Exploring Snail’s Crossing
For those visiting Snail’s Crossing, on the east side of Bremen Street just south of Burleigh, there’s a lot crammed into this little park. Here’s what to look for: • At the center gate, a hopscotch pattern made of tiles is set in the sidewalk. The numbers are in English, Polish, and Spanish, in recognition of Riverwest heritage. • From the sidewalk, let your eye travel the walking paths and you will see the shape of a snail. The antennae, designed and painted by children from Fratney School, are to the south. The name, Snail’s Crossing, comes from a quilter’s pattern. It represents the crossing of ethnic groups in Riverwest and also the history of the lot as a former railway crossing. • The caterpillar play structure, designed by children from Pierce School, has Braille characters on one side. • The names on the footprints belong to children at local schools who worked on the project. • Animal footprints are embedded in the sidewalk mosaics. The names of volunteers and donors are found on tiles in the mosaics in the walkway and around trees. The tiny handprints and footprints are from young children from COA. • Short writings, “walk words,” written by residents and children, appear in the mosaics. • The cedar fence and benches were provided by Mario Constantini of LaLune Collection, a near neighbor. • Much of the foliage was donated by Flagstone Landscape, Design and Leafland, Germantown Greenhouses, and W.E. Radke’s. Paulette Dembowiak organized the planting.
Like people, ideas sometimes have to age before they come to fruition. They may sit in a cerebral stew for years, being seasoned with images and impressions, pounded with fears and enhanced with inspiration. I often tell a story of a meeting several years ago that I attended at Pierce School regarding the renovation of Gordon Park. I use it to illustrate the type of involvement many people in Riverwest have with their community. “Everyone in Riverwest is an activist,” my story starts. There were about 300 people at this meeting. For two hours, we couldn’t even agree on the number of parking spaces to have at the community center. One guy, for some reason unknown to me, didn’t want soccer fields. Another didn’t want basketball hoops. Then this woman in front of me gets up and starts talking about this plan she has for a kids’ park, where the kids would be involved in creating play structures and areas to explore. And she has the whole thing laid out on paper! Only recently did I learn that the activist at that meeting was Riverwest artist Marina Lee. Marina’s idea may not have been ripe enough for Gordon Park. Or Riverwest may not have been ready to hear her. But last year, Marina brought out the idea again — this time for the renovation of the small tot-lot on Bremen Street unofficially called Baby Park. On June 11, Riverwest and the City of Milwaukee celebrated the opening of our newest renovated park, now officially named Snail’s Crossing. “A Little Riverwest Park Created by ME,” the program read. Who is ME? More than 1,200 names appear in the program. It is the list of children, near neighbors, far friends, and others who, under Marina’s guidance, in some way contributed to the park. Painting tiles, writing “walk words,” designing banners, casting concrete benches, building cedar fences, and planting more than 100 trees and shrubs, participants made this project their own. Even though the constant rainy weather meant that some installations weren’t completed in time for the opening, those attending felt pride in the role they played in creating this special spot in Riverwest. As is Marina’s style, she shared the spotlight with the many organizations and businesses contributing to the project. “The children helping plant the bushes and trees were naming them as they planted,” she reflected later. “What lucky plants, to be planted with love and laughter.” Many of the children had been to the park before the opening to hang “wish ribbons” on the trees. “The first walk word submitted to the park was by Darlene Hagopian — ‘Magic.’ I think she set the tone. Sometimes people don’t give children credit with art, but their special touch to the park has added that magical, peaceful atmosphere.This is a park with so many energies, from so many people,” Marina explained. Ald. Mike D’Amato’s office was not to let this event pass without special recognition to “a dreamer who is also a doer,” as emcee Vince Bushell said. D’Amato declared June 11, 2004, Marina Lee Day throughout the city and presented her with a special recognition plaque for outstanding service to the community.
by Suzanne Zipperer