Shedding Light on Deering Oaks....
Designed in 1879, just before Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent light bulb, Deering Oaks was apparently not lit at night for almost a century. This is in keeping with designer City Engineer William Goodwin's intent that Deering Oaks be enjoyed as a natural place, a "public breathing space", not a formal park. In fact, Goodwin stated in his 1881 Report, "The place can probably never become a park with expensive park-like structures and accessories, but will always be "the Oaks" whatever may be done in or about it."
But become a park it did, as the City grew and changed - and Deering Oaks changed in response. A bandstand was built in 1883. The Victorian duck house was built in 1887 and a fountain was also installed. The Castle was built in 1894 as a warming hut for skaters. A small playground was created in 1902. The public's use of the Oaks grew steadily and civic improvements continued.
Ornamental Lighting -
Lighting first came to Deering Oaks in 1904, the same year that State Street was widened to accommodate increasing horse-drawn as well as horseless traffic, as massive new granite columns were installed at the main entrance on Park Avenue, topped with electrical globes fabricated in Chicago.
A concrete bridge replaced the wooden bridge over the Ravine in 1911 and six electrical lamp posts were installed the following year. From a review of early postcard images, these appear to be the only lights in the interior of the park.
The City has developed a plan for repairing the bridge in 2009 and will include wiring for the bridge lighting in the specs for this work. Hopefully, depending on the bid environment, we may also be able to bring back the bridge light fixtures at the same time.
Scott Hanson, the City's Historic Preservation Associate, has done some research on the globe fixtures on the pillars and received an estimate of approximately $150,000 for rehabilitating these dramatic features. What a wonderful opportunity for philanthropic generosity!
By 1918, the increasing volume of auto traffic led to roadway improvements and the addition of street lights on state Street. More than 60 years later, in 1980, funded by a federal urban park grant, lighting was installed throughout the interior of Deering Oaks.
At the time, there was little appreciation for historic properties and places and the lighting fixtures selected, CMP's "Town and Country" colonial-inspired fixtures were considered appropriate for historic Deering Oaks, even though from a totally different era! In addition, yet another concession to the auto, the classic lighting fixtures on State Street were replaced by soaring "cobra head" light poles with sodium vapor lights, a major visual intrusion on the park. Cobra heads were also installed around the pond.
For several years now, the Friends of Deering Oaks has been advocating for replacement of all park light fixtures with more appropriate lights, as well as restoring the bridge lights and the Park Avenue pillar lights. The stars may finally be aligned - pun intended!
Research indicates that CMP, which owns the light fixtures and leases them to the City, amortizes them over twenty years and must replace them at no cost if requested by the City. This would allow the City to install more appropriate Grantham fixtures, very similar to the original 1918 light fixtures, with more energy-efficient metal halide bulbs. The complication is that the City owns the poles, which should also be replaced. City staff is projecting the cost of pole replacement, which may be included in the City's capital improvement budget, soon to be under development. Upgrading the lighting will also allow park electric usage to be metered rather than billed on a per-fixture basis. The City's electrician estimates that the pay back on metering may be as short as three years and generate significant future cost savings for the city.
A less visible, but equally important project, is rewiring the distribution of electrical service within the entire park and assuring that power is readily available in popular event areas.
So - maybe that's more than you ever wanted to know about lighting in Deering Oaks, but it gives you a sense of the range of projects being pursued by the Friends of Deering Oaks!...
One of the best-loved features in Deering Oaks is the Karl Switzer Rose Circle, containing over 600 roses and is an All-American Rose Selection bed for testing new rose varieties. It is lovingly tended by the City's horticulture crew, led by John Shannon. Imagine their disappointment to find over the late summer that someone had been coming into the garden and cutting literally hundreds of roses at their peak, decimating the public display. Staff suspects, based on the cutting method used, that someone was cutting the roses for re-sale or for a floral display. Imagine the value of hundreds of rose stems stolen from the park! Several years ago, there was a similar problem with a private pot porrie seller "harvesting" her natural material from the Rose Circle at night. She was eventually caught by the police, as we hope this perpetrator will be as well.
The Rose Circle is "the people's garden", as Deering Oaks was called in the early 1900's, we must all protect it! If walking or even driving by, you see someone who appears to be picking roses, please tell them to stop and / or report it immediately to the Parks Department (207.874.8793) or the police.
New Playspace Update...
As reported previously, working with a committee including parents and local residents and following a public forum, a new natural playspace has been designed to replace the decades-old play equipment that is being removed this fall. The unique natural playspace will include an in-ground slide, a dry streambed, a Rocky Beach area, an adventure trail, wooden block climbing structures, etc.. It will also include manufactured equipment that can provide play experiences such as hanging, climbing, spinning, etc. that cannot be provided using natural materials. After a Request for Proposal (RFP) by the City, O'Brien and Sons, which installs manufacturer "Landscape Structures" equipment, has been selected to negotiate the final components and layout of the pre-built equipment, which will also include special musical play elements. We are fortunate that representatives of Maine's premier play environment, the Children's Museum of Maine, will join the City and the Friends of Deering Oaks in working with O'Brien on the final design, resulting in THE most exciting new playspace in the State of Maine, and a wonderful new addition to Deering Oaks. Stay tuned!
An Advanced Lighting Display...
Six years ago, in 2002, the Friends of Deering Oaks first introduced its seasonal lighting display, designed by local artist, Pandora LaCasse, to bring light and beauty to the park during the bleak winter months. Focused on the pond, the display includes forms in two shapes. The lighting color combination has changed every year. In 2005, a special additional display was created in the massive Candelabra Tree, the largest Pin Oak in the State of Maine.
This year, the Friends are introducing some exciting new elements. Ever creative, Pandora has modified the forms a bit to change their shapes. The forms will also be wrapped in LED lights, far more energy-efficient and longer lasting, both benefits to the Friends of Deering Oaks. They also cost more money than the lights used and replaced annually. Recognizing the limitations of the Friends finances, Pandora proposed that we stage into the new display and that she cover some of the up-front costs to be recouped by the Friends making a multi-year commitment to the display, which we have agreed to do.
So this year, we will see slightly modified forms in a beautiful range of cobalt blue, gold, and white - - and which will include a change in color combination every night, controlled by a computer chip. In subsequent years, we will add additional forms and perhaps additional complementary colors. For the first time, we will also be lighting the tree beside the Castle, so look for a wonderful new image in our popular cards sales next summer.
The annual lighting display comprises 70% of our modest annual budget, and is derived from membership revenue and special fundraising. So, if you have not yet joined (or renewed your membership), keep the lights shining, and donate by clicking "Help the Park" in the navigation pane to the left!...
Pink Tulip Planting...
For the third sale, Deering Oaks has been a host site for a dramatic displayof pink tulips, planted as part of the Pink Tulip Project of the Maine Cancer Foundation, raising funds for breast cancer research. The Project is the creation of Friends of Deering Oaks member, Robin Whitten, a breast cancer survivor who conceived the idea when she attended the Castle opening in 2005.
This year, we moved the display beds to the entrance to the pathway to the Rose Circle, a very visible location. Joining Robin in planting the bulbs were other breast cancer survivors including Diana Allen, wife of Representative Tom Allen, and Cheryl Leeman, Portland City Councilor. They were ably, and enthusiastically assisted by students from King Middle School, one of whom had just arrived in Portland from Russia. When asked if they had fun and would they help next year, the group unanimously voted in the affirmative!
New Castle Garden...
As we all recognized, governments at all levels are facing serious budget challenges and looking for ways to stretch limited tax dollars to the best advantage. Toward that end, the City plans to install a perennial garden in front of the Castle next year. The Friends of Deering Oaks will work with the City's horticultural staff to design an attractive Victorian-style garden for planting this Spring. If you wish to participate in the design project, please contact us.
Changes in Parks Management...
As previously posted on this site, we reported, with great concern, that the City was eliminating the free-standing Department of Parks and Recreating and folding parks administration into a new Department of Public Services (formerly Public Works). In particular, we feared loss of professional focus and unclear lines of accountability, potentially resulting in seriously degraded park maintenance.
We made our concerns known widely and forcefully and had several very candid conversations with Mike Bobinsky, the Directory of the new Department of Public Services. To his credit, Mike listened with respect to our concerns and assured us that he had great regard for the role and successes of the Friends of Deering Oaks, understood the basis for and depth of our concerns, and that he believed that he and his staff could rise to the challenge. We remained skeptical...
We are happy to report that Mike and his staff have, indeed, made a concerted effort to meet our expectations- and then some! For example, the staff of a division of Public Services, the City's in-house construction company, will do the site work for the new natural playspace. This will save us significant funds that can be used to enhance the project -- and also demonstrate the quality of work that City staff can produce, a win-win result.
As they learn to deal with the high maintenance expectations for the City's best-loved park (we're biased in that judgment!), lawn mowing has improved, pathway edges have been reseeded, and solutions are being developed for algae control, leaf removal from the pond, and other such long-standing challenges.
The Friends of Deering Oaks values the new relationships it has established with Director Mike Bobinsky and his staff, and we look forward to continuing improvements in Deering Oaks under the new structure. Sometimes, it makes sense to shout the alarm that "the sky is falling", if it leads to a bright new day!...