Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Devendorf Park

The urban plaza is one of the oldest city planning concepts. Plaza is defined as a public square that is usually centrally located, found especially in towns of the American Southwest of Spanish heritage. Similar is the “Piazza” – an open square or public place in a city or town, especially in Italy. These urban spaces are typically one square block located at the town center, and built as a place for the community to gather for civic functions and celebrations. My Dec. 6, 2009 post on Arcata Plaza features a very traditional plaza that has served as the heart of that community for over one hundred and fifty years.

A couple weeks ago I attended my granddaughter’s graduation from high school in Sonoma. Sonoma has one of the best plazas in the Bay Area. It’s one square block surrounded by thriving retail shops and restaurants. This is where the 4th of July festivities take place, art shows and family picnics. It’s a vibrant and dynamic urban space.

Devendorf Park is Carmel’s central gathering place. The land was given to the city by J. Frank Devendorf known as the Father of Carmel-By-the-Sea. He along with developer Frank Powers founded the town in 1900. Fund raising to build the park was started in 1929 by Mattie Hopper. The park occupies the block at Ocean and Junipero Avenues. The best part of the park is how it invites you in. There are entry points at each corner and a generously wide set of steps into the park from Ocean Avenue.

Second best are all the places to sit. At either side of the steps are twenty foot long stone benches, facing the street, that invite you to linger and people watch. There are stone benches at two of the four corner entries, another parallel to 6th Street, and both stone and modern wood benches within the park. Some stone benches have stone seats and others heavy wood timbers.

The center is an expanse of lawn with a narrow, curving path that connects diagonally across the open space. This path can be seen in a circa 1940 photograph but at that time it was a serpentine line of stepping stones. There are a number of war memorials - each a bronze plaque set in a granite stone – simple, dignified monuments that honor their community’s heroes.

In the original design stone was used to build the walls and for the paved areas. To make the park more accessible some of the paving stones have been lifted and re-set. In other places the original stone has been replace with concrete or exposed aggregate – less desirable but certainly better than introducing a totally different material like brick.

There is a simple, oval-shaped pond – also seen in the 1940 picture postcard. Today, a cast pedestal fountain has been added. And, drinking fountains – features often omitted from today’s parks, to avoid clogging problems. At Devendorf hand-crafted stone fountains – each unique, are located at three of the four corner entries.

This well-maintained urban oasis is shaded by several massive live oaks. Flowering perennials accent the entry at the corner of Ocean and Junipero, and there are several very old camellia japonica along the Ocean Avenue edge. That edge is defined by large, rounded cobbles set on edge and mortared in place to form a curb 12 inches high.

The entire time we spent here the park was being enjoyed by others. A family played a game on the lawn, another family sat on a group of benches, single men sat on the edge – one reading the other relaxing. Businessmen walked rapidly through the park and others walked around leisurely. This space offers a respite from the rigors of shops and galleries – a lasting gift from Frank Devendorf.

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