A fledgling plan to honor Maggie Walker with a monument in the heart of the city’s arts district has roused those who want to save the tree now dominating the proposed site.
An online petition with about 800 signatures is asking Richmond City Council and the city’s planning commission to spare an oak tree in the triangular site, bounded by West Broad, Brook Road and North Adams. In addition to a statue, the city plans to close off a section of Brook Road and build a public gathering place.
“The grandeur of the Maggie Walker statue will be forever tainted by the senseless killing of this rare and giving tree,” says the petition started by Richmond resident Jamie LaRose. “Miss Walker, one of Richmond's most devoted stewards of life, would surely not have endorsed this shameful act in her memory.”
In October, the city announced it had commissioned sculptor Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez to work on the project for $300,000. Reached by email, Mendez says he is focused on creating a fitting tribute to Walker.
“Whatever the final design ends up being with the tree or not, it has to honor [Walker] and her contributions to the history of Richmond,” Mendez says. “I'm open minded to both options.”
The city’s anxious arborists need not worry yet, says Ellyn Parker, Richmond’s public art coordinator. Conceptual design of the site has just begun, Parker says, and the tree isn’t necessarily on the chopping block. “It’s still all up in the air.”
A preliminary meeting on the designs is tentatively scheduled for January, she says, but it depends on when Mendez completes the designs. At the earliest, the planning commission could vote on the designs in March. Construction isn’t scheduled to begin until next summer. The project is slated to be completed by next fall, Parker adds.