City Paper is not for tourists
The Issue: The graffiti on a Kalorama Park picnic table is smeared, but it seems to say “Wlla Fuckin Beasts!” Like the dispute over whether to replace the table it’s written on, it’s ugly, and its original meaning is obscured. Reconstruction in the park began last summer, but it’s been delayed by endless controversies over dirt dumping and erosion. But none of these issues is as contentious as the debate over whether to replace one splintered, graffiti-marked picnic table.
Parks and Preservation: “The picnic table has been there for half a century,” says John Cloud, a proponent of keeping the table. “What’s the problem?” For Cloud and his allies, keeping the table is about historic preservation. If the boards are splintering, Cloud says, just put down new planks. In e-mails about the park, there’s even talk of people chaining themselves to the table to save it.
Cloud is a former member of the Fund for Kalorama Park, the main advocate of all the changes he now opposes. From the beginning, he says, the Fund and the Department of Parks and Recreation colluded on selecting an anti-erosion plan for the park “in ways that I don’t fully understand.”
Cloud also accuses a contractor of dumping clay unearthed at nearby Mitchell Park on Kalorama. That investigation prompted ANC 1C Commissioner and Ward 1 Council candidate Bryan Weaver to describe Cloud as “Inspector Clouseau meets Perry Mason.”
These disputes between the Fund and its opponents have slowed down construction on the park.
“Were it for not them, I think the project would have been completed last summer,” says Matt Forman, the Fund’s treasurer.
Perhaps the strangest part about the park table debate is the sub-issue of whether calling someone one of the Seven Dwarfs is a compliment or an insult. After Cloud referred to “the Seven Dwarfs of the Fund for Kalorama Park,” Fund member Colin Clark shot back.
“I’m proud to bear the label,” Clark writes in an e-mail to Cloud and others. “They whistled while they worked! Try it.”
Hit the Bench: “[The table]’s just not safe,” says Forman. He thinks the table’s protruding screws and splintering seats are dangerous to everyone who visits the park, especially children.
The Fund wants to replace the table with a new, already-purchased table made by Victor Stanley, a Maryland-based outdoor furniture manufacturer. Forman says he has pictures from 1964 showing no picnic table at the table’s current location, meaning the disputed table can only date from the mid-1960’s at the earliest.
Forman doesn’t think Cloud is motivated by historic preservation. Instead, he thinks some people in the neighborhood just enjoy opposing new projects. “That’s their form of recreation,” Forman says. “And that’s not the form of recreation the Department of Parks and Recreation had in mind”
What’s Next: The park renovation is starting up again, with the picnic bench issue tabled for now. Meanwhile, both sides of the table issue continue to snipe at each other over e-mail. “If it wasn’t so sad and if it didn’t hold up a park in the summer time, it would be funny,” Weaver says.
Photo by Matt Forman.