A 27-year-old vest-pocket park with unusual detailing has stood the test
of time in Philadelphia’s dense Center City.
By Daniel Jost, Associate ASLA
Photography by Rob Cardillo
When it won an ASLA Honor Award in 1983, the jury called Chestnut Park “a
real charmer” and added, “There can probably never be enough of these.” However,
few landscape architects practicing today have heard of this small vest-pocket
park in Center City, Philadelphia’s dense downtown. That is a shame, considering
that the ASLA jury is not alone in its praise for the space.
On a comfortable summer day during lunch, there are few empty seats at Chestnut
Park. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see a guy in a suit sitting across
from a construction worker in a T-shirt. One seat is filled by Val Skinkus,
a freelancer, who often visited the park when she worked downtown. On the rare
occasions she finds herself back in the neighborhood, she makes a point of
visiting Chestnut Park for lunch, even when she’s closer to other open spaces. “This
is kind of a special space,” she says. “I used to come here a lot. I don’t
work in town anymore, but I like to come here because it’s secluded.... I love
the high walls and the vineyness. I love the gate and I love the water element.”
Karen Stankiewicz, a legal secretary, comes for lunch about once a week. Like
Skinkus, she prefers Chestnut Park to other spaces nearby. “It’s like a little
sanctuary in the middle of chaos,” she says. “It’s quiet, and there’s great
pizza next door.”
Minerva McCoy agrees. She watches her son as he plays with a leaf in the fountain. “They
should have a lot more of these,” says McCoy. She could have been reading from
the jury’s remarks.
Little has changed at Chestnut Park since it was opened in 1981. How has this
park survived nearly 30 years with few significant changes? The answer to that
question lies in how it was created and how it has been maintained. John F.
Collins, FASLA, the leading landscape architect for the project, has been involved
in the park’s maintenance since the beginning, and his company, Collins Nursery,
continues to maintain the park today.
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