The park is centrally situated in the South Philadelphia neighborhood of Hawthorne, which is bound by South Street to the north, Washington Avenue to the south, and Broad Street to the west, and 11th Street to the east. The park is located at 12th Street and Catharine Street and is bound by Clymer Street to the north and Fawn Street to the west.
Measuring approximately three quarters of an acre, the park is adjacent to the former site of the public housing high rise development Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Towers. The Towers were razed in October 1999 and redeveloped with traditional rowhomes through a 1998 grant funded by the HOPE VI program. The HOPE VI program, a Department of Housing and Urban Development program, established a mixed socioeconomic neighborhood whose context sensitive rowhouse units are available to owners and renters. Torti Gallas and Partners, which envisioned a park at the 12th Street and Catharine Street location at that time, prepared the plans for the new rowhome community.
The site was again recognized by GreenPlan Philadelphia as a single-site open space project for the future home of a park managed by Fairmount Park. As evident in the GreenPlan, the area is proximate to several Department of Recreation parcels, but was lacking in any passive recreation space managed by Fairmount Park.
Immediately adjacent at 12th Street and Catharine Street is the Academy at Palumbo serving grades 9 through 12 with an enrollment of about 350 students and approximately 35 faculty and staff. Across from the corner of 12th Street and Clymer Street is the Rising Sun Baptist Church. The park serves a diverse demographic of approximately 3,500 Hawthorne Neighborhood residents.
Conception of the park was initiated with the community in spring 2003 in a collaborative partnership between the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition, Residents of Hawthorne Square, Universal Companies, University of the Arts Industrial Design Department and the Philadelphia Housing Authority. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society joined the group in spring 2004, serving as the liaison and shepherd to bring the project to fruition. From winter 2004 to winter 2005 the project went through a series of charrettes culminating with project goals and a concept. An estimate of probable cost was established in winter 2007.
Funding was secured from several sources including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, a grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development through legislature from State Representative Babette Josephs, the City of Philadelphia through Councilman Frank DiCicco, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the William Penn Foundation.
Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects, Inc. was retained for design services and began work fall 2008. Over the following year, working closely with Fairmount Park, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the community, the team explored a series of design options to fulfill the goals established over the prior years.
The design evolved and grew to embrace the ideals of the community goals. Elevated with walls along 12th Street and Catharine Street, a visually dynamic edge is created to define the park from the active urban pace. An open edge along Fawn Street and Clymer Street to a flat lawn provides a shared front yard for the adjacent residents. Through the integration of circulation and space, versatile paved areas support activities from reading to community markets to providing an elevated performance space, while minimizing paved surfaces. Green space has been maximized, providing lawn for active use or serving a place for the eye to rest. A green belt of plant beds curves along the mid-section of the park providing visual access to all areas. Trees and space are organized attempting to make the park feel larger than it is while framing surrounding urban context and the city skyline. The identity of the park strives for a unique character while maintaining an enduring aesthetic using classic forms and materials with contemporary lines and proportion.
Previously a vacant gravel lot, existing urban fill was replaced with healthy soil to sustain approximately 50 trees, 4,000 square feet of plant beds and 19,000 square feet of lawn. A high efficiency irrigation system was installed to nurture the plants while minimizing water use. Total green space accounts for approximately 60 percent of the site, including roughly 12 percent for the plant beds, filled with tough, low maintenance plants. The remaining area utilizes approximately 6,000 square feet of permeable unit paving, disconnecting the majority of stormwater from the City’s stormwater system. Durable, high quality materials and furnishings along with a manageable and maintainable planting help foster a long-lived and long-loved community park.