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Sunday Market Square Renovation Nets Federal Award

May 8, 2007 — The renovation and historic restoration of Christiansted’s Sunday Market Square has won an excellence in highway design award from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Gathering at the Department of Public Works St. Croix office Monday afternoon were architect William Taylor, officials from Public Works and representatives of the St. Croix Foundation and Tip Top Construction. The Excellence in Highway Design awards are given every two years in a variety of categories. In each category there is one excellence award, two or three merit awards and some lesser honors. The particular award for Sunday Market Square was one of three merit awards given in the category of historic preservation. FHWA Division Administrator Roberto Fonseca-Martinez flew in from Richmond, Va., to give the awards.
“The FHWA spends $35 to $38 billion a year to provide better transportation for the nation,” Fonseca-Martinez said. “We always look for projects that stand out for their really good design features. This came about because of the work of many people. So we are recognizing all of our partners: the Department of Public Works, the St. Croix Foundation, Mr. Taylor the architect and Tip Top Construction, who did much of the work.”
Of the partners who put the project together, Taylor not only designed and developed the plans for the revitalization project, but he also proposed the project initially, conferring with the St. Croix Foundation and getting the ball rolling.
“Before the work it was an asphalt parking lot,” Taylor said. “I was with the St. Croix Foundation, who owned several of the buildings. I pressed them to reestablish the area as public space. They contacted the local authorities and the FHWA.”
Dating from 1735, the square is one of the oldest planned public spaces in the U.S. For more than two centuries Sunday Market Square was shaded by huge, hoary mahogany trees running up and down both sides of the street. Taylor marks the beginning of the square’s decline to the decision years back to cut those ancient trees down to make way for power lines. He is particularly happy the square has trees again. The mahogany trees lining the street today came from the federal forest reserve in Estate Thomas.
“We picked the biggest ones we could take,” Taylor said.
Taylor spoke enthusiastically about the historic and aesthetic elements of the project. The well across from Hal Dal restaurant on the east side of the street is where the original, centuries-old well stood.
“We thought it was closer to the middle of the street and we kept looking for it,” Taylor said. “When we found it, beneath the asphalt and the well cap, it was in almost perfect shape.”
Another historical element incorporated in the new work is the series of cobblestone rumble strips that run across the street.
“We had inklings from archival material that there had been these transverse cobble gutters running from west to east, then flowing into they main culvert,” Taylor said. “We salvaged blocks from the old cobblestones underneath the asphalt and used them for the wall and the cobblestone sections of the street.”
The red and white headwall by the culvert is another historically accurate element of the restoration. With it, the well and the mahogany trees, the square now looks more like it did a century and a half ago than it has in many decades. All of these features can be seen in a sketch of the square done by French impressionist painter Camille Pisarro sometime between 1847 and 1852.
“This is a perfect example of the kind of public/private partnership that can take us forward,” said Public Works Commissioner-Designate Darryl Smalls upon receiving his award.
The project had its share of unexpected difficulties, recalled Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Aloy Nielsen.
“We started at $1.4 million and ended up around $2.5 million,” Nielsen said. “The nature of a project like this is it starts out one way and ends another. But it was well worth it. … These small projects, one after another, will transform the heard of Christiansted.”
The St. Croix Foundation is now looking to restore the historic buildings they own along Sunday Market Square. Work is underway on the roof of the old theater on the square. But that particular project needs several million dollars in additional funding that has not yet been identified, so there is no time line as of yet for that project.
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