Where to move Salisbury’s Downtown Plaza obelisk?

The Downtown obelisk, in many ways, was erected to announce Salisbury’s future as a progressive city.

Back in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, when Fred P. Adkins was heading up nearly every important community cause in Salisbury, he never would have ever imagined an obelisk in his honor would stand in the center of Salisbury well into the next century.

And when he died in 1963 at age 84, the man who for decades ran the city’s largest family-owned business probably didn’t know that he had influenced so many people in his lifetime that they would preserve his memory with a 30-foot tall aluminum monument on the new Downtown Plaza.

Adkins was a man of accomplishment and generosity, but he was even more than that. Based on newspaper clippings of the time, it is clear that people saw in Adkins and man who believed in Salisbury’s future. He was a business, church and community leader who epitomized progress.

The Downtown obelisk, in many ways, was erected to announce Salisbury’s future as a progressive city. Indeed, progressive is a word often used to describe Adkins – he ran construction company giant E.S. Adkins in a progressive manner (he was known for giving important jobs to women and minorities); he built the region’s tallest building of its time (the Wicomico Hotel); and he recognized that Salisbury’s Central City District would face competition from suburban shopping centers, and helped guide the early thinking that ended in the closing of West Main Street and construction of the Downtown Plaza.

When it came time to decorate the new Plaza, and give it a marker that people would actually come downtown to see, the accomplished son of the equally accomplished Elijah Stanton Adkins was an easy choice for recognition.

A committee devoted to seeing the marker built and installed commissioned a world-renowned artist for the job, a Peruvian named Alfredo Halegua, to build a cement marker. A week before the 35-ton obelisk was set to be delivered from Richmond, the committee and the artist agreed the cement finish was incorrectly processed. The intent was the soaring artwork would have its appearance continuously transformed by a lighted reflecting pool, in which it would be set.

It was agreed that the opposing triangular composition would be recast in aluminum that could offered “shadow planes” that would intrigue those who might view it.

The aluminum, only about a quarter-inch thick, is supported by steel beams inside and has a distinctive roughened finish. There are similarities between the sculpture designed 47 years ago and the recent design of the New York Trade Center, which replaced the Twin Towers. Each has an opposing triangular composition.

Main Street Master Plan

Salisbury’s Main Street renovation project will be completed in three phases over the next several years. A block between Calvert Street and Route 13 has been completed and work on the block between Calvert and Baptist Street is under way.

Work will continue each year up the East Main Street hill, extending all the way into the Downtown Plaza.

The Plaza will undergo a substantial renovation. While it will remain pedestrian friendly, it will become much more like a street. It will remain a one-way thoroughfare, but instead of flowing east to west, it will flip from west to east. Morning commuters entering from the Nanticoke Road corridor will be able to more easily access the heart of the city, rather than bypassing it on either Circle Avenue or Carroll Street.

The city’s first piece of modern art will have to find a new home when renovation work begins on the Downtown Plaza.

When all of this happens, there will be no room for the Fred P. Adkins Monument.

The first piece of public art in Salisbury’s history will need to be moved. Where should its new home be? It’s a potentially difficult question.

Leader with vision

Back in its glory days, E.S. Adkins on North Salisbury Boulevard was the local equivalent of today’s Home Depot or Lowe’s. One different element was the company processed its own lumber, so the family owned acres and acres of trees all over the Eastern Shore.

Adkins lived in one of Salisbury’s grand homes on Park Avenue, overlooking the city’s busy port on today’s North Prong. He was a leader in the city’s service clubs, and saw the business and cultural possibilities Salisbury possessed.

In the 1920s, he was even one of the financial backers of what became The Salisbury Times. Just after World War II, he was at the head of another local group that pioneered air service to Salisbury with Chesapeake Airways. The airline was ahead of its time and lost money, but it established the service that links Salisbury with the rest of the world by air.

He was an early backer of the plan to build the Wicomico Hotel (now One Plaza East, the city’s enduring modern landmark) and had a vision that Salisbury Teachers College could be far more than just a local institution.

A leader in Bethesda United Methodist Church, he pushed the congregation to give up their old Church Street structure and build a new church on North Division Street. Today that church, with its distinctive granite pile construction, stands as unique and important as the other Newtown churches, Trinity Methodist, St. Peter’s Episcopal and Wicomico Presbyterian.

Changemakers and progressives are known for forming simple observations that both disarm and encourage people opposed to change. Adkins offered such a quote in a 1950s Salisbury Times story:

“If we are careful, and want to do the right thing, it usually works out.”

Where to move it?

So where do we move the Adkins obelisk? Where might it stand – respectfully, purposely, inspiringly, reflectively – for the next 47 or so years?

Where, if we do the right thing, might it work out?

Plans are being drawn right now for the city’s new $859,400 traffic circle at the Riverside Drive/Mill Street/Carroll Street/Camden Avenue intersection.

A 120-foot-diameter roundabout is the preferred design for what is considered Salisbury’s busiest intersection. Traffic congestion extending north to Route 50 is a longtime community headache and complaint. While traffic volumes and signal times are the only remedy for West Main and 50, a traffic circle has long been touted as a solution for Riverside and Carroll.

In the center of that circle, nothing is planned as of yet, but most such circles have a vegetative area, with maybe some planters, small trees, bushes or just grass.

Could the Riverside Circle be the next home of the Adkins sculpture?

When asked recently, Amanda Pollack, an engineer who serves as the city’s Director of Infrastructure and Development, said placing the sculpture there would be a bad idea. The thinking among traffic engineers, she said, is that drivers shouldn’t have a visual distraction that causes them to look away from the circle traffic.

While not fully committed, Mayor Jake Day said he is intrigued and the circle might be a good location.

All of which begs the question, where else might it go?

Some options (along with some pluses and minuses for each):

  • Salisbury City Park: An easy solution, but the artwork seems to have an urban quality that might be lost in a park-like setting.
  • Somewhere along the River Walk: Though it’s not an especially interesting solution, a location could probably be carved out somewhere without a lot of debate.
  • The Wicomico Youth & Civic Center: A county facility, it already has the beautiful and appropriate War Memorial on site.
  • Wicomico County-Salisbury-Ocean City Airport: A possibility, but again a county facility. The airport, like the monument, is a symbol of the community’s progressive desires. It would make a statement to visitors arriving by air.
  • Bethesda United Methodist Church: Adkins’ church, but probably not the right location.
  • Camden Community Garden or the Boundless Garden at Chipman Playground: These are locations of growing importance to the city, but probably not appropriate.
  • The proposed traffic circle at Long Avenue/East Main Street/Truitt Street: A future State Highway Administration project, the location would be similar to Riverside Circle, but far removed from Downtown.
  • The east side of the Avery Hall Insurance property on Route 13 between Market and East Main streets: A Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce vegetated area is there now.
  • Incorporate the monument into the development of Lot 1: Another possible solution but very far off in coming to fruition. Some green area is expected to be a part of the massive planned development extending from South Division Street all the way down to West Market Street, but this is private, not public, property.

What are your ideas? Where would you place the Adkins sculpture? We’d love to print some of your suggestions. Email them to salisburyindependent@newszap.com.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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