The Pavilion at South Park Through Many Generations

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.

This photo of the South Park drive at Brinkerhoff Avenue was made shortly after the Civil War monument was placed there in 1908.

The Shelter

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.

The original South Park pavilion was built in a rustic design suggested by the American Arts & Crafts movement popular in the 1890s.

This map of South Park from 1900 shows the pavilion was originally placed nearer to the Brinkerhoff Avenue entrance than the pavilions of later generations.

This 1936 postcard view of the first pavilion shows how much nearer the street its original location stood.

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.

South Park’s longest standing pavilion was built around 1940.

This photo was taken at the South Park pavilion in the 1950s during a community fair.

Every summer the South Park pavilion was home to Children’s Theater, directed by Hal McCuen from 1934 to 1974.

By the end of its lifetime the old South Park pavilion was covered with many generations of public art projects.  Visible in this 2014 photo are dozens of decorative tiles affixed to its front walls; unseen are the many murals painted on the building’s shutters.

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.

South Park pavilion in 2016.

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.

One reminder of former days at South Park is the old drinking fountain that has done hard service since the 1940s.

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