Wooldridge Square Park is closed for the next year, or so, as it receives improvements to the irrigation and landscaping.
Amidst a sea of bureaucratic bunk houses, a Malaise Era parking garage, a jail, and a drive-thru Bank of America, the park’s central gazebo and the close Austin History center can still conjure up memories of a shaded and serene sloped park hill.
Wooldridge Square was a part of the original plans for the City of Austin as laid out by Edwin Waller in 1839. It became a dedicated park in 1909 when then-Mayor Wooldridge cleared and drained the site for civic green space. The gazebo in the center of the park was added in 1910 and has a rich history of political speeches and gatherings for State, County and City officials.
The park is recently best known for hosting giant chess, and being the defacto setup for Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which helps feed Austin’s homeless population.
A couple of months ago, I headed over to play giant chess in the evening. Very enjoyable. No safety concerns, personally, but it’s clear that vagrancy keeps the masses at a distance.
If Wooldridge’s challenges can be distilled into three buckets, below is how I would describe them:
1) no surrounding pedestrian-oriented uses (attraction)
2) vagrancy (perception of safety)
3) poor/no irrigation (placemaking, grass)
Within a year, the irrigation should be improved. I understand that alternative placement or better coordination with MLF is being discussed. There’s a higher and better use for that parking garage and Bank of America, and those will eventually be replaced.
This is progress.