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Denton residents Shane Loeser, left, and Samuel Paniagua chat and relax at a pocket park near Industrial Street and East Mulberry Street. Parks and Recreation crew spent about $11,000 to grade, install irrigation and lay sod and make the park more inviting.

Update: The redesign of Industrial Street Park originally included plans to remove the grass and replace it with synthetic turf. Officials have since decided to use grass in the park. 

Before summer ends, a downtown Denton pocket park will look a lot more inviting.

It will also give Denton history a signal boost, thanks to a large, interactive art installation honoring the work of a group of Denton women in the 1960s and ’70s.

Industrial Street Park is a snug 4,600 square feet of green space, nestled between townhomes and the strip that houses Hoochie’s, Hickory Street Lounge and Rusty Taco at the corner of Industrial and East Hickory streets. Drew Huffman, the assistant director of the Denton Parks & Recreation Department, said the redesign should start any day now.

“This is a really small park, a pocket park, they call it,” Huffman said. “You can actually do a lot with these smaller spaces. More than you might think just looking at them.”

Giving the space a facelift

Huffman likens Industrial Street Park to Paley Park in New York City. In the 1960s, the “original vest pocket park,” which sits on a tenth of an acre and is flanked on three sides by buildings, is a tourist attraction. The focal point is a 20-foot-tall wall of water, but the two vertical gardens give a pretty pop of green, too. Blooming flower pots dot the stone-paved ground, and rows of bistro tables and chairs beckon residents and visitors to stop and sit a spell.

Like the famous New York park, Industrial Street Park sits on a tenth of an acre. Two picnic tables are the only items in the park right now. But starting this month, that will change.

The first phase of the two-phase redesign includes building three points of access to the park and installing a public art piece honoring the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship, an ongoing collective of Black and white Christian women best known for racially integrating local restaurants and paving the roads in Southeast Denton, the neighborhood where local Black families settled after officials expelled them from a thriving, middle-class Black community named Quakertown in the 1920s. The Black families were forced to relocate so that the city could use the community land for a park, and to soothe the anxieties of white families who felt the Black residents lived uncomfortably close to what is now Texas Woman’s University.

Huffman said that, while the footprint of the park can’t grow, it will get more comfortable and easier to access.

“We’re putting in two ADA ramps for entrances on Industrial Street and one on the Williams Square side,” Huffman said. “We’ll put in 1,400 square feet of grass, and we’ll put in Redbud trees.”

Crews will add benches on either side of the circular green space planned for the park, and a small bandstand will be built to encourage more performances by solo acts, small bands and performing groups. Large planters will tie the park into the East Hickory Street corridor.

What’s out? A few Hackberry trees already near the end of their 20-25-year lifespan, the green powder-coated picnic tables and the nighttime darkness. When phase 2 gets funding, parks and recreation crews will add catenary lighting (the popular curved string lighting found in outdoor gathering spaces all over the country), irrigation, grading and other site work. 

Huffman said the department talked to members of the Denton Main Street Association as well as business and condominium owners about the development, and said the feedback was positive.

“This will be a park for leisure,” Huffman said. “It will be a place for people to gather and spend time as they come from all the eateries, bars and live music.”

The first phase will cost $100,000, with $80,000 allocated for the art installation. No taxpayer money will go to the project, instead funds will be drawn from dedication fees paid by residential developers.

Giving the space meaning

A major portion of the redesign is an art installation that pays tribute to the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship.

Artist Dina Fisher is already at work on the installation, which includes a large “image curtain” at the rear of the park, art lanterns to add ambiance to the oval lawn, and two five-foot lenticular discs at the entrance of the park on Industrial Street.

Fisher, who lives in California, said the installation will entice both lovers of more traditional art and digital buffs.

“The image curtain, that one is specifically designed to be walked around,” Fisher said. “We’re also designing it with a website that you will get to by using Google Lens.”

Google Lens is an image recognition app. Visitors to the park will be able to launch the app, point their phone at the art, and have more information open on their phones about the fellowship, and how the interracial group of women changed the city’s trajectory.

“In commemorating this amazing group of women, it’s really important to me for the teachers and students to be able to get more information about who they were, who they are and what they did,” Fisher said.

The 24-foot image curtain will have discs suspended from a bar standing in an arc. The discs will have the images of the women of the fellowship, historical images of Denton’s Black community, and quotes by some of the women in the fellowship. The piece will invite viewers to walk around it, reading and reflecting on their lives and work.

The art lanterns will have images on them, and the lenticular discs will appear to be animated as viewers move around them. Fisher said there’s no electricity or computing on them, just a special lens that bends the light.

The art is made of aluminum, and the images won’t fade, Fisher said.

“Vibrant color was part of my whole concept for the piece,” Fisher said. “All the colors of the rainbow make the world a better place. Literally, it’s a beautiful thing. Many of the photos I used were black and white. But with creativity and software, I was able to colorize them. The idea for this piece was that it explodes with color.”

Fisher said the subject matter is close to her heart.

“My family is mixed,” Fisher said. “I was raised that way. I was brought up like that — we all looked different. These women in Denton, they were a lot like my mother. My mother grew up in West Virginia, and was very oppressed by the patriarchy. She saw with great clarity that the same thing that was oppressing her was oppressing African-American people. She went to a historically Black university that integrated the year or so before she enrolled. The project spoke to me. I was very honored to get this commission and a chance to honor these women and honor my mother.”

Changing a business district and neighborhood

David Layton has lived in the Industrial Street townhouse complex for nine years.

“We’re excited,” Layton said of himself and his neighbors. “We were thrilled when the city bought it and started to maintain it. It was just a little field when I moved in. I would drag my weed whacker over there because the business owners were doing their best, but maintenance crews weren’t showing up all the time.”

When COVID-19 hit, the residents thought the plan to redesign the park was on hold indefinitely. Layton and his neighbors were enjoying the park since the city added tables, sprinklers and a sign. But the pandemic made downtown feel like a ghost town, at least until curbside service started.

“Early spring, I see some movement going on, and me being Mr. Private, I asked, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ They told us they were inspecting the foundation and we were like, ‘What for?’ It was an engineer, not the city. And they said the project was going to start.”

Layton said he called parks and recreation and found out that once the art installation was finalized late in 2020 the project redesign was restarted.

“We’re ready for it to start,” Layton said. “[The Parks Department] have been good neighbors. I think it will definitely enhance the area, add a sense of security and get people back downtown. We’re anxious for them to get started. I’ve mentioned to the owners of the restaurants and bars, and they’ve said, ‘Yeah, we welcome any enhancement.’ I think it’s a really nice passage way from downtown. It gives people a chance to stay and [tell each other] let’s do it a little longer. It’s good for the businesses and it’s good for us.”

Layton said he’s especially pleased that the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship Monument will be downtown.

“I know that there was discussion that a monument would be in Fred Moore Park, which is understandable. But we were told that the city talked to the group and they said, ‘We know why you would consider that, but put it downtown.’ I have to agree. Bring this here, downtown. Incorporate that here, and continue to embrace the multiculturalism that makes Denton what it is.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.