The 26-year-old oak tree at the site of the planned Maggie Walker monument. (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 showed up at the Richmond Public Library Tuesday night to have a say in the design of a long-discussed plaza and memorial for African-American businesswoman Maggie Walker on a small triangular plot bounded by West Broad Street, Brook Road and Adams Street. The meeting had to be moved from its original venue because too many people RSVPed.
The burning question of the hour: Should it stay or should it go?
No, not the monument. The tree.
The overwhelming interest was due, in no small part, to dueling petitions regarding a 26-year-old live oak tree at the Jackson Ward site. Some have lobbied for the tree to stay, citing the shade it provides and its stature. Others are calling for it to be cut down to clear the way for as prominent a monument to Walker as possible.
Tobias “Toby” Mendez, the artist commissioned for the project, told those in attendance he wanted the project to reflect Richmond’s voice and ideas and inspire children who see it to want to learn more about Walker.
As for the tree, he said he is open to either option.
“Tree or no tree, that’s up to you guys … The first thing that people [will] look at is Maggie Walker; I’ll make sure of that,” he said.
Organizers conducted audience polls using electronic clickers distributed upon arrival. Asked about whether the tree should factor into the plaza design, 42 percent said it absolutely had to go, 33 percent said it absolutely had to stay, and the remaining respondents fell in between the two extremes.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be either/or, said John Carty, a project manager for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., a design firm assisting the city on the project.
“We have talked to arborists, so we know we can do some trimming and root cutting,” he said.
Others, though, are unhappy that it’s even a question.
“Can anyone tell me of any statue in this city that has to share its site with a tree?” asked Michael Brown, a Jackson Ward native, during a public comment period. He offered a list: A.P. Hill (No); Stonewall Jackson (No); that miniature Statue of Liberty in Chimborazo Park (No).
Finding none, he concluded: “End of discussion.”