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history

How two sister-Parks Came to Be

From parking lots to acres of beautiful urban greenspace, right in the heart of a rising North Carolina city, a rich history is woven as intricately as the historic railways that earned us the moniker of 'Gate City' and as tightly as the denim threads that gave us the nickname of 'Jeansboro'. 

Land Acknowledgement

The land where Greensboro, and subsequently LeBauer and Center City Parks, was founded has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst a number of indigenous peoples. By the 1600s, members of the Saura and Keyauwee tribes, specifically, called this region home.

 

Additionally, North Carolina has been home to many Indigenous peoples at various points in time, including the tribes/nations of: Bear River/Bay River, Cape Fear, Catawba, Chowanoke, Coree/Coranine, Creek, Croatan, Eno, Hatteras, Keyauwee, Machapunga, Moratoc, Natchez, Neusiok, Pamlico, Shakori, Saura/Cheraw, Sissipahaw, Sugeree, Wateree, Weapemeoc, Woccon, Yadkin, and Yeopim. Today, North Carolina recognizes 8 tribes: Coharie, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Saponi, Haliwa Saponi, Waccamaw Siouan, Sappony, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Guilford County is home to the oldest American Indian urban association in North Carolina, the Guilford Native American Association, established in 1975. 

 

Any history of land must include acknowledgement of the impact of colonialism as a current and ongoing process. It is important to understand the long standing history that has brought us to reside on the land and to seek to understand our place within that history. Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. honors and respects the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to this territory on which we now gather.

Expand the map below to learn more. Source: NC DOA Commission of Indian Affairs

Early 19th Century

Though German and Quaker immigrants began settling in Guilford County as early as the 1740s, the legislative act creating Greensboro was not passed until 1807. Forty-two acres of land were purchased, and in 1809 the county seat was officially moved to Greensboro.  The original plan for the town consisted of 3 streets running east-west for 3 blocks and 3 streets running north-south for 3 blocks. The future site of Center City Park was in the northeast corner of the 1809 town plan. Friendly Avenue was then called Gaston Street.

Mid to Late-19th Century

Still considered merely a small village throughout the early 19th century, Greensboro saw slow population growth until the early 1840s, when the state government designated the location as one of the stops on a new railroad line at the request of Governor John Motley Morehead, whose house, Blandwood, was located here. Stimulated by rail traffic and improved access to markets, the city grew substantially, soon becoming known as the "Gate City" due to its role as a transportation hub for the Piedmont. The railroads transported goods to and from the cotton textile mills throughout the region. By 1900, Greensboro was considered a center of the Southern textile industry, with large-scale factories producing denim, flannel, and overalls. This history, which lives on today with hometown companies like Wrangler still producing denim and other textiles, has earned the city the contemporary nickname of "Jeansboro". 

Greensboro's identity rooted in railroads and textiles would be interpreted in numerous design elements in Center City and LeBauer Parks. The wooden pergolas in Center City are based on the form of the shuttle and weaving loom, recalling the importance of this industry to the city's growth. LeBauer Park's iconic aerial sculpture, Where We Met, by Janet Echelman is based on a map of Greensboro railroads connecting historic textile mills throughout the region. 

20th Century

During the 20th century, Greensboro continued to increase in population and wealth. Other notable industries became established in the city, including Vicks Chemical Co., Carolina Steel Corporation, and Pomona Terra Cotta Works. Growth continued even through the Great Depression, as Greensboro attracted an estimated 200 new families per year. The city earned a reputation as a well-planned community with a strong emphasis on parks being one of the key features of its success. In 1915, the visionary philanthropist who kickstarted the development of a landmark downtown park nearly 100 years later, Carolyn Weill LeBauer, was born. 

 

From Greensboro’s early history, Elm Street was lined with commercial buildings, but North Davie Street remained primarily residential until the end of World War II, marked by the bell tower of the First Presbyterian Church building, which today houses the Greensboro Historical Museum. Throughout the middle of the 20th century, residential buildings were replaced by commercial buildings and parking lots. In 1971, the YWCA opened a downtown location on Davie St. at the site that would later hold LeBauer Park's Great Lawn.

 

Throughout this time, Greensboro became a critical site for the Civil Rights Movement. During the height of this period in the early 1960s, students from A&T were a major force in protests to achieve racial justice, desegregation of public facilities, and fair employment, beginning with the Greensboro Four, who sat-in at the segregated lunch counter at Woolworth's department store in 1960 to gain service. The largest civil rights protests in North Carolina history took place in Greensboro in May and June 1963. Today, the historic Woolworth's building in Greensboro is home to the International Civil Rights Museum.

 

Sixty years after the Greensboro Four first took their rightful seats at the Woolworth's lunch counter, the largest event in LeBauer Park's history, the BlackOut NC demonstration, took place. On June 7, 2020, over 9,000 people joined together in the pursuit of change in our city and beyond, spurred by the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police across the country, including George Floyd. When the community needed to come together most, centering justice for Black Lives and demanding equity for all people, they came to the park. 

2000 - 2006

By the late 90s, a focus on downtown revitalization shifted the course of Greensboro's economic and community development. Downtown Greensboro, Inc. was incorporated in November 1996, and Action Greensboro was formed in 2001. The need for a downtown greenspace was identified as a key development feature to create a central location in the heart of the business district for the community to gather.

 

Land acquisition for what would become Center City Park began in 2002. By March 2003, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) was brought in to consult on the creation of a new urban park in line with the best practices of placemaking at the time. PPS worked with the City and community members to create a vision for what this new park could be, facilitating placemaking workshops where participants developed a range of both short-term opportunities and a long-term vision plan. The new park was envisioned as an opportunity to revitalize Downtown Greensboro and to create a community gathering place that would be a destination for residents and downtown workers alike. On August 7, 2003 a “Start the Park” ribbon cutting invited the community to come together on the future park site and help cut 1,500 feet of ribbon encircling the space. After removing the existing structures and parking lots and grading the property, an Interim Park opened in November 2003 to allow visitors to experience the site as an open space and imagine what features would make for the best urban park for Greensboro. The first public event in this space was Festival of Lights in early December 2003, now an annual tradition in Center City Park marked by Greensboro's largest Christmas tree lighting. 

In March 2004, the Center City Park Committee issued a nationwide request for proposals from top park designers. From 29 landscape architecture firms responding, the Halvorson Design Partnership, Inc. of Boston was selected.​ Local design firm J. Hyatt Hammond Associates assisted with on-site supervision, and Rentenbach Constructors, Inc. served as general contractor. Don Euser Waterarchitecture, Inc. of Ontario was selected to design the fountain.  ETM Associates, LLC assisted in developing strategies for operating and managing the park, which helped establish a public/private partnership between the City of Greensboro and Action Greensboro, which would oversee the park's development and subsequent management, laying the groundwork for what would become the management plan when Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. was created nearly a decade later. 

The ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the re-opening of the newly-finished Center City Park was held on December 1, 2006.

2012 - 2016

From it's opening, Center City Park, along with the later developed Festival Park across the street, would host hundreds of public gatherings, festivals, and community celebrations. Action Greensboro, which continued to manage Center City Park's daily operations laid the groundwork for what a new public-private partnership for urban park management in Greensboro would look like by the time a bequest was made to construct a brand new park in late 2012. 

In November 2012, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro announced that Carolyn Weill LeBauer, who had died in March, had left $10 million to build a spectacular park for all people that would see the community come together in the heart of Greensboro. The foundation selected the 4-acre site directly across Davie St. from Center City Park, which held Festival Park and previously a downtown YWCA location. The site, bordered by the Greensboro Cultural Center, Greensboro Public Library, Greensboro History Museum, and directly across from the planned location for the Steven Tanger Center for Performing Arts (later opened in 2020), was deemed an ideal location for a new urban greenspace unlike anything previously seen in the region. 

For landscape design, programming and management expertise, local park planners turned to nationally-known landscape architecture firm The Office of James Burnett in California and Biederman Redevelopment Ventures in New York. In the early 1990s, Dan Biederman led the effort to redesign Bryant Park in Manhattan with a new vision for how an urban park would be activated by public programs and events, enhancing the safety and security of the space, as well as the economic and community development of the entire surrounding area. He and landscape architect, Nathan Elliot piloted other new park designs in this same model, including Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas, TX. 

Construction broke ground on the new site in 2014. LeBauer Park was designed as a playful series of outdoor rooms that would inspire activity and breathe life into the daily goings on of downtown Greensboro. The Edward M. Armfield Sr. Foundation made a $1 million gift to finance an iconic public artwork to center the design of the new park. Janet Echelman’s billowing sculpture, 'Where We Met', whose design is based on maps of historic railways connecting textile mills throughout the region, hangs above the park's Great Lawn in brightly woven strands that illuminate at night. The city invested $1.8 million to surrounding streetscape improvements. 

LeBauer Park opened on August 8, 2016. A new nonprofit, Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. was created a year prior to manage the new park, along with its sister park, Center City, directly across the street. This nonprofit would oversee the daily operations of each park, as well as the public activation of the spaces, which would see over 450 free programs for the community each year in a new model for placemaking in Greensboro. Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. maintains a public-private partnership with the City of Greensboro in the oversight of these public spaces. The parks are publicly owned, but privately managed, with approximately 60% of GDPI's annual operating budget coming from fundraising efforts via individual donations, corporate sponsorships, and grant funding. 

Today