In Rose Park, where Stewart and Montgomery streets meet at a 45 degree angle, a funny triangle of earth juts into the wide expanse of asphalt. It is a corner too small for a house, so none was ever built there. Nothing except litter ever lingered.
Four years ago, Salt Lake City built a minipark on that corner. Last month the city named the park after Nellie Jack, a state legislator who lived in the neighborhood. A Democrat, she served 24 years in the legislature, longer than any other woman. She died in 1978.Jack's neighbors helped design the park that bears her name. At meetings with city planners, the local people asked for a sedate minipark. Most of Salt Lake City's 40 miniparks have toddler playgrounds. However, the area's residents said they didn't think it would be a good idea to put a tot lot in the midst of a busy intersection.
So the Nellie Jack Park has no lawn. No swings. It's all brick and concrete, with shrubs and fledgling trees. Still, it's pretty. The park is an inviting place to sit and read - or wait for the bus.
Just a mile away, in the Joseph Steenblik minipark, the mood is much different. Eighty-four-year-old Joseph Steenblik is as alive and vital as the park, which was recently named after him. The lifelong Rose Park civic and church leader still puts in a full day at his business (the Restaurant and Store Equipment Co.) and sums up his life in the statement, "I've always been busy."
Steenblik Park has a lawn, a sturdy picnic table, swings, a slide, sand and two basketball standards. If the Nellie Jack Park says, "Come sit awhile," the Joseph Steenblink Park says, "Come play."
That's the way people in the neighborhood wanted the Steenblik park to look, according to John Swain. They thought the area needed a place for children and teenagers.
Swain, who is the director of planning and development for the city's parks and recreation department, says, "In spite of their small size, each of these vest-pocket parks looks different. We have diversity because we let local people decide what kind of park they want and what will fit in their neighborhood."
The money to build the parks comes from federal block grants, Swain says. The grants can only be used to build parks in lower or middle income neighborhoods.
The idea of each park having its own personality is integral to the concept of neighborhood miniparks. The idea of naming the park after a neighborhood personality is something Salt Lakers have spawned themselves.
Mayor Palmer DePaulis sponsored the first "Name the Park" contest two years ago. Before that time most of the parks had generic names like "Block 24 Park" and "Post Street Tot Lot."
Every few months the mayor's staff announces another existing park in need of new name. Parks can be named after a person, a historical event or a geographical feature (such as the Faultline Park on Fourth South).
Usually, several dozen citizens will enter the contest. A committee of neighbors and city employees chooses the name. The person who suggests the winning name is mentioned on the commemorative plaque the city installs in each park.
So far six parks have new names and 19 or so remain to be christened. "And the interesting thing about it," according to Lynne Zimmerman, the mayor's press secretary, "is how it's evolved. Almost all of the people who write in these days are asking to have the park named after a person.
"People are now realizing this is a wonderful tribute to someone whose contribution to the community would otherwise go unsung."
Two recently named parks are memorials to inanimate objects: a historic artesian well and the U.S. Constitution. The others are memorials to people. And not just any people. People from the neighborhood.
If they stop to read the plaque, youngsters who come to play may also gain a pride of place. They learn the park was named for someone from their neighborhood who was a respected legislator, doctor, civic leader or engineer.
Take William J. Silver, for example. He emigrated from London in 1859 and built a home and an iron works on Center Street (First West) and Fifth North. Silver, a mechanical engineer, built Utah's first steam engine. He also fabricated beautiful wrought iron, including the gates for Brigham Young's cemetery.
The William J. Silver Park lies just where his iron works once were. The park that preserves his name is tiny but charming. A variety of elevations and little details of grass and brick make it interesting beyond its size. The focal points are a simple play area, and two street lamps cast from an antique mold, "in a style keeping with the neighborhood," Swain points out.
Behind the park is a generous parking lot, which was actually the impetus for building a park in the first place. "This park was something Planning and Zoning initiated," Swain says. "They were designing a demonstration block to show how unused space in the center of block could be used for off-street parking."
At neighborhood meetings before they built the park on Fourth Avenue and H Street, city planners heard people say such a small area couldn't possibly accommodate both the young and the elderly. But it does. Ramps as well as stairs lead up to an inviting playground flanked by benches overlooking the city.
The benches are a gift from the Intermountain Women's Center at LDS Hospital in celebration of a park named after the first woman in Utah to receive a medical degree.
The obstetrician, Dr. Ellis Shipp, got her degree in Philadelphia in 1878 and returned to Utah, where she practiced out of her home, which was only two blocks from the park. She delivered thousands of babies and trained more than 500 midwives during her lifetime.
A contest is in progress right now to name the city park on B Street between Third and Fourth avenues. The contest ends on Sept. 15. Suggestions should be mailed to the mayor's office at 324 S. State St. No. 500, Salt Lake City, UT 84111.
Zimmerman says everyone who has written in so far is asking to have the park named after a person. "And people are starting to lobby hard for their candidate," she says. "But that's OK. In fact, that's great."
She says people really identify with a neighborhood park after it has been named for a neighbor and seem to take extra good care of it when they use it. It's almost as if it were their very own - which it is.