Fort Wayne has wonderful parks worthy of envy from bigger and more affluent cities partly because of the generosity of local benefactors. Mayor Tom Henrys decision to work with the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust to improve the visibility of the Gen. Anthony Wayne statue in Freimann Square rather than moving it to the Courthouse Green ensures both that parks remain treasures and that the donors intent is respected.
The mayor truly does have a passion for the visibility of this monument; he really does, said Al Moll, the citys parks and recreation director. He feels strongly about it and I think once he sees the improvements that can be made by the help of the Preservation Trust, hell be just as proud of it being in Freimann with the community behind it as he would have been if we moved it.
On Tuesday, the Fort Wayne City Council was prepared to discuss a resolution opposing Henrys plan to move the statue. But Moll, accompanied by Preservation Trust members Ian Rolland and Madelane Elston, appeared at the end of the table to share the welcome news that the mayor had decided to take the group up on its offer to raise $100,000 to make needed improvements.
The mayors agreement to accept the Trusts offer also means that the wishes of the donors who contributed to the Courthouse Green will continue to be honored.
Ione Auer, a Fort Wayne philanthropist who died in 2007 at the age of 103, contributed millions of dollars to make Fort Wayne a better place to live. Most of her gifts have gone to the arts, but a donation of $600,000 from Auer also made the Courthouse Green possible.
When that park was done, she said to me that the park was the most important thing she has ever done, said Jack Lehman, retired CEO of Fort Wayne National Bank and co-chair of the fundraising committee for the Allen County Courthouse renovation and the Courthouse Green. She said that to me on more than one occasion.
Lehman, a longtime friend of Auers, said he suspects she would be upset about the addition of a statue because that is contrary to the purpose for which she donated her money.
According to the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trusts guide, The park is intended to be a quiet place from which to view the courthouse with no monuments or statues.
Shortly after the Courthouse was dedicated in 1902, complaints arose because the view of the main east side entrance was blocked by a row of buildings separated from the ornate building by only a narrow alleyway. In 1909, the renowned urban designer Charles Mulford Robinson proposed clearing the buildings all the way to the river on the east side of the Courthouse to create an esplanade similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and an unobstructed view.
In the 1990s, businessman Dick Waterfield spent more than three years and $3 million to buy all the property between the Courthouse and Clinton Street. He had plans for an office building. Instead, he chose to resell the property – at a considerable loss – to the Redevelopment Commission for about $1.8 million to make the vision of the Courthouse Green a reality.
Waterfield said the intent of the Courthouse Green was to pay homage to the Robinson plan to keep it a horizontal park.
Thats not to say I dont think the general should be honored, Waterfield said. I think the Trusts solution to put more lighting to highlight the statue is good. Im very pleased with the decision.
Robyn Zimmerman, the Trusts executive director, said the plan calls for altering the landscaping surrounding the statue and adding lighting.
Its really a simple plan that will make a dramatic difference, Zimmerman said.
Elston, president of the Preservation Trust, said a plan was drafted by RATIO Architects of Indianapolis, the same firm that designed the Courthouse Green. She also emphasized that the Trust wanted to work with park officials to tweak the plan.
The park system will only retain its glory if residents continue to contribute to the parks. The mayor was wise to compromise on this issue. It gives future park benefactors more confidence their wishes will be honored.