The most important asset of the park is its wealth of mature trees. This asset gains importance as it contrasts with the surrounding areas lack robust greenery.
The park also is home to a large, although easily missed monument that, at this point, refers to a layered and increasingly distant past. The monument is an obelisk-like granite sculpture with an a stylized woman’s bust at the top of its 35-foot shaft. It was built by the people of St Joseph’s Catholic Congregation and school, for veterans from their community that fought in the Second World War. The life of the congregation has been gone for aver a decade, and now the structure itself is scheduled for demolition. This history belongs to Salem and the park; how can the park creatively capture and communicate this significant story? The monument lies on the main tree-lined path of the park; while this way is underused, other paths have been worn into the grass that begin to hint at useful paths beneficial for the park users.
Lafayette Park has a bad image. Some residents call it Hobo Park, Bum Park, or Drugville. William Legault, a long-time resident of Salem and contributor to the Salem Patch has the park at number two on his list of the “five things that [he finds] to be dragging Salem down” mainly due to the people, who
spoiling this park on a daily basis have no real interest in being helped. I know most of them by name. They don’t want work, and they don’t want services. They want money to drink.
While some of these characterizations have some basis in real occurrences, they create an overall negative image that prohibits other views of the park and makes it difficult to imagine improvements.
Some of the physical characteristics of the park itself do not facilitate other “wholesome” actions that may lead to new perceptions. Lafayette Park is triangular in shape; its form is the leftover space created by the intersection of Lafayette Street (Route 1A, a statewide thoroughfare) and Washington Street, used by many locals as another, sometimes slightly less busy, through way.
All of the benches in the park are on the perimeter and face onto these high traffic streets; people do use the benches, however, especially since the bus stops near the tip of the park. Outside the park, most of the activity occurs directly across the triangle’s corners, especially at the corner of the convenience mart and the inexpensive, weekly-stay, Lafayette Hotel; most of the activity within the park occurs on the periphery, mainly because there are no amenities within its interior. This was not always the case, as there used to be benches at the intersection of the main axes in the park as documented in a 2007 Wicked Local article; it is unclear why these benches were removed.
Recently, construction has updated some of the park’s physical attributes, but most of the improvements seem geared to facilitate the surrounding vehicular traffic, rather than lending any new life to the park itself. The reconstruction has elongated the paved space of the park, added a worthwhile covered bus stop and an information sign about the park itself. However, the new five new benches added, for instance, continue to face route 1A.
Lafayette Park lies at the intersection of several discreet areas of the city. Salem has seven wards; Lafayette Park, located in ward three, serves as the edge of ward one on its east, and ward five on its south. It is also on the edge of the downtown central district and otherwise surrounded by multi-family low to mid income residential housing. While its large size gives the park the potential to be a successful green space for the surrounding dense residential fabric, it presently functions as a left-over green space between the more important thoroughfares bringing in tourists to the central spaces of the city.
Lafayette Park is steps away from downtown Salem, and can serve as an important link in the open space network of the city. Equally important is the ecology network; along the rail, a block west of the park, a linear green way has developed tentatively connected to the wetlands and hills of Salem Woods, further south. If a link were to be established between the rail vegetation and the newly developed Salem Harbor walk, then Lafayette Park could serve as a critical connector piece.