By John Schaffner
Peter Walker is a world-renowned landscape architect who at the moment is working on the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City. A decade or so ago, he was convinced to come to Buckhead and take a look at the potential for the triangle park at the intersection of Peachtree and Roswell roads, now known as the Charles Loudermilk Park.
Walker’s reaction to the small triangle in Buckhead, according to those who helped bring him here, was: “This is the most important triangle in the southeastern United States.”
He said he felt it was the “gateway not only to Buckhead, but to Atlanta and the Southeast,” those who met with him recall. They claim he said the park had “huge potential.”
Getting Walker to come to Buckhead to look at a very small park was taking a wild shot in the dark, even a decade ago. He already was well known and respected in the world of park landscape innovators. But come he did, for a plane ticket and some expenses.
The person who footed most of the bill was longtime Buckhead developer and business leader George Rohrig. Rohrig had adopted the park at the time. He was “rocking and rolling developing in Buckhead,” said Rebecca Young, a longtime friend who now owns Rebecca Boutique in the West Village area of Buckhead.
Walker did draw up a concept plan for the park, one that Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell said was “one of the most dramatic ideas” of several proposed over the years.
Those who heard Walker present his ideas at an event at the Atlanta History Center claim he said, “You would never experience the park by walking through it. So, you really need to experience it from driving by in your car.”
Walker’s first recommendation, according to those who met with him, was that from the point at which you enter the area (where Peachtree and Roswell roads intersect) to where you leave it (just beyond Sardis Way), there should be cobblestones on the roadways and throughout the park, so that people know they are experiencing the park.
Walker believed that, regardless of what happens around the park, “the park is still timeless on its own.”
Walker could not be sure what the future would be for Buckhead but he felt, regardless of what goes on around it, the park needs to stand the test of time, according to those who heard him speak of his plan.
“It is a statement of Atlanta. It is the hub of the Southeast,” they claim he said.
They said Walker believed the park needed water, because people are drawn to water. He uses irrigation systems for his water treatments, so they are low maintenance.
His final point was that the water feature needs to constantly change its appearance. He said that will bring the park to life. People would want to go to see what the park is doing in the morning, at midday, and at night.
What he came up with was a thin fountain that created a wall of water, according to those who saw his drawings. He had a few benches, cobblestones and a wall of water. He suggested not doing flowers. If shrubs were included, he would want meaningful mounds of greenery. He did include tall trees in his plan, but no short trees that could obstruct the view of the wall of water for those driving by.
One of those who attended that presentation a decade or so ago said the architect declared his plan “completely simple and completely powerful.”
Massell recently recalled, “Rohrig suggested a 7- or 8-foot wall with cascading water on both sides that would run from the point of the park to Sardis Way.
Over the years, according to Massell, there have been a few different concepts presented for the park, which is located where Buckhead got its start. Some involved re-routing Roswell Road through Sardis Way to Peachtree and extending the park in front of the strip of shops that includes the new Buckhead Theatre. Another plan, created as part of the Buckhead Blueprint, called for creating a square park at the location.
Many people in Buckhead thought Walker’s plan for the park was “amazing.”
They say it wasn’t expense that kept it from becoming a reality. It was that a few very influential people didn’t like the design—at least one because it drew visual attention away from business.
The Buckhead Alliance is now studying a new design for Charles Loudermilk Park. The alliance has had at least two community sessions to obtain public input on the plan they have had drawn up.
Maybe rather than getting public input on just one plan, we should be putting all of the previous plans on the table —including the plan Peter Walker drew up a decade or so ago. After all, his landscape plans for parks and fountains are heralded across the globe.
Is it possible Walker might return to redo this park he once called “the most important triangle in the southeastern United States?”