This five-acre site in the East End district of downtown was occupied by tenements prior to 1968, when the city cleared 60 acres for urban renewal. Designed by Lawrence Halprin in 1971-1972, this park was the centerpiece of the Southeast Loop Plan, an open space surrounded by largely unrealized high-density development.
One of Halprin’s most multi-purpose facilities, the park opened in 1974 -- a reprieve from congested urban living. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic were separated via Park Drive (now Manhattan Square) and a sky-lit underpass below Chestnut Street. Halprin’s spatial organization alludes to the historic city street grid, 45 degrees off the current city layout. The park was divided into six zones, including a children’s play area with a wading pool, a hockey rink that converted to tennis and basketball courts, a large meadow for athletic events, a bermed seagarden shaded by a grove of trees, and a wide, tree-shaded promenade. The focal point is a sunken, concrete plaza containing a 2,000-seat amphitheater with a restaurant, and a waterfall fountain. A steel scaffold-like frame with viewing platforms and an observation tower allows visitors to experience the plaza from a different perspective. The park’s complex, multi-level spaces were realized through concrete steps and retaining walls arranged in angular patterns.
Today the amphitheater plaza with its steel frame, garden, and promenade remain intact. The children’s play area was updated in the 1990s and the skating rink was redesigned to double as a reflecting pool in 2008. Most recently, the city of Rochester commissioned Stantec to restore the fountain which is running again after several dry years.
Manhattan Square Park was featured in TCLF’s 2008 Landslide: Marvels of Modernism. Since then, it has been renamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park (2013), and removed from TCLF’s “at-risk” category. While the city is to be applauded for their recent collaboration with Stantec in rehabilitating this significant park/plaza, there is no recognition of Halprin’s design and import on-site or on the city website.
Via was born in Rochester, New York, and received his B.A. and M.F.A. degrees from Bradley University and Illinois State University, respectively. He pursued postgraduate work at Visual Studies Workshop, and then returned to upstate New York. In 1993, he decided to devote his energies to the commercial studio he had established ten years earlier. Although he continues to do work for select clients, he has recently committed himself to printing and cataloging three decades of his own photographs.