In August I had the pleasure to meet David Rawle for a walking tour of recently completed Theodora Park, a pocket park in the Ansonborough neighborhood of Charleston. Although it is easy to fall in love with the historic fabric of Charleston or Savannah, it is much rarer to find a great example of contemporary landscape architecture in harmony in such a historic context.Read More
Gardens don’t need to be gigantic to be grand. Tiny Theodora Park in the Ansonborough neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, is a tucked-away public treasure inside a city known for friendly people but very private gardens.
Calling it “a stellar public-private partnership,” Historic Charleston Foundation presented its Whitelaw Founders Award to Theodora Park on April 26. It’s a great honor to receive this award from such a respected national leader in preservation. In presenting the award, Foundation executive director Kitty Robinson praised the collaboration between the City of Charleston, Charleston Parks Conservancy, generous private donors, designers and artists.
Calling the park “beautifully conceived and elegantly detailed,” the City of Charleston recently honored Theodora Park with its Award for Design Excellence in the Public Realm.
Congratulations to our great team of designers, artists and craftsmen, led by Sheila Wertimer and Nopporn Kichanan of Wertimer & Associates.
“Around midday, a middle-aged African-American woman walked into Theodora Park. She strolled right over to one of the purple bistro chairs, picked it up, moved it into the shade, and sat down with an apparent sense of great relief,” recalls David Rawle of an occasion soon after the City of Charleston space opened on June 6. “She seemed to feel welcome, comfortable, and at home. My mother, for whom the park is named, would be absolutely delighted. As am I.”
A place folks would treat as though it were their own home: that’s just what Rawle imagined when he conceived of this park at the corner of George and Anson—across the street from the new Gaillard Center—years ago. Back then, it was the Ansonborough Tot Lot, an overgrown, rarely used playground. Living around the corner, the now-retired founder of marketing and communications firm Rawle Murdy wished to transform it into a tranquil place of beauty, blending nature and art while honoring his mother, an avid gardener.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation
During the past four decades I have lived in Charleston, South Carolina, where I founded a marketing and communications firm that served many national clients. I love the opportunity to make a difference, and I have been very fortunate to work on several initiatives that have helped make Charleston one of the nation’s most desirable places to live and work. I have always been interested in gardens and green spaces. Growing up in Connecticut, I spent a lot of time in the garden my mother created. My sister and I had a designated area in which we grew lettuce, radishes and carrots. I vividly remember that wonderfully distinct taste of pulling a carrot fresh from the earth, wiping off the excess dirt, and biting into it (that’s not ‘farm-to-table,” it’s “farm-to-mouth”).
Theodora volunteered at her local hospital for most of her adult life, lending her kind eyes and warm spirit to the weary. At home, she created a garden of quiet abundance. Crocuses springing up after the harsh winter, then hyacinths, daffodils, forsythia, tulips, lilies, wisteria, roses, iris, peonies, dahlias, zinnias . . . peas, carrots, lettuce, radishes, beans, tomatoes, gooseberries. . . . I can see, smell, taste them even now.
So vivid is her son’s recollection that he wanted to extend his mother’s quiet gifts by planting a garden in her memory - right here in the heart of the city - for everyone to enter. Inclusion, David said at the dedication of Theodora park this week, defined her. Inclusion. Integrity. Compassion. And a sense of humor. What a set of words to wear in this life.
“Classic, fanciful, and exquisite, Theodora Park adds new luster to Charleston, itself a crown jewel of American urbanism. The partnership responsible has produced a model for the transformation of the public spaces that are at the heart of a thriving civic culture.”
John Alschuler, Former Board Chair, The High Line
"Historic Charleston once again hits a high note with Theodora Park as it presents inspired landscape design engaging the visual arts. The park demonstrates that historic preservation cannot be static but must continue to fuel imagination and innovation driven by citizen leadership."
Warrie Price, Founder and President, The Battery Conservancy, NYC
The Post and Courier
Public spaces become more and more precious as peninsular Charleston grows, and the city received a new gem this week.
Today, the Charleston Parks Conservancy and a group of enthusiastic citizens will dedicate Theodora Park, a small but welcoming pocket of green space at the corner of George and Anson streets.
Technically the park isn’t new. It replaces an older public space that neighbors — including David Rawle, a longtime Ansonborough resident who spearheaded the renovation — said was underutilized and poorly maintained. The park, named in honor of Mr. Rawle’s mother, seems poised for a much brighter future.
Designed, funded and built in a collaboration that includes private citizens, the CPC and the city of Charleston, Theodora Park exemplifies the power of teamwork and the ability of enthusiastic neighbors to bring positive change to their community. It should serve as a model for future projects.