 1988. The conservancy will make it available to the city, Bray said.