The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Pretty park gets a makeover
Manchester’s only trust-funded park will be renovated

By Ryan Lessard

 It’s been open to the city public since 1944, thanks to the will of a wealthy woman, and many have come to see it as a beautiful and unique gem, but for all these years Wagner Memorial Park — colloquially known as “Pretty Park” — has undergone no major changes. Now the park’s trustees say the time has come. 

Benches, flowers and more
Park trustee Peter Capano said the revitalization project for Wagner Memorial is the first effort of its kind since the park was created.
“What you see now at Wagner is pretty much what was built then,” Capano said. “It’s just time to spruce it up, really.”
The park has been known for its aesthetic appeal and for the Greek-style monument at its center, a white stone dome atop seven columns. A circular iron fence and hedge create a perimeter around the monument and nearby benches face it.
Capano said the use and purpose of the park — a spot for quiet strolls, prom photos and weddings — will not change but there will be a number of plants replaced and some sections altered significantly.
In particular, trustees are planning to create a semi-circular plaza area with three benches in a sunny spot at the corner of the park across the street from the Mount Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on Myrtle Street.
“That would be the biggest change, by far,” Capano said.
There will also be a paved path, about 75 feet long, that will wind up from the new plaza toward Oak Street and back to the memorial at the center of the park.
Some of the changes to the plantings are aimed at removing unwanted plants.
“Some of the things that were planted there wouldn’t be planted today because they might be invasive; they have characteristics that we don’t really want,” Capano said.
According to the landscape architect working on the redesign, Kerry Schleyer, the invasive plants in the park include barberry and burning bush, and other plants needing to be removed are in poor health. 
Large yew bushes have also outgrown their welcome. Capano estimates the bushes that probably began three feet high have more than tripled in size since they were planted.
Other changes are about adding color and beauty. Tulip trees and eastern redbuds will be added for their vibrant beauty and for the shade they’ll provide flowers. Schleyer said there will be assorted perennials and a range of flowers such as hydrangeas, roses, viburnums, azaleas and rhododendrons, which will be in bloom from spring through late summer. 
“One of the main thrusts is to redo the background behind the memorial,” Capano said. “Because right now it’s not even on the two sides.”
To that end, all-white selections of daylilies, coneflowers, peonies, irises and phlox will be planted. Capano says the choice of white flowers in this section was with visiting photographers in mind, especially for wedding parties and prom dates. That way, the white serves as a neutral backdrop to a whole range of colors of wedding party attire.
Some minor work such as tree pruning has already begun and Capano hopes to hire a contractor soon to clean the memorial. Work to upgrade the irrigation and electrical systems might get done this year as well but major construction won’t start in earnest until next year. He expects everything will be done by summer 2018. 
The work is being funded by a $300,000 grant from a scholarship fund created in the same will that created the park.
Peace and love
That Wagner Memorial Park is different from other parks in the city is already evident to the casual passerby, simply owing to its beauty. But a few other things set it apart as well. 
“It’s like no other park in the city,” Capano said.
It was the brainchild of Ottilie Wagner Hosser. When she died in 1944, her will called for the property of her house be converted to a park designed after her own specifications with $125,000 of her estate. About $80,000 was set aside for maintenance, but Capano says that money, which today has grown to about $130,000, isn’t creating enough income to pay for modern maintenance costs.
Still, save the odd irrigation project by the city, municipal dollars weren’t spent in its creation or maintenance. And it’s the only public park in the Queen City that is run and funded by a private trust.
“She specifically said in the will that she did not want city funds to be used to maintain the park. Her desire was that no city funds had to be used,” Capano said. 
Historians have also noted that Hosser made it a point to build a park that diverges thematically from most of the other city parks, which have war memorials. She wanted it to be a place of “peace and love” and for quiet contemplation. The city website says the design of the park was even inspired by a park in Paris that Hosser had visited, which was across from the erstwhile mid-century symbol of peace, the League of Nations. 

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