Construction moves forward to restore Memorial Park’s grandeur

Construction moves forward to restore Memorial Park’s grandeur
Construction at historic Memorial Park in Riverside is expected to be completed by the Fall. Photo by Michele Leivas.

Time travel may not exist, but Jacksonville’s Memorial Park Association is opening a window to the past by working to restore Memorial Park to its original grandeur.

Through the association’s construction committee for the Spirit of Victory campaign to restore Memorial Park per the “Master Plan” — established in 2013 — construction is currently underway on the park’s esplanade.

The Memorial Park Association’s Spring 2022 newsletter announced that “design documents have been finalized for the reconstruction and refurbishment along the Esplanade. This will serve as a beautiful complement to the new balustrade along the river’s edge.”

Pattie Houlihan, chair of the construction committee, said lighting is an area of focus for this current phase of construction — namely, the path lights installed down the center of the green along the esplanade. Those will be removed and lighting will be restored to the walkway side of the oval along the esplanade according to the park’s original design. Lights have already been restored along the bulkhead balustrade, as they were back when the park opened in 1924.

“The beauty of good design, whether it’s landscape or built or urban planning or whatever — you find that the things that are most successful are the least likely to have dramatic changes,” Houlihan said. “So with Memorial Park, we really have been very fortunate that we have been saddled with the restoration and refurbishment of this park that was beautifully designed.”

Precast & Restoration Services, Inc. is the contractor for this project and owner James Malenfant said he considers working on public projects like this as a way of giving back to his community and is always mindful of the historic element in this kind of work.

“I respect history and I try to hold to the historic specs,” he said.  “We do a lot of restoration work — this isn’t necessarily restoration work but you try to replace like with like and try to continue the legacy of the architecture and the original intent of the original architect.”

While the Memorial Park Association maintains and preserves the park and is overseeing its refurbishment and restoration, the park itself is owned by the City and Houlihan said the City has been “incredibly cooperative and absorbing as much as they feel comfortable with given that it’s a city park and we have a lot of parks in Jacksonville.”

“Ensuring that Memorial Park is preserved and maintained to current standards while also preserving the historic integrity of the park is an exciting mission that we work closely with the Memorial Park Association to accomplish,” said Director of Parks, Recreation and Social Services Daryl Joseph in an e-mail. “We imagine the work that we are jointly doing today will ensure that Memorial Park is a Jacksonville destination for years to come.”

In 2016, the Memorial Park Association launched its Spirit of Victory campaign to fund the refurbishments and restorations made thus far. Houlihan said the association hopes to have the current phase of construction completed by mid-Fall and the work overall complete in time for the park’s 100th anniversary in 2024.

“We’ve got a lot of work to get done over the next year and a half but we’re ready, willing and able,” Houlihan added. “…We have some work to do with historic markers so the committee is working pretty strongly on that right now and we also will be working equally as intensely on a donor recognition feature. Of course we want to recognize the City’s willingness and ability to help us with the park but also our many donors including the Rotary Club of Jacksonville whose idea it really was to bring this park to Jacksonville.”

What began as a place and a way to memorialize lives lost in WWI has transformed, over the years, into a space for friends and family to come together and make new memories while acknowledging, respecting and remembering the history surrounding them.

“People love the park and that really makes me happy,” said Houlihan. “…It’s really nice to see it get used and loved the way it is loved.”

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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