How do you preserve a historic and well-loved community amenity, yet breathe new life into it at the same time? The challenge cannot be overstated. This type of project requires a careful balancing act between honoring the past and developing an inspiring vision for the future. Situated along the scenic banks of the San Gabriel River in the heart of Georgetown, Texas, San Gabriel Park has served as a central place for community gatherings since the late 1800s. In 2014, the City of Georgetown hired RVi to develop a Master Plan for the park and to design park improvements that will be strategically phased over the next several years. As the first phase of improvements wraps up construction and phase two is set to begin, the vision for San Gabriel Park and the way in which our team addressed this unique challenge is taking shape.
Over the past 100 years, San Gabriel Park evolved to meet the needs of the community as they arose, with different activities taking place in the park and various structures being added and taken away over time. In our Master Plan and subsequent design for the park, we sought to bring a sense of cohesiveness to the space by:
- Introducing a simple yet authentic palette of materials,
- Creating consistency in the signage,
- Streamlining the way that vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists move throughout the park,
- Designing improved park amenities such as new restrooms, pavilions, and playscapes, and
- Facilitating an extensive habitat restoration effort.
One of the most challenging aspects of this project was creating a new aesthetic for the park that would bring a fresh and modern feel while staying true to the park’s heritage. To achieve this goal, the team drew inspiration from three main sources:
- Natural characteristics of the land,
- Existing built structures in the park, and
- Local historic architecture.
“Georgetown’s historic downtown features many buildings designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style that is common throughout small towns in Texas. This prominent architectural style informed design choices such as the proportions of the entry monumentation, as well as subtle details such as the hand-carved monument coping design, which replicates the coping design found on a historic downtown building,” said Drew Carman, RVi Project Manager.
RVi worked collaboratively with local architects Clayton & Little on the design for the restroom and pavilions in the park. While many of the park’s existing structures were in need of replacement due to age and general condition, some possessed a sense of character that the design team wanted to preserve. For example, the aging vine-covered picnic table area offered valuable shade and created interesting patterns of dappled light on the ground. Taking inspiration from these trellises, Architectural Project Manager Nathan Quiring designed shade structures for the buildings which cast noticeable shadows on the ground to re-create the dappled light effect.
The land itself offered another major point of design inspiration. Large limestone cliffs stand tall above the San Gabriel River, which flows alongside the site. As an ode to these natural monoliths visible throughout the park, the design team replicated the bluffs’ limestone striations in the mortar of built structures throughout the park. Additionally, material selections were made with an eye towards blending in to the landscape, with dark Ipe wood and metal painted to match the tree trunks. Because of the attention to detail in materials selection, many of the park’s new structures have the intended effect of disappearing amongst the park’s 200-year old oak trees.
Good design can be bold and audacious, but it can also be timeless and nuanced. In the case of San Gabriel Park, the community and the site itself provided a rich historical backdrop from which to draw design inspiration. The resulting park improvements are both authentic and understated, enhancing the sense of place that already existed in this beloved and storied community park.