This is a tale of two tennis courts in Milwaukee’s Washington Park. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame (see a nice NY Times article about his Midwestern parks here), Washington Park was once home to the Milwaukee County Zoo. The zoo moved decades ago, and at some point early in the years since then, these tennis courts were installed and then abandoned as neighborhood demographics and recreational interests changed.
The tennis court on the left side of the panorama (a closer look at that court is shown in the photo above) is largely abandoned, covered with sparkling glass shards and branches and weeds, although at the far end, barricades have been erected to form a low wall creating an arena for “bike polo.” If you enlarge the photo, you can see the graffiti-looking sign saying “Milwaukee Bike Polo” painted onto the metal barricades. I’m not exactly sure what bike polo is, as I’ve never observed anyone actually playing it, but it involves tiny little soccer goal nets set at opposite ends. So apparently it really is polo, played from bikes instead of horses.
(Aside: Milwaukeeans may remember the days back in the 1980s when real polo matches were played on Sundays up on Good Hope Road between 60th and 76th.)
The group of tennis courts on the right side of the panorama have been redone to create a series of small basketball courts, mostly just hoops, I guess. You can tell by the bright morning sunshine that I was driving by really, really early on the day I shot these photos. By late morning and on through the afternoon and evening, these courts were packed with teens and young men.
So from abandoned, weedy artifact to a vibrant center of public recreation—someone in the parks department was paying attention to the needs of today’s community.
If you build it, and it’s the right thing in the right place at the right time, form and function transcend mere utility. “They” will not just come; they will embrace it and make it truly their own.