This Place in History: Heavenly Park

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BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Burlington with Steve Perkins, executive director of the Vermont Historical Society 

“We’re on the grounds of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and we’re going to be talking about the really unique landscape that’s around us. So we’ve asked Devin Colman, who’s the Vermont State Architectural Historian to join us and tell us all about it,” began Perkins.

“The story here really begins in 1972 when the original church burned unfortunately and the Catholic Diocese made a decision to rebuild on this site and to build modern because their congregation was modern, living in modern houses, working in modern offices, modern schools. Why shouldn’t they worship in a modern building, as well?”

“And so to do that, the church hired Edward Larrabee Barnes to design the cathedral and landscape architect Daniel Urban Kiley to design the landscape around the building,” said Colman.

“He is really regarded today as one of the most, if not the foremost practitioners of landscape architecture of the 20th Century. So he was a big deal. What’s really notable is that he was designing projects for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Lincoln Center in New York City, working out of his office and home in Charlotte, Vermont for more than 50 years. So this little office on the shore of Lake Champlain was doing internationally renown landscape projects and this is the only one in Burlington. So it’s really significant,” explained Colman.

“This is classic Kiley, if you will. What’s really interesting is that the roots of his designs come out of 17th Century French Baroque landscape design, which is very geometric and laid out with alleys of trees and creating small rooms within a landscape. His designs complement the geometries of modernist buildings. And so here for example you can see how the lines of the trees, the grid that he worked with provide a structure for the landscape and they line up with the angles of the building.”

“Within that structure, the individual trees, the texture of the bark, the branches, the sunlight coming through the canopy activates the space and gives it a natural feeling. So it’s the combination of the natural elements  within a geometric layout that is trademark for Kiley’s work,” said Colman.

“I hate to talk about it but site is being sold. Any thoughts on what’s going to happen to this property?” asked Perkins

“Well it’s hard to say at this point. It’s just going on the market, so who knows what might become of it. It is a really important space within Burlington. For over 150 years, it has been the site of a church and been, I like to call it, sort of a place of refuge within the bigger hustle and bustle of the city. There’s a lot going on around it, which is great. That’s part of why Burlington is fun to be in.”

“But within any urban environment, you still need to balance that hustle and bustle with quiet places and I think this is one of them where you can step out of the urban environment, be in some grass and some trees and just sort of take a pause and then step back into the city,” concluded Colman.

At ‘This Place in History”!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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