All photos by Ryan Mooney
It all started two years ago with a routine trip to the CVS on Essex Street.
Sam Szwartz, 7 years old at the time, and his dad, Stan, residents of Federal Street, saw something they had never noticed before: a basketball hoop in the lot behind the pharmacy that they frequent.
It caught Sam's eye first, and upon further investigation, as youngsters are prone to, he quickly realized that it was much more than just a blacktop court. It was a large, open park, hidden in plain sight behind the plaza near the intersection of Essex and Boston Street, right in his own backyard.
Opened in 1953, Splaine Park is dedicated to John Splaine Jr., a World War I veteran and Salem resident. More than five decades of wear and tear have left it in a state of disrepair.
Father and son began to clean and promote the area, and it will soon rival any park in Salem with a full transformation from dilapidated afterthought to modern public ground, equipped with a community garden, unleashed dog area and a prominent memorial to the Witch City humanitarian whose name it bears.
"It's in a good location, it's a great city park," Stan Szwarz said. "It's a lot of green space and a lot of people in different neighborhoods can access it just by walking."
The city received a grant of $420,946 in February to renovate Splaine Park, and Naomi Cottrell, principal architect for Michelle Crowley Landscape Architecture, presented the final plans for the restoration at the last in a series of public forums at the City Hall Annex on Wednesday night. Bidding for construction companies will open on July 1.
"We're really excited. We feel like in the last month we've gotten a lot of public feedback," Cottrell said. "We're trying to do a lot of things here but we feel like we're finding that we've been doing it in an economical way so that we can get a lot of things in here."
In addition to the community garden, dog run and memorial, the park will receive new entrances, stone dust walking paths, fresh trees, and lights. A new pavilion with a half-open roof and upscale picnic tables, and a modern play set will replace the current ones. The basketball court and baseball field will remain as they are for now, and the architects have reserved a space for a "spray area" and water fixtures in the future at the request of Mayor Kim Driscoll.
A touch of public art is also in the plans.
"We would like to, in the next year as we build this park, we would like to engage a community group, there are several community groups that do public art and would do public art with kids involved," Cottrell said. "We're proposing a painted graphic on the ground...showing something that is like a botanical or leaf-prints so that it feels garden-like and not graffiti-like."
Splaine Park is certainly tidier than it was two years ago, and its overgrown, rundown appearance will be a thing of the past before long as a result of the efforts of Sam and Stan.
After finding out that one of their neighbors is a descendant of Splaine, they began rallying the community.
They took to the park with pruners and rakes along with a collection of neighbors and Splaine's extended family during the citywide annual cleanup. They started a website, splainepark.org, in conjunction with the May Street Playground Association and Federal Street Neighborhood Association, raised funds for a new flagpole, and applied for a PARC grant from the state at the behest of Salem's Parks and Recreation Director Doug Bollen.
From there, according to Stan, "it's just snowballed."
"It was a complete grassroots operation from the beginning," he said.
"It should be pretty sweet," Cottrell added. "It'll be good."