Monroe Park is one of Richmond’s most culturally, historically and environmentally significant public spaces.
Once a state fairground and later a military encampment, the registered historic park forms the western edge of Richmond’s downtown and borders a prominent gateway into the city.
The park now provides passage and respite to an ever-increasing student body at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) as well as to residents of the surrounding Carver, Oregon Hill, Jackson Ward, Monroe Ward and Fan neighborhoods.
The park also serves as the front door to the newly renovated Altria Theater and will be a block away from VCU’s planned Institute of Contemporary Art.
2003, City Councilman, Bill Pantele appointed the following individuals to serve on the Monroe Park Advisory Council:
- Dave Clinger, West Franklin Street & Historian
- Patricia R. Daniels, West Main Street & Dept. PRCF Foundation
- James C. Hill, Carver
- Elinor Kuhn, Prestwould (in 2006)
- Alice Massie, Monument Avenue & Garden Clubs
- Larry Miller, Dept. Parks Recreation & Community Facilities
- Janice Hall Nuckolls, HMAFD Foundation
- Eddie O’Leary, VCU Student Government
- Brian Ohlinger, VCU Associate Vice President of Facilities
- John O. Peters, Prestwould
- Turk Sties, Near West Team
- Todd Woodson, Oregon Hill
2004, establishment of the Monroe Park Advisory Council, MPAC, studied detrimental uses of the park, which lead a Park Master Planning Effort. The group, originally formed to address unauthorized parking.
2006-2008, Master Planning, Richmond’s Department of Community Development and Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities, in conjunction with the Monroe Park Advisory Council and consultant, Rhodeside and Harwell Community outreach effort. Such research and community input led the team to identify particular programmatic objectives for the project, material palettes, and a historic period of significance (1904) to which the Park is to be restored.
- Virginia Department of Historic Resources
- City of Richmond Urban Design Committee
- February, 2008, City of Richmond’s Planning Commission
2009, Construction Documents
MPCA worked closely with City Staff, 3north Architects and 3north’s consultant team (Draper Aden, WaterStreet Studio, Dunlap & Partners and Domingo Gonzalez Associates) to carry the Master Plan forward and create detailed construction documents.
3north and its team of consultants began work in early 2009, studying the Master Plan and park conditions. A 1/4-inch scale model of the proposed park improvements was constructed to be used as a presentation and consensus-building tool. With regular input from the Monroe Park Advisory Council and other stakeholders, construction documents were fully developed and presented to City Staff and Agencies for approval.
2010, survey and educate City staff and citizens; 3D model of Park built.
2011, establishment of the Monroe Park Conservancy, nonprofit 501(3)(c)
2012, Feasibility Study
- VCU’s role and partnership
- Research and preparation for Lease Agreement
- Operating Agreement between the City and VCU police forces
- Preliminary Fundraising
March 2014, Lease Agreement unanimously adopted by Richmond City Council
September 2016, Fundraising Goal of $3 million to match the City of Richmond’s $3 million.
November 2016, Construction will begin. The overall construction is expected to take between 12 and 18 months.
Through research and community input led by the Monroe Park Advisory Council and the City of Richmond, the design team confirmed the functional goals of the project and identified the historic period of significance which would guide the renovation of the Park. These findings are carefully documented in the 2008 Master Plan prepared by Rhodeside & Harwell and the detailed design and construction drawings prepared by 3North Architects.
The proposed renovation includes comprehensive upgrades to the Park’s underground infrastructure and significant improvements to the Park’s surface amenities.
In the proposed design, the overall layout of Monroe Park is preserved, including the historic radial walkways. These paths are converted to compacted stone dust and raised to grades consistent with Park lawns, allowing for an uninterrupted surface. To reinforce the pedestrian focus and welcoming scale of the park, secondary paths are narrowed and park lighting is reduced in height.
The park’s perimeter sidewalks will incorporate a historically appropriate streetscape palette, including brick walks and a substantial perimeter planting of American Elms. Major entrances are marked by monumental granite gateways, limiting vehicular entry while creating attractive access points to the park.
The existing fountain at the park’s center will be preserved. In addition, a new water feature will be added extending south from the central fountain toward Pine Street. This feature, a granite rill, is designed as a representation of the James River, and it will bring generations together to race toy boats and encounter the history of Richmond’s greatest natural resource.
Other park amenities will include movable tables and chairs, game areas including petanque and quoits courts, and a broad play lawn which can also be used for special events such as community theater and music.
Plantings are selected from the historic plant palette of Monroe Park. Canopy trees are arranged in allees and organized by species along primary paths radiating from the park’s central fountain. With selective tree pruning, sight-lines are extended and improved throughout the park. Secondary plantings further buffer park visitors from vehicular traffic and assist in treating stormwater runoff from the site.
In a future phase, Monroe Park’s primary structure, the Checkers House will be restored to accommodate public restrooms, a small café and an administrative meeting space. A sunken plaza surrounds the facility, creating an inviting place for park visitors to enjoy outdoor seating and entertainment.
In sum, the upcoming renovations will bring new life, new amenities, and modern infrastructure to Monroe Park. The renovations will honor the Park’s history while creating a dynamic, welcoming and safe place for all Park visitors to enjoy. With that, the renovations will provide a fitting rebirth for one of Richmond’s oldest and most significant public spaces.