The City of Evanston's latest plan for rebuilding Fountain Square has a lot of good features.
The new fountain design, the expanded walking and sitting areas, the "shared streets" concept to make the whole square more attractive for festivals — all promise to be improvements over the current configuration of this important downtown public space.
But the proposed 12-foot tall by 35-foot long war memorial wall needs to be substantially scaled down in size.
A rendering of the proposed new memorial wall.
As proposed, the etched glass wall would block or obscure views into the square for pedestrians walking in front of the Fountain Square Building and for people inside the building's ground floor retail space.
In doing that it will also substantially reduce the effective spectator capacity for events in the square.
The existing brick columns aren't a perfect solution. Veterans have noted, for example, that the central column, for World War II dead, is so tall that it's difficult to read the names at the top. But at least the columns keep the view into the square open from most angles.
The city's consultants suggest they've borrowed the concept for the new glass wall from the recently-completed American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington D.C.
An image of one of the glass walls at the disabled veterans memorial site in Washington.
But even there each 48-inch-wide glass panel, which weighs 1,800 pounds, is two-inches shy of nine feet tall — not the 12-foot height proposed in the Evanston design.
To continue to display the roughly 345 names of Evanston war dead on a new memorial, at the same one-inch type size used on the existing bronze plaques and with similar spacing on a 35-foot long wall would require roughly one-third the height called for in the current design — even after leaving ample top and bottom margins.
Etched glass may turn out to be the right material for a new monument to Evanston's war dead. Or perhaps the right material is granite — like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — or a recasting of the bronze plaques used in the current memorial.
But the proposed size of the new memorial is out of scale and out of character for what's intended to be a multi-use public space.