Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Endangered: Fort Wayne Memorial Park — A Call for Suppot from Our Readers

By Mark Levitch, Founder and President
World War I Memorial Inventory Project
Fort Wayne Memorial Park's World War I memorial arch with two figures
by sculptor EM. Viquesney (dedicated 1928)

A recent proposal by the Indiana Institute of Technology (Indiana Tech) to build extensive athletic facilities at Fort Wayne Memorial Park threatens the integrity of a World War I memorial of national significance. Fort Wayne Memorial Park is one of only six examples of an entirely new commemorative form that emerged in the U.S. in the wake of the war—a multi-acre municipal park designed specifically, and in its entirety, as a World War I memorial. 

While hundreds of small existing parks were renamed memorial parks in the aftermath of the war, only Fort Wayne, El Paso, Houston, Jacksonville (FL), Muskegon, and Salt Lake City elected to pay tribute to their World War I veterans by designing from scratch large landscaped parks intended from the outset to serve as Great War memorials.  Of these, only the memorial parks at Fort Wayne, Jacksonville, Muskegon, and Salt Lake City contain additional World War I memorial elements, such as memorial groves and monuments, that are integral to the park's design and purpose.  

The Art Smith monument in Memorial Grove
(sculptor James Novelli, dedicated 1930)

Fort Wayne Memorial Park stands out among these for having three memorials dedicated to the memory of World War I servicemen and women. These include Memorial Grove; a large memorial arch at the front of which stand E.M. Viquesney's "Spirit of the American Doughboy" alongside his less common "Spirit of the American Navy"; and an allegorical sculpture, "Memory," dedicated to Olen J. Pond and other Fort Wayne World War I veterans (a statue that has been headless since vandals damaged it in the 1980s). A fourth memorial, the Art Smith monument, honors a local aviator who, among other deeds, trained combat pilots in World War I.

The most insensitive and injurious aspect of Indiana Tech's proposal is the leveling of Memorial Grove for the construction of a new track facility. Memorial Grove—the park's oldest memorial and topographically most significant element—embodies the park's memorial function. The grove, set on a hill and demarcated by an elliptical drive, originally contained a tree for each of the 125 Fort Wayne men and women who lost their lives while in military service during the war—including Kurt Jaenicke, the son of the park's designer. 

Indiana Tech's plans for Memorial Park
(Click on Image to enlarge)

Adolph Jaenicke's original plan called for an obelisk at the center of the grove.  The Art Smith monument, by sculptor James Novelli, fulfills that role spectacularly (and appropriately, given Smith's ties to the park and his World War I service).  The grove and memorial were conceived together as the park's hallowed focal point; destroying the site of the grove and moving the Smith memorial (as Indiana Tech has proposed) will effectively destroy the park's uniquely powerful memorial character.  

While Fort Wayne Memorial Park's historic character has been eroded over the years, the bones of the original memorial are still in place.  Rehabilitating the park, including replanting trees in Memorial Grove and conserving the park's other World War I memorials (especially the long-headless Pond memorial), would be a fitting tribute to those from Fort Wayne who sacrificed their lives a century ago.  Transforming the park created in their honor into an athletic facility—on the centennial of U.S. entry into the war, no less—would not. 

Olen J. Pond memorial featuring the sculpture "Memory"
(now headless) by Frank Hibbard (1930)

Taking Action

Fort Wayne's mayor and Parks Department director support the plan and aim to break ground in June. The city's Planning Commission is holding a critical hearing on Monday 8 May to discuss the proposal, which is opposed by several preservation groups. The best way to voice opposition to the proposed changes at short notice is to email the interested parties:

Al Moll, Parks Director:
Richard Samek, President, Parks Board of Commissioners:
Dr. Arthur Tyner, President, Indiana Institute of Technology:
Tom Henry, Mayor of Fort Wayne:

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