BY KATIE WALSH — A nearly two-decade dream is finally coming to fruition through the installation of a military service memorial at the site of an abandoned pumping station along the Northwest Branch Trail.
Currently, there is no public space dedicated to recognizing military veterans in the community. Plans for the memorial, which are slated to be finalized in early November ahead of a scheduled install date of March 2018, call for the pumping station’s oft-graffitied retaining wall to be transformed into an artistically devised, environmentally-sensitive sculptural memorial place for quiet reflection as well as ceremonies for veterans.
“It has potential to be a reflection of the community instead of the blight that it is,” said Stuart Eisenberg, the executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (CDC), who is one of the main drivers behind the project.
While the serious planning and grant application only began about a year ago for the memorial, “this is something that has been bubbling in Hyattsville for a long time,” said Eisenberg.
Eisenberg said the idea for a military service memorial was first brought up about 25 years ago by Michael Albertson, who is a Vietnam veteran and former Hyattsville councilman. At the time, Albertson received pushback from community members who considered a memorial to be a celebration of war. Eisenberg inquired about the idea when he served as a councilmember in 2001-2005, but found little interest. But as times changed, opinions on the matter softened, and Eisenberg has now teamed up with Councilmember Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) to push the project forward.
Solomon said he and Eisenberg started discussing how to get a military service memorial in Hyattsville about three years ago, when two residents approached him about wanting a space for a memorial. Solomon said he was drawn to the project because of a grandparent who served whom he never got to meet, and he donated $5,000 of his own money to get the funding started.
“The veteran community always acts in the ideal that we’re all in this together,” said Solomon. “They show their willingness to fight for that belief. I wanted to put my money behind my belief in the same ideology.”
So far, the CDC has raised $58,000 of $75,000 budgeted for the first phase of the memorial’s development.
The Hyattsville CDC has hosted two community meetings about the memorial. Hyattsville residents, including several current service members and veterans, gathered at the Hyattsville Municipal Building on Aug. 30 to view four prototypes for the memorial from Baltimore-based artist Becky Borlan and give their opinions.
Borlan, who was approached to design the memorial after having submitted proposals for other projects for Hyattsville CDC, said she was planning to use the feedback she received at the community meeting to narrow down her designs.
“It’s immensely helpful to me as a designer in this public project to have individual viewpoints beyond my own,” she said.
While the proposed designs vary in color and construction, Borlan said some things will be the same no matter which of her designs is ultimately chosen: a paved pathway enabling wheelchair access for disabled veterans as well as seating all along the wall. Plans also include outdoor shadow boxes as a way of allowing various displays to be assembled.
“Hyattsville is a storytelling town, so we will have to build in the ability to tell stories,” said Eisenberg.
Normon Greene, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, said he is looking forward to having a memorial so close to home. Greene, a resident of Takoma Park, Md., is a Gateway Arts District sculptor with a studio in Brentwood.
“There’s a lot of us who have people who’ve been in the war, and there’s no place to go,” Greene said.
Greene voiced a preference for Borlan’s first option for the memorial, in which two large arches slope over a copper background that mimics an abacus and earth-toned stones. He said it felt “almost like arms pulling you in — it feels comforting with the arches and colors.”
Another benefit the memorial will have is a defense against graffiti. The materials being discussed for the project are graffiti-resistant, and having something official in the area instead of the abandoned retaining wall could help reduce attacks, said Eisenberg.
“We haven’t had any public artworks tagged,” he said.
But beyond that, Eisenberg is just happy to see his idea finally become a reality.
“This is what this community does — it gets stuff done,” he said.