The first phase was when the most famous Olmsted jumped into the profession of “landscape gardening” to create Central Park. Then came a second phase when he took on partners. Two of his partners died prematurely, and in these deaths the last and longest phase began when his sons ran things as the Olmsted Brothers. The combined efforts of these phases represent over a hundred years of work. Anderson Park falls squarely into the third phase of the firm’s projects.
To avoid too much history about the park and Olmsted, I want to say a few things about the park itself. For one, it is striking and visually appealing without knowing anything about who designed it or how it came to be. The backstory is really interesting (and maybe I can write about it some other time), but I love going to places for the present moment. It’s hard to separate the aesthetic of Anderson from its designers. Many of the reasons it’s so beautiful are the hallmark elements from the Olmsteds…big grassy lawns, beautiful trees and rolling hills, but you don’t have to know these things are hallmarks of his style to enjoy the park.
The first time I went there, I entered the park from Bellevue Ave. To the north of Bellevue is a train station and to the south Anderson Park opens toward Parkside Place. At first, I wasn’t thinking much of the entrance. I’ve been in lots of parks and I’m not usually expecting anything wonderful. However, as you walk into the park from Bellevue, the rolling hills begin to create a sense of everlasting nature just beyond the trees. This effect is all the more exaggerated because the south end where Parkside Place borders it is probably two or three times wider.
The other thing is that the park is well maintained. If anything makes a green space stand out it is if it is managed. Urban parks use to be the crown jewel of cities and towns. So many of these incredible parks have been forgotten and neglected. It seems that there’s more interest in open spaces these days, and a rebirth of attention and funding is flowing to city parks. In general, there’s still more parks unkempt than maintained…and I thought this would be one of them.
One of the most important ingredients for a park to stay beautiful and attractive is for local residents and business owners to take an active role in its stewardship. Anderson has that in the form of Friends of Anderson Park. From what I saw, they are doing a damn good job.
Central Park has the Great Lawn and Sleep Meadow. Anderson Park also as a wide-open lawn that is the majority of the locale. It is a teardrop-like shape that pushes a walking path to run along its perimeter. A small lawn is to the southeast of the park and has a similar shape. It seems like the smaller lawn has some water issues, something my youngest son discovered when he ran headlong into the grass. Within a few steps it went from dry to soggy to ankle deep water wet. The grass in the smaller lawn isn’t manicured as the larger…I’m guessing because it’s so wet. The longer grass gives the space a more natural feel. A large weeping willow stands at the far corner and only makes the naturalistic sensibility more brilliant and inspired. I know that stormwater is an issue all over the place in north New Jesery. I work with lots of clients to address soggy backyards and basements.
The trees in the park do wonders, and are nearly magical. The tree line to the east of the park hides the train tracks to the point of having them disappear from even memory. The thick thicket though breaks up with trees standing out in the lawn away from the others. These escapees heighten the sense of openness by expressing how the openness is limited here. A downtown area is just past the railroad tracks. The downtown is covered with buildings, sidewalks and streets…and beyond that are more and more streets of houses upon houses upon houses. In all the other directions there is everything except open, public space…and yet when I look at the isolated trees surrounded by lawn it feels like none of that exists.
Olmstead parks are all over the place in New Jersey. I’ve read that there are at least 20 of them in Essex County (the county of which Montclair resides) alone. The neighboring county of Union has a bunch more. Frederick himself designed significant parks in Newark, NJ that is only a few minutes down the road. I’m hoping to drag my family to as many as possible. Any excuse for fresh air and design is good for me.