Garfield Park Upgrade Starts This Year Says Department of Parks and Recreation
by Larry Janezich and Hilary Russell
Posted January 21, 2022
According to Christopher Dyer, Community Engagement Manager for DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), “I know that Garfield Park is going to happen at some point this year.” At a January 11 meeting of ANC6B, Dyer was pressed on the status of the upgrade by Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk. He said a bid for improvement is being reviewed by the Office of Contracts and Procurement, adding, “Once we have a bid in place, I’m going to look forward to working with you and the Friends of Garfield Park to get feedback on the design.”
The much-needed renovation of Garfield Park (south of F Street SE, between 3rd and New Jersey Avenue) had been expected to begin in 2021, but as Dyer later confirmed by email, “The project received additional funding after the original  solicitation was released, so it needed to be re-bid. We anticipate this process will end shortly and a contractor will be selected to start the project soon after.” He added, “The general scope remains the same. The additional funding will allow for enhanced improvements to the playground and other areas already outlined in the scope.” Along with ADA-compliant access and egress, that will include improved lighting, drainage, and landscaping.
The issues troubling the park include cracked and pitted sidewalks, deteriorating tennis courts and benches, poor lighting and drainage, and a steep ramp-less walking route to H Street, SE, that’s difficult and hazardous to navigate for the more fragile members of the community and those with strollers or carriages.
Delayed renovation and official neglect reflect a long history of encroachments on Garfield Park by railroads, freeways, and the congressional power plant. The most recent, in 1969, lopped off a large chunk of Garfield Park – 95,470 square feet – to accommodate the construction of the Southeast-Southwest freeway. As the Historic American Buildings Survey reported, “Basketball courts were installed beneath the freeway in an attempt to mitigate the loss of parkland. …Second Street, which had always continued through the park, was closed to traffic and its roadbed broken up and sodding put down in its place.”
The District Department of Transport (DDOT) is now responsible for this lopped-off area under the freeway on the park’s southern edge. The basketball courts and a skateboard park built by users in about 2010 have been demolished, yielding to graffiti-covered concrete blocks, rubble from CSX tunnel construction, a slew of parked cars, and a homeless encampment. The sole vestiges of recreational infrastructure are the lines painted by pickle-ball players for two courts on the now closed section of Virginia Avenue under the freeway. In FY 2018, $1 million in funding for DDOT to improve the area was approved but the project appears to be stalled.
Friends of Garfield Park, a crucial neighborhood supporter and funder of park improvements for more than 20 years, urged in 2021 (among other things) that the renovation include replacing the basketball courts and skateboard park and spiffing up the pickle ball courts. These elements would add to the park’s appeal to a wide range of people who now can play tennis, beach volleyball, bocce, horseshoes, softball and baseball. Visitors can also enjoy climbing frames appropriate for adults, adolescents, children, and toddlers, and families can dine on the park’s picnic tables.
A few amenities do not appear to be in cards for the renovation: a dog park, more trash cans, an irrigation system, a splash feature, and a wading pool like one below.
Once a contractor is engaged and a project manager designated, DPR and or the Department of General Services will begin a series of community meetings to solicit stakeholders’ and resident input regarding the design elements of the park.
2 responses to “Garfield Park Upgrade Starts This Year Says Department of Parks and Recreation”
The last encroachment on the park was not the original construction of the freeway, but during the reconstruction of the freeway around 2000. This happened because Dick Wolf of the Capital Hill Restoration fought to prevent DC’s plan to move the unsafe 3rd street west bound entrance ramp to 7th street. Instead of a safer design, the result was a design that is still unsafe and that took additional land from the park and part of the parking lot for what is now the Sport & Health Club on G St SE – resulting in more cars competing for residential street spaces. A NEPA environmental review for the freeway reconstruction was never done. Instead DC just repurposed one done for the canceled Barney Circle extension. The necessary reviews for taking the park land as a designated National Register for Historic Place were a sham – apparently of no concern to Wolf.
The “graffiti-covered concrete blocks” under the freeway are actually stone. They formed the arched entryway to the original railway tunnel and were removed & placed there by CSX when it recently expanded the tunnel. I understood that CSX had said it would reuse the stone as part of the entrance to the new tunnel. That clearly wasn’t done and the stone sits there collecting paint. At some point someone is hopefully going to find a good use for it.
There are various things that can be done to improve the area on the south side of Garfield Park.
There are two things that can be done by the city in a few weeks very inexpensively.
1. Resurface the area of Virginia Ave. that extends to the New Jersey Ave. bridge. Resurfacing can be done by the city inexpensively and can fill cracks and smooth the area to make it good for pickleball playing. The many dozens of pickleball players who use that roadway area have painted the lines for the court areas and have donated removable nets and other equipment that they store in a large metal cabinet that they have donated and that can be used by anyone who wishes to play..
2. Add signage saying the stretch of Virginia that can be used for pickleball is not to be used by vehicles except in emergency, and close off the stretch where the pickleball courts are so it will not be used for parking.
Other things that should be done but might take a little more time are–
–Regrade the surface where the basketball court was for years and put in a new basketball court.
–Add a well-designed skateboard park. A design has been given to the city as an option by a well-known company that has put in such facilities in various cities but there are many other options available.
–Deal with water that sometimes accumulates in the pickleball, basketball, and skatepark areas by putting in water gardens and appropriate water pathways in the park and piping under the paved areas.
–Add lighting under the freeway and add a few light posts along Virginia Ave. so that it will be safer and possible to play at night.
–Fulfill promises that have been made by the city to make passage from Garfield Park to the areas south of the freeway easy for people with disabilities and for other users like people with baby carriages.