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American Society of Landscape Architects


September 2008 Issue

Well-Kept Secret
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

Well-Kept Secret
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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