A public place where people gather has a unique soul that cannot be compared with any other kind of building, because it carries the echoes of a thousand different events, a thousand different people and 10,000 smiles.
Conversely, a community of people carry that place in their hearts as a symbol: one that brings to mind all their kind memories of times spent in fellowship.
The pavilion at South Park has stood as a different structure during different decades and generations, but it has been steadfastly unchanging during the last century in its service of bringing people together.
Churches met there, family reunions, a thousand civic gatherings and forums, countless performances, and 10,000 kids dashed through its doors and danced across the picnic tables.
The place has always had a soul — no matter what the walls and roof looked like — and it is a soul tempered by laughter and caring. It is the soul of connection and community.
In the Beginning
The first pavilion in South Park was built in the 1890s when the place was still known by the name of the man who donated the parklands to the city. Back then it was called Sherman Park.
In the 19th century the sunny lawns and shaded glens were known primarily as Mansfield’s picnic grounds.
Folks arrived there — on the very western edge of the city — mostly by streetcar that stopped nearby on Park Avenue West.
The grand ornamental entryway at Brinkerhoff Avenue was intended as a civic architectural portal to an area of the city specifically designated for only one purpose: relaxation and escape from cares.
It would be like going through the gates of Disneyland into an alternate world free of daily concerns.
The first pavilion at South Park was a simple picnic shelter, providing tables and shade.
It was constructed to look as natural and rustic as possible in its sylvan setting, and even had a birdhouse on top. There were squirrels in the eaves and a stone fireplace at one end.
A New Version
Natural as it was, the charming structure was perhaps too organic in its setting to last more than a couple generations or so in the weather at the wood’s edge.
By the time the city made plans to replace the structure it had evolved a broader version of how the site could serve for more than simply picnics.
Around 1940, made possible through federal monies and the WPA workforce, a new pavilion was built that was much grander in scope, large enough to hold dozens of tables, hundreds of people.
It is probably not even possible at all to adequately express how the South Park pavilion shaped the heart of this city. It would take multidimensional sentiments from innumerable folks who all grew up here and each spent pleasant hours of their lives in its presence.
A place like that is evoked from memory by more than just its image: the pavilion had a certain way it smelled, and a distinct echo inside. There was a certain way you felt when you walked in there that had far more sensory appreciation than merely the simple occasion that triggered a visit.
It had generations of good feelings.
It is not surprising that its replacement aroused deep and mixed response.
The building was destroyed in 2015 by a controlled burn exercise for the Mansfield Fire Department. A new structure was subsequently constructed on a portion of its concrete footprint.
A New Present; Presence
A generation from now when the youngsters of today take their kids to South Park there will be a whole new aura of delight that has gathered in and around the new pavilion.
And that new emotional wave will ride atop the depths of feelings that are already profoundly steeped within South Park.