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A Park With A View

When Registered Landscape Architect William Wallis of William John Wallis & Associates was asked by Architect Frank Fernandez in 1991 to join with him in a design effort of the reconstruction of Donnelly/Veteran's Memorial Park of West New York, New Jersey, it was "like a dream come true." Mr. Wallis had had his eyes on this stretch of land running for six blocks along the top of the Palisades on Boulevard East for many years, seeing great opportunity to more closely respond to the needs of this urban community with very little open space.

"The existing facility was very overgrown with a grove of plane trees planted in the '30's when the park was originally constructed," said Wallis. "The result was a dark and rather forbidding space that was little used and very poorly lit at night." Another unfortunate result was that the breathtaking views of the Manhatten skyline that encompass the location were obliterated by this grove of trees and the underbrush that had taken over the edge of the Palisades.

When Fernandez approached Wallis in 1991, Mr. Fernandez had been informed that the funding proposal for phase I of the project had been approved by Greenacres, a provider of state funding for park reconstruction. This phase was the reconstruction of the northern section, which is known as Donnelly Park. The southern section of the park is Veteran's Park, with memorials to veteran's of World War I and World War II. "Fortunately," said Wallis, "the town planner and town officials saw the wisdom in using these funds to open up this area and create some real recreation space." The plan to open the space would of course include the removal of many of the trees that were on the location. In fact, at firstand this caused Greenacres to hesitate in providing funding , in the anticipation that removing trees would cause a public outcry. It is important to know that this park was what Mr. Wallis referred to as "a perfect example of a monoculture gone wrong." The trees in the original park were all of a single species - Platanus occidentalis - the London Plane tree. This species of tree is afflicted all along the Eastern seaboard with Anthracnose, a soil-borne virus. "We're planting trees at a rate of three to one for those removed and underplanting the existing canopy with more than a half dozen species so that this problem will not exist in the future," said Wallis.

Despite these efforts to solve the tree problem, while at the same time creating the much needed open space, there remained fears of a negative public response. The designers responded by compromising away a playing field that was to double as an ice rink during the winter months in order to leave more of the existing trees. What really calmed the nerves of everyone, though, was at the ground-breaking ceremony, when William John Wallis & Associates and Frank Fernandez unveiled the rendering of Donnelly Park (see photo), which showed the potential beauty of the park once the trees were removed.

Presently, the trees have been removed, revealing the Manhatten skyline to the residents of this urban community that had been closed in for so long. With the additions to the active recreation areas and the introduction of two new play areas in these newly organized spaces, the community now has room to play. LASN

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June 18, 2019, 8:44 am PDT

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