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Charlotte’s Polk Park, Designed by Angela Danadjieva, Designated a Landslide Nationally Significant Threatened Landscape by The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Media Contact: Nord Wennerstrom | T: 202.483.0553 | M: 202.255.7076 | E:

City Council Votes During Women’s History Month to Demolish a Rare and Important Park by a Woman Designer  

Washington, D.C. (March 27, 2023) – Today The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) again designated Charlotte, N.C.’s Thomas Polk Park, designed by Angela Danadjieva and opened in 1991, as a Landslide nationally significant work of landscape architecture that is threatened. On March 13, 2023, during Women’s History Month, the Charlotte City Council voted nine to one to demolish the park and replace with a new one named for Bank of America executive Hugh McColl. Thomas Polk Park is located at Independence Square, at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets, two four-lane roads that were once the location of an indigenous peoples’ crossroads and later the nexus of two trade routes. The one-third acre park’s focal point is a 30-foot-tall central waterfall. During the Council meeting about the city-owned park, which the city is responsible for maintaining, Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston justified the demolition decision saying the park was poorly maintained.    

“The Council’s rationale makes no sense. It’s the equivalent of starving a patient of needed medical care, and then blaming the patient for getting sicker,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s President and CEO. “To make matters worse, the city, whose management negligence resulted in the park’s current condition, would be responsible for maintaining the new park.” Birnbaum added, “we believe Thomas Polk Park is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”  

During the City Council meeting Mr. Winston called the park an underutilized city asset that has been poorly maintained. He said the water features don’t work, the lighting is poor, there’s a rodent problem, and there are few places to gather. Every single problem identified by Mr. Winston is due to poor or diminished maintenance and poor programming by the city, yet the park is held responsible. The Council’s vote approved “the Polk Park Partnership Framework to support a group of civic leaders who will partner with Charlotte Center City Partners to lead the fundraising, design, construction, and renaming of Polk Park.”  

In 2020, TCLF included Polk Park in the report and digital exhibition Women Take the Lead; issued on the 100th anniversary of the passage of the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution, giving women the right to vote, it highlighted nationally significant landscapes designed by and associated with women. The current demolition vote is surprising because a park rehabilitation led Agency Landscape + Planning in a public partnership with Charlotte City Center Partners had been underway.

Another woman-designed landscape that also opened 1991, Topo, co-designed by Maya Lin who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was demolished in 2008.  

About Angela Danadjieva

Angela Danadjieva was born in Bulgaria in 1931. In the 1960s she left Bulgaria, then a Communist country, after getting a degree in architecture and working as a movie set designer; she ultimately worked for the National Medal of Arts recipient landscape architect Lawrence Halprin in San Francisco. At Halprin’s office she was involved with the design of some of the nation’s most important postwar civic spaces, among them Portland, OR’s Ira Keller Fountain (opened 1970) and Seattle, WA’s Freeway Park (opened 1976). Both landscapes are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. [Professor Alison Hirsch - six-minute video about Danadjieva].  

After working for Halprin she established a practice with Thomas Koenig, whom she would subsequently marry. In an October 1986 Charlotte City Council resolution that recommended approving the engagement of Danadjieva and Koenig to design Polk Park, the firm was said to “bring extensive experience and credentials to the project. They have designed over 100 plaza and urban space projects in different parts of the country. Their projects have been innovative and many of them have set standards for others to follow. They design public spaces which are works of art in themselves, but which also function as ‘people places’” [emphasis added]. Koenig died in 1990, a year before the project’s completion; he was 54 years old.  

About Thomas Polk Park

Thomas Polk Park is located at Independence Square, at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets, two four-lane roads that were once the location of an indigenous peoples’ crossroads. By the early eighteenth century the site developed as the nexus of two trade routes and Thomas Polk erected his home at the crossroads. In 1775 the Mecklenburg Resolves, a precursor to the Declaration of Independence, was purportedly produced at this very location.  

The one-third acre park’s focal point is a 30-foot-tall central waterfall, with three subordinate falls that flow into a reflecting pool. The waterfall and lush plantings create a microclimate and a respite from the noise generated by vehicular traffic and forced air units on neighboring high-rises. Diagonal patterns in the pavement, composed of varying shades of local Piedmont red granite, reinforce the street grid and encourage freedom of movement, drawing pedestrians into the sheltered space.    

In 2019 the city engaged Agency Landscape + Planning, a nationally significant woman-owned business, and James Garland of Fluidity Design Consultants, a global leader in fountain design, to rehabilitate the park. The project was a public-private partnership involving the Charlotte Center City Partners and would open in tandem with the 2020 Republican National Convention. The city allotted $1 million for the planning process. The novel corona virus pandemic derailed that. Nevertheless, Agency and Fluidity proceeded with a public engagement process and had completed 80% of the design development drawings. In February 2022, they were advised that the project’s fundraising was put on hold (the unspent planning process fee - $350,000 - would be spent on the demolition).  

About Landslide

The goal of Landslide, one of TCLF's four core programs, is to draw immediate and lasting attention to threatened landscapes and landscape features. Through web-based news stories, traveling exhibitions, and print publications, Landslide reveals the value of these often-forgotten places.  

About The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 1998 to connect people to places. TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. Through its website, publishing, lectures, and other events, TCLF broadens support and understanding for cultural landscapes. TCLF is also home to the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.  

EDITORS: Click here for high resolution artwork.    

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