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Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project

As one of the most significant properties in the State of New Jersey from an architectural, cultural, and historical perspective, the reclamation of Johnson Park is long overdue.   Not only is the park an important  part of Camden’s heritage, it represents an opportunity to develop pride among City residents and reestablish the City as the cultural center of southern New Jersey.  The Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project entails a complete rehabilitation of the historic Eldridge R. Johnson Park to a state mimicking its original grandeur upon completion in 1930.   This is the period from which most elements remain extant, and in which the park attained the unique and playful character for which it is remembered.

A project team of landscape architects, engineers, curators, historians, and preservation experts was assembled to complete the designs for the rehabilitation of Johnson Park: Cooper's Ferry Development Association (project management), Andropogon Associates (landscape architect), DPK, AIA (restoration architecture), Kreilick Conservation (architectural conservation), Bruce Brooks and Associates (mechanical engineering), and Damiano Long (surveying).  This extensive project is made possible by a $1.6 million grant to the Camden Redevelopment Agency from the Camden Economic Recovery Board and an additional $900,000 of grant funding to Cooper's Ferry Development Association and Camden County from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program.

There are five main areas of effort in the overall rehabilitation including restoration of important sculptures within the park; the restoration of the fountains and pools; rehabilitation of the landscape; historic interpretation; and accessibility improvements.

1. Restoration of Sculptures

The original designs for Johnson Park included a number of unique bronze and limestone sculptures.  While there are several pieces which exist intact, a number of items exist in pieces or in photographic record only.  The major restorative efforts of the project include the rehabilitation of the Peter Pan statue, including reconstructing Peter Pan’s flute; restoring the lamp columns and four-globe light standards at each side of the base of the library steps; rebuilding the magnificent bronze railing surrounding the base of the Pan Fountain; and restoring the light fixtures on the balustrade wall at each walkway.

2. Rehabilitation of Pools and Fountains

When Johnson Park fell into disrepair, the pools were filled with soil and planted.  The Rehabilitation Project calls for the excavation of the soil and the creation of reflecting pools at the Buddha fountain and surrounding the Peter Pan statue.  Updated plumbing, a filtration system, and other changes will be made to minimize hazards and maintenance issues.

3. Landscape Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation of the landscape includes a broad range of activities such as repairing and replacing paving, plantings, and site structures.  This includes adding seating areas and increased lighting to expand the use of the park as a tourist destination and community gathering area.

4. Historic Interpretation

The Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project presents an opportunity to interpret and present the history of the park.  The pergolas being built to mimic the changing pagodas that once stood in the park will offer additional seating in the park. And, through interpretive signage and future exhibitions we hope to share the history of the park with people throughout the region. 

5. Accessibility Improvements

The project’s accessibility improvements will not only make the Cooper Library building fully A.D.A. accessible, it will repair the damage that has been caused by the introduction of the handicap ramp in the rear of the building.  The project entails removing the existing handicap ramp, which was added in 1979, and creating a basement level entrance into the building by excavating portions in the rear of the park.  An elevator will then be added into the building to make all three floors of the building fully accessible.

The Project’s Importance

In the period from 1950 to 1970 Johnson Park was seriously neglected and vandalized.  Valuable bronze statues had been stolen or damaged, some ripped from their bases, and graffiti and theft plagued the park that was once the focal point of the City’s cultural history.  In 1997, a Phase I restoration project, led by Cooper’s Ferry, John Giannotti, and Rutgers University, was completed by Heritage Landscapes and successfully salvaged pieces of the park before they had been permanently destroyed; however, there is much work to be completed.

The Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project is another important step toward the revitalization of the City of Camden.  A restored Johnson Park will provide recreational opportunities to people of all ages from the City of Camden and the region, providing culture, education, and entertainment all in one place.  It will serve as a gathering place for residents of the Cooper-Grant neighborhood and a meeting spot for Rutgers University students.  In its strategic location, the restoration of Johnson Park will improve the pedestrian linkages between downtown Camden and waterfront venues.  And, located adjacent to a New Jersey Transit RiverLine station stop, the beauty of Johnson Park may entice residents and visitors alike to stopover, enjoy the open space, patronize downtown businesses, and go to a waterfront attraction. 

The Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project aims to preserve the greatest lasting memorial to Eldridge R. Johnson, who contributed so much to the architectural, cultural, educational, and economic betterment of Camden and the State of New Jersey.  Johnson Park has a long and distinguished history in the City of Camden, and we must ensure that its character and charm remain for future generations to enjoy.

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The Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project is financed by the Camden Redevelopment Agency, the Economic Recovery Board for Camden (ERB), and the State of New Jersey Green Acres Program. The Cooper's Ferry Development Association and Rutgers University are overseeing the project.

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