Alfred Caldwell’s Eagle Point Park

Alfred Caldwell’s Eagle Point Park

Alfred Caldwell titled his creation at Eagle Point Park, “a city in a garden.” The park sits high atop of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River on the northeast corner of Dubuque. Caldwell’s work at the park was made possible through the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) program to expand and renovate the park. With the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic ideas, Caldwell designed the pavilions, the lily pond, the ledge gardens, council rings, and pathways.

1 Lilly Pond Construction Alfred Caldwell on left with can ca 1934-35 TH Photo

Lilly Pond Construction Alfred Caldwell on the left (Photo Credit: Telegraph Herald photo from the collection of Loras College Center for Dubuque History)

Caldwell constructed three pavilions out of striated limestone pulsating in and out from the vertical plane and simultaneously emphasizing the horizontality of the buildings with low-slung hipped roofs and wide eaves. He produced most of the materials needed on site opening a stone quarry nearby and cutting lumber from the local timber. The pavilions were clustered near the highest point in the park and provided multipurpose meeting rooms, dining rooms, and bathrooms around stone hearths. The bridge pavilion stretches across the main road to create a formal entry to the park.

The buildings are connected with stone terraces, benches, and walls. The organic quality of Caldwell’s design was strengthened by the native plants placed informally around the pavilions and throughout the park. In true Prairie school fashion, Caldwell aimed to blur the distinction between nature and the built environment, particularly with the use of the ledge garden, the lily pool, and the council rings intentionally set to grow out of the hill.

4 Women on Councel Ring ca 1930s TH Photo

Women on the Council Ring, ca. 1930’s (Photo Credit: Telegraph Herald photo from the collection of Loras College Center for Dubuque History)

The park won a national W.P.A. design award in 1936, and Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt visited the site during the 1936 presidential campaign. Upon seeing Caldwell’s work, President Roosevelt remarked that “this is my idea of a worthwhile boondoggle.” Caldwell was subsequently fired from this job, just as he would be fired from most of the jobs he would ever have.

Caldwell’s work at Eagle Point Park will be examined and celebrated during Heritage Works’ upcoming inaugural Dubuque Heritage Festival on October 7 and 8.  The afternoon on October 7 will feature a symposium for architects, landscape architects, historic preservation professionals and anyone else interested in history, Caldwell’s work or historic landscapes.  Friday evening will feature a reception at the Dubuque Museum of Art and the opening of the museum’s exhibit of some of Caldwell’s drawings and other artifacts of Caldwell’s time in Dubuque.  Saturday will give the public an opportunity to participate in docent-led tours of Caldwell’s shelters and landscapes in Eagle Point Park.  For further information visit:  http://heritageworksdbq.com/festival/
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Heritage Works Dubuque :: Dubuque Heritage Festival, Arthur Caldwell's Eagle Point Park

Architect of the Month: Alfred Caldwell, August 2016

Architect of the Month: Alfred Caldwell, August 2016

Caldwell (Credit Illinois Institute of Technology)

Alfred Caldwell (Photo Credit: Illinois Institute of Technology)

Alfred Caldwell (1903 – 1998), was a landscape architect who mastered the use of Prairie School style of architecture. Caldwell had an interest in nature from early on in his life continuing into high school when he worked part-time jobs with nurseries and landscape gardeners.
In 1921, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study landscape architecture but his studies bored him and he preferred to craft his visions with work outside of the classroom. He left school and went to work for renowned landscape architect, Jens Jenson, in Chicago, from 1924-1931. Caldwell completed various jobs for his mentor, Jensen as their work relationship soon developed into a close friendship. After a short stint as a private practice landscape architect and with a recommendation from Jensen, Caldwell earned the position of superintendent of parks in Dubuque specifically overseeing the construction of Eagle Point Park from 1934 – 1936. He directed the construction of the shelter areas, the lily pond, and the ledge gardens and called his masterpiece a “City in a Garden.”

JJ&Caldwell

Alfred Caldwell with Jens Jenson

He left Dubuque in 1936 to accept the position of landscape designer for the Chicago Park District where he designed landscapes for hundreds of acres of Chicago’s parks, including the Lincoln Park Zoo lily pond. In 1945 Caldwell was hired by Mies van der Rohe to teach landscape architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) College of Architecture. IIT eventually awarded him a Master of Science in city planning in 1948. Caldwell left IIT in 1960 to teach at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.  He then later taught at the University of Southern California until 1973.

Caldwell returned to teaching at IIT in 1982 until his death in 1998. He was not only a gifted landscape architect but also did work as a civil engineer, city planner, and a prolific writer of poems and essays. Additionally, he was a critic of urban sprawl and advocated for environmental conservation. Throughout the remaining years of his life, he continued to develop a marvelous Prairie school landscape at his Bristol, Wisconsin farm. Dennis Domer, the author of Caldwell’s biography, labeled him as the last representative of the great Prairie School landscape architects.

EPP Bridge

Eagle Point Park Bridge

Caldwell’s work at Eagle Point Park will be examined and celebrated during Heritage Works’ upcoming inaugural Dubuque Heritage Festival on October 7 and 8.  The afternoon on October 7 will feature a symposium for architects, landscape architects, historic preservation professionals and anyone else interested in history, Caldwell’s work or historic landscapes.  Friday evening will feature a reception at the Dubuque Museum of Art and the opening of the museum’s exhibit of some of Caldwell’s drawings and other artifacts of Caldwell’s time in Dubuque.  Saturday will give the public an opportunity to participate in docent-led tours of Caldwell’s shelters and landscapes in Eagle Point Park.  For further information visit:  http://heritageworksdbq.com/festival/Heritage Works Dubuque :: Dubuque Heritage Festival, Arthur Caldwell's Eagle Point Park