City Hall

Barefoot in the Park Pavilion, or: How the City's Putting Art Into Neighborhoods

On Sunday we took a look at the new pavilions at Brownwood Park on Walnut Hill Lane, just as they were getting their finishing touches following some issues with a contractor that tried to cut corners. At which point Willis Winters, assistant director of Park and Rec, told us the tin tipis were but the latest installments in the city's ongoing Park Pavilion Program, which has received little attention -- because, well, the city's done little to promote it.

Earlier this week, though, Winters invited Unfair Park to City Hall to browse the models and conceptual renderings currently encased in Plexiglas in Park and Rec's sixth-floor offices. He's quite proud of the nearly two dozen pavilions planted in the last couple of years -- rightly so, since one (the Laguarda.Low-designed St. Augustine Park Pavilion seen above), took home Best in Show honors at last year's American Institute of Architects Dallas Design Awards -- besting Cowboys Stadium, matter of fact. And Winters himself is responsible for two, including the Randall Park Pavilion across the street from Woodrow Wilson High School.

On the other side is a brief Q&A with Winters. But more important, you will find a briefing given to the park board only last month -- the first ever about the program, which launched, quietly, with the 1999 redo of the Lindsley Park Pavilion at the request of neighbors. Winters was also kind enough to provide us with an alphabetically ordered list of all the pavilions -- along with their price tags and architects, from recognizable locals to hot-shot national designers who wanted to be part of the program.

(One thing Winters especially likes about the program is that it pairs outsiders with natives. For instance, the Webb Chapel Park pavilion, which the park board voted on today, is a partnership with New York's Wendy Evans Joseph, who did the Women's Museum in Fair Park, and our own Quimby McCoy.)

Says Winters, "We're trying to bring quality architecture into all the neighborhoods of Dallas. It instills pride in the parks." These, he insists, are as important to the area as the Big Projects -- the venues at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, say, or Cowboys Stadium.  "When architects come here to see the Arts District or whatever, we can add this to the list of attractions," says Winters.

Much more on the other side. Pretty pictures too!

Dallas's parks are, for lack of a better word, beleaguered these days. Obviously the tax hike was intended to help the parks, but that's to keep them from slipping further and further from our grasp. When you look at these pavilions in total, they are in some way the ultimate statement of affection for and appreciation of the parks in a way that perhaps mowing the grass and picking up trash are not.

They represent that the neighborhood park is important to the city, and the city of Dallas is making a major investment over and above a standard catalog pavilion that would have cost one-fourth or one-fifth of the price. It's a major investment, and the briefing has some cost comparisons. And, yeah, they're more expensive. But they're worth it. They show the neighbors, the users, that neighborhood parks are just as important as the money we're putting into the Arboretum or the Dallas Zoo or Fair Park. This is how we're showing it.

How many neighborhood parks are there?

There are 365 parks in Dallas, and maybe a fourth of them are neighborhood parks. We saw 42 of these ugly pavilions that were built in the '60s, when Dallas was really growing and new subdivisions were being built and parks were being put into these subdivisions, and these T pavilions designed by park engineers were part of that standard package of improvements plopped into these neighborhood parks. There would be a playground, a pavilion and maybe a basketball court.

About 25 of these are done or in the planning stage. How did you decide where they went?

Well, as you'll see in the briefing, the first one that got us going was in Hollywood-Santa Monica in 1999. The neighborhood association approached us and said, "We want to do a master plan of the park," and we started talking about a custom pavilion that fit into the architecture of the neighborhood. The pavilion reflects the Tudor-esque roof pitch of the neighborhood homes, and that design was so successful we adapted it for another park in South Dallas. That launched us in the '03 bond program.

Was the council always for it?

We really didn't publicize it. [He laughs.] I wanted it to speak for itself. But it was part of the '03 bond program, and after those were built, we put more in the '06 bond program.

This briefing was a month ago. Was this the first? Because there hasn't been much, if anything, said about these since they began popping up.

I don't seek publicity for what we do.

But, see, Brownwood Park's near my house. Webb Chapel Park, when that goes up, is near my son's school. But I won't ever see most of these parks. I won't know, unless I'm told, that there's a larger vision at work here. And so these things remain a secret.

We may have done another status briefing a few years ago. But what prompted this briefing was, we had a new park board member who started to question the pavilions that were coming forward for design and construction. The park board member questioned the expenditure of funds against the backdrop of the budget problems. So we put this briefing together to show that person what the relative costs were and that there wasn't an increase in operating costs. And it costs as much to maintain a new pavilion as it does one of the old ones. And I think they appreciated the briefing and were very satisfied and are not very much in support of the program. But otherwise, we never would have briefed the board.

And then they'd remain a secret ...

Well, the next step is to put together a guide, not just for tourists but the people who live here. And put something online and do an interpretive tour of the pavilions -- who the architects were and what they were thinking. It's just the matter of finding the money to do something like that.

Isn't it always.PB Briefing - Pavilions-10!7!2010 [Compatibility Mode] List of Custom Park Pavilions

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky