The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 14, 2008

Options aired for new veterans memorial

The current wooden Honor Roll is shown in a file photo from 1996. Assembled on the Common are (left to right) the late Ralph Metivier, Irvin Puffer, Francis Booth, Ollie Nelson and Everett Lapham. (Photo by Lois d’Annunzio)

On Thursday, November 6, the Veterans Memorial Advisory Committee offered a public viewing of three different preliminary designs for a memorial to replace the Honor Roll on the Town Common. Designers from Levi and Wong detailed their research into understanding the history, topography, and uses of the Town Common, and explained how those considerations were reflected in each design. People filtered in throughout the presentation, until over two dozen spectators had assembled. Reaction was varied but generally positive, with many in the audience reemphasizing the desire for simplicity and low sight lines, as well as materials consistent with the colonial nature of the Town Center.

Committee Chair Doug Stevenson recapped the history of the project, noting that a 2007 proposal to refurbish the Honor Roll plaques at the foot of the Town Common was defeated at Annual Town Meeting as voters agreed that a more substantial and permanent memorial should be erected. A committee was formed, consisting of Stevenson, Al Cameron, Larry Bearfield, Ned Berube, Greg Fairbank and Alan Carpenito. Town Meeting 2008 voted to dedicate about $100,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to the project. Six firms responded to the request for design proposals and the firm Levi and Wong of Concord was chosen.

Three designs were shown, all located on a flat area at the base of the Common accessible from School Street. Each included pathways drawing the public to a low granite wall where the names would be inscribed in bronze. According to Willie Wong, Levi and Wong Principal, the current trend in memorial design is to present “a landscape scheme, not just an obelisk or figure,” and to consider the memorial “in context to where it is.” The designated location at the bottom of School Street provides an opportunity to relate the Common to the Town Center, and introduces “a better townscape so (the memorial) won’t sit in isolation” and will “contribute to the energy of the center.”

Principles and background research described

Stevenson denoted some of the principles that drove the designs. Criteria included a permanent, low-maintenance structure in keeping with the character and history of the Town Common. Integration into the current uses of the Common was considered, and a sense of repose and reverence was sought. The committee also wanted to recognize residents who had served in Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, as well as those already included. The current Honor Roll lists Carlisle residents who served in World Wars I and II and the Korean War.

Wong explained the designers considered the project in the context of its surroundings. “(The Common) really is the town’s living room. It takes a little bit of thought.” They reviewed the Memorial Day ceremonies to understand where it was important to provide public gathering space and access. They also examined old photographs for clues as to how the Common has been used in the past. Wong noted those photos show the Common as “a place of ceremony” as it is today, but also document “a sense of openness (that) is gone” because trees have become overgrown.

He noted a desire to honor the space in front of “a pretty majestic building,” the First Religious Society (FRS). A decision was made, said Wong, to “level the area around the flag pole, but leave the area by the church alone.” Another constraint was the topography of the Common, which includes a 20-foot elevation drop from the church to Concord Street. The designated location near the tip of the Common offers “a slope more conducive to building” and a spot “more visible to the town” that does not impinge on the church’s front yard.

The memorial itself was envisioned as a low wall of granite with bronze plaques containing the names of those who served. It had been planned that the names would be ¾ inch tall, but Wong said that would require a 30-foot wall, deemed too imposing for the space. “We need to juggle the scale to fit the Common. It should not dominate, or the whole Common becomes a memorial and is no longer a common.”

Three designs offered

Levi and Wong designer Neal Emmer, who is also a Carlisle resident, presented a set of about 20 posters showing aerial maps, schematics, archival photos of town events and pictures of other towns’ memorials to illustrate the research the firm had done. He then set out new boards, assigned with the letters B, C and D. He explained that each represented a plan submitted by one of three different architects assigned to develop concepts, and described the results.

Schematic B showed a granite platform, grassed on top. This would form a gathering place for ceremonies in front of the wall, which would be recessed into the hill and would face Concord Street. Granite steps would lead down to a path connecting the site to parking on School Street.

Plan C showed a serpentine wall perpendicular to Concord Street, and visible from all directions. This plan received short shrift as Stevenson noted the memorial committee liked it the least.

Designer David Fisher stepped in to describe his concept for D, which he called, “a little more organic.” It showed a circular pathway, which began at the point of the Common, and then meandered around the area, ending at a granite wall set into the slope. Fisher noted the design evokes “life is a journey” and would be “less formal, with no straight edges.”

Comments both positive and negative

Francene Faulkner of Bedford Road said the memorials depicted would be too visible and suggested putting the names on stones in the ground. “Take out the vertical elements, and not so much hardscape. That’s not what Carlisle is.” However she later amended her initial impression, saying the sketches might make the memorial seem to stand out more than it would.

Dana Booth of River Road, a veteran and long-time Carlisle resident, suggested a direction more like the existing memorials, one of which he noted has lasted since 1922. He rejected the idea of a bronze memorial that would “glorify war” and said that the $90,000 set aside for construction should instead be used to bury some utility wires. If a memorial is necessary, it should be moved to Center Park. “Don’t clutter the view of the church,” he cautioned. But another audience member, Jeanne Warner, disagreed, “The Town Green is where ceremonies are held. I would not consider a memorial as clutter.”

Another question from Booth prompted Stevenson to note that although some documents indicate ownership of the Common by the First Religious Society, no problems are anticipated because the church supports the memorial project and the parish council is frequently consulted. “Let’s just work collaboratively. The Common is useful for the church and useful for the town itself,” he concluded. He then introduced two FRS Parish Committee members attending the meeting, Lisa Sama and John Lyons.

Liz Carpenter, whose home faces the Common, was cautiously positive, “This is the right place for it. As an abutter I like to see verticality minimized, and minimal hardscape and impact on the Common.” She then declared the designs “a bit modern for my taste.” Emmer responded that the granite used would be rough and unpolished, and was planned to look like the existing stonework along Concord Street.

John Lee, who identified himself as a veteran and abutter, pronounced most memorials “ugly” and “a gross disservice” to veterans. He was challenged to name names, and specified the Korea/Vietnam memorial in Westford and a new memorial in Concord as two nearby examples of what not to do. He said anything “harsh, brassy, or shiny” would be out of character and requested that the design be kept simple and “look antique.” Sylvia Sillers echoed that thought, requesting “old cut granite, not new materials” and asking that the concept stay “as close as possible to the spirit of the old.” Stevenson assured them that the committee agreed, saying, “Low and unobtrusive is one of our battle cries.”

Jack O’Connor of Church Street suggested getting rid of diseased arborvitae and Norway Maple and keeping the pathways “soft, maybe stone dust.” Stevenson noted that pathways will be chip sealed to match those in the historic district. Tree removal was considered outside the purview of the project. Several elements shown in the plans, such as pathways along Church Street, parking changes, and softening of the left hand curve from School to Church Street, are suggestions that will be referred to the Town Common Circulation Committee for consideration. Pathway links to the Revolutionary War plaque at the FRS and to the Infinity Garden behind the church might also be considered.

Carpenter noted the Civil War monument in the rotary honors the battle dead, but not those who served without dying in the war. Should they be added to the Honor Roll? Fifty names were being added to the 200 in the current Honor Roll, said Stevenson, and space was becoming an issue. “We decided to look at the 20th century and beyond” and allow space for new names to be added.

Duncan Grant, an architect living on Rutland Street, questioned the need to see the memorial from Concord Street, and preferred a wall without pathways or a platform. Wong defended the need for more formality, comparing a memorial set alone to “an apple set on the table with no serving platter.” In response to another comment, Fisher explained that two tall posts in schematic D represent a gateway. O’Connor responded, “That statement may be missed by most ordinary people.”

Jennifer Morin, appearing in army uniform, indicated a preference for plan D. She cautioned that plaques in the ground, suggested earlier in the meeting, are not a good idea. She had seen this type of memorial and felt it was not respectful, “people spit out their gum and walk their dogs on them.”

Stevenson thanked the participants on behalf of his committee. The committee will be refining the plan based on input, and another public meeting will be held.He invited the public to attend upcoming meetings, typically on Thursdays. The website lists scheduled meeting dates, as well as names for the memorial and the criteria for inclusion.

After the meeting, it was noted that Plan B had been the committee’s preferred choice, but C and D were preferences of several in the audience. However, the lack of an “A” and reordering of the posters so that C was set to the left may have confused some participants, and it wasn’t always clear whether a reference to “C” meant the designer-designated C or the poster in the third, and logically C spot, but actually D. Stevenson’s second graders, who were on hand to set up chairs at the beginning of the meeting, could perhaps be retained next time to help with alphabetizing. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito