ANC Task Force Demurs on Proposal to Change Name of Garfield Park
by Larry Janezich
ANC6B’s Livability Task Force, chaired by Commissioner Steve Holtzman, held a virtual community meeting Thursday night to hear input on a proposal to change the name of Garfield Park to Garfield-Anacostan Park. The Anacostans were a tribe of local Native Americans (now extinct) which had a village on or near what is now the park.
More than a half dozen neighbors, including several from the Friends of Garfield Park, weighed in, mostly in opposition to the name change. Opposition appeared to be based on resident perception that to do so would be “taking away the name of our neighborhood,” as one put it. ANC6B Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk, in whose single member district the park resides, said a name change would lead to confusion with Anacostia Park on the south bank of the Anacostia River. She and opponents of the change say a better way to recognize the history of the Anacostans and the park is to install one or more historical markers as an educational component of the park’s pending redesign. ANC6B Commissioner Brian Ready also saw the potential for name confusion and supported a historical marker to commemorate the Anacostans.
Some neighbors (including those who opined by emailing commissioners) indicated support for the name change, though fewer than those opposed. Commissioner Jerry Sroufe was supportive of the change, asking why “Garfield” Park was acceptable, given that “Garfield’s attitude toward Native Americans was deplorable.” A neighbor agreed with Sroufe, saying “renaming could be a wakeup call for the neighborhood.”
The genesis of the proposed name change comes from amateur historian and Capitol Hill resident Armand Lione, who has researched the history of local Native American tribes for years and proposed changing the name of the park to commemorate the previous occupants of the site. Lione asked ANC6B to support the proposal.
At Thursday night’s meeting, community input was followed by a discussion among commissioners about options the Task Force had regarding making a recommendation to the full ANC. Holtzman said that he could not recommend the ANC consider renaming the park, “based on what I heard at this meeting.” He added, “It’s not a question of renaming but the baggage that comes with it.” He also said that an anonymous online poll by The Hill Is Home, though it indicated considerable support for the name change, was not an acceptable indicator of community sentiment because of its anonymity.
The consensus of the Task Force was that there was not a sufficient level of support for the Task Force to recommend that the ANC consider changing the name of the park at this time and that the Task Force should take “No Position” on the question. It was the further consensus that the Task Force supports the placement of an education monument recognizing the history of the Anacostan tribe associated with the park. While the questions were not put to a vote, Holtzman said he would circulate draft language for the other Task Force members to consider before referring the matter to the full ANC6B meeting on March 8.
Procedurally, it appears that the ANC will be asked to consider the report and recommendations of the Task Force in the form of a letter to the office of CM Charles Allen and other city officials as an agenda item at the March meeting. The language would be open to debate and amendment at that time, if any commissioner chooses to do so.
Chris Dyer, a Department of Public Works (DPR) representative who joined the online meeting, offered assistance installing any historical marker which interested parties provide. He also stated that the DPR contract for renovation of the park would be awarded in the next week or so. After 3 to 4 months for creating a design for the project, DPR will seek community and ANC engagement.
Members of the Task Force present at the Thursday night meeting included Chair, Commissioner Steve Holtzman and commissioners Jennifer Samolyk, Jerry Sroufe, and Brian Ready.