Monday, September 1, 2003

Radel: Hyde Park happy again


Square project sure was hassle

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HYDE PARK - Hyde Park Square has survived the chain-saw massacre and the early-morning jackhammer serenades.

Most of the new sidewalks are in place. Replacement trees are on their way. The Kilgour Fountain has been restored.

The square's makeover should be complete by the first week of October. So far, it looks swell, elegant even.

But what about the people on the square? How have they coped with nearly six months of life in a construction zone?

To find out, the Summer Tour got its shots and passport in order Thursday and dropped by Hyde Park Square. Folks there were happy to see the project's end in sight and pleased with its end result.

"It's really coming together," said Sarah Germano.

A Hyde Parker for four years, Germano and her daughter, Sophia, and a niece and a nephew, Caroline and Andrew, frolicked near the 103-year-old fountain. Traffic on the surrounding street whizzed around them as they enjoyed the afternoon on the idyllic tree-lined island that is the neatly landscaped heart of the square and upscale city neighborhood.

"The construction made it just about impossible to find a place to park," Germano said. "But in the long run, it'll be beautiful with the new sidewalks and trees. The power lines will go underground and the poles will go away."

The square, she said, "will look so good" people will forget the pain it caused.

Not Joseph Ilagan. He appreciates the effort "to make the square, which I love, even better."

But, on a scale of 1 to 10, he gave the project's headaches "an 11."

Before moving out during the Labor Day weekend, he lived at ground zero. "That's my place," he said and pointed to a second-floor apartment above the intersection of Erie Avenue and Edwards Road.

He stood on a temporary bridge connecting the street to his apartment building. The bridge spanned a gaping hole where the sidewalk used to be. "Most days," he said, "I had a 7 a.m. wake-up call." To the tune of dueling jackhammers.

Unable to sleep late, watch TV, listen to music or read, the freshly minted Xavier University graduate took to visiting "a nearby park or a friend's house."

Some evenings, returning home around midnight, he was still met with the roar of jackhammers and the rumble of dump trucks. That's when Ilagan would open his window, look down at the hard hats and yell: Give me a break!

"The workers never said anything back to me," Ilagan noted. "They couldn't hear me."

One of those construction workers could have been Jody Thomas. The laborer has been assigned to the square since May. He's seen it all, the bad, the good and the beautiful.

"When we first started, you could tell there had been some conflict," Thomas said, directing traffic around a cement truck. "They were still pushing the tree issue."

Some residents of the neighborhood still seethe over the wholesale chain-sawing of the trees posted along the square's sidewalks. Thomas reminded protesters that new trees would be planted "and you got your old trees back in the form of mulch." Some smiled at the irony. "Others didn't see the humor in it."

As the renovation has taken shape, Thomas hears "everybody saying it's real pretty. They realize it's going to help the square."

He likes the compliments. "And the scenery's nice, too," he said, nodding toward a well-dressed pedestrian as she crossed the street.

The free baked goods were not too hard to take either.

"When we worked at the other end of the square," Thomas noted, "this real nice, real trim lady who's always on the go, took the time every morning to bring a tray of pastries to us from an ice cream store."

The store is Graeter's. The trim lady he mentioned is Kathy Graeter, president of her family's 133-year-old firm.

She handed out the free pastries "because the workers were very professional, conscientious and courteous. They were so accommodating that when things were torn up in front of our store, if you would have asked, they would have carried you across the sidewalk."

During construction, a vocal 10 percent of her customers carried some unwanted baggage into the ice cream parlor. They'd place their order. Then, they'd complain about - take your pick - the dirt and noise outside, the trees, the parking.

"People sounded nasty and bitter," Graeter said. Those emotions sounded out of place in her store.

"I wanted to tell them: 'My gosh! You're coming in to get ice cream! Be happy!"

She's thinking about putting up a sign by the store's entrance that would read: "Check your complaints at the door. This is a happy place."

Just like Hyde Park Square.

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Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown. E-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.




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