Goddesses and Friends watch over Wyman Park Dell

A Union soldier, flanked by goddesses, stands vigil in a Civil War monument that rises high above Wyman Park Dell at Charles and 29th streets.

Area residents are looking out for the dell, too.

They gathered 20-strong at the foot of the statue Saturday, to brainstorm ideas for making the Union Memorial Plateau at the southeast corner of the dell more of a draw for the public.

The group Friends of Wyman Park Dell is hoping to raise money to make the plateau more of a park-like setting, as part of a master plan for the 16-acre dell.

The group also wants to expand a nearby playground that is now little more than a swing set and a slide.

Advising the Friends group since October 2011 is the Wyman Park-based landscape architecture and urban design firm Mahan Rykiel.

Ideas range from deck chairs and cafe-style tables to concrete table tennis tables, as a way to integrate the plateau and playground areas.

"The key is to get more people using the park and to give people more reason to go," Mahan Rykiel's Tom McGilloway said at Saturday's get-together. "The big challenge for us is that it's going to be a fundraising effort."

So far, the group has a $5,000 grant from the Wyman Park-based Parks & People Foundation, McGilloway said. There's also some money for minor playground improvements in the capital budget of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, he said.

Friends group co-founder Sandy Sparks is hoping to see a playground that "fits into the landscape" of the dell. Ideas include a rubberized surface for safety, as well as expansion of the playground, with more play equipment.

McGilloway said he hopes to have some literature to pass out about the dell improvement plans in time for the annual Charles Village Festival in June.

For Nikki Marquardt and her husband, Ro Demen, of Charles Village, the dell is part of their quality of life, a place to interact with other parents while their son, Rainer, 7, plays.

"We come as often as we can on nice days," said the stay-at-home mom. "I'm really interested in outdoor play, especially for city kids. That's really important. Kids don't need much."

Demen would love to see table tennis in the park. He said New York City has at least two parks with ping-pong tables. The paddles and balls are stored on site, and are not stolen, he said.

"I really love the idea of having cafe seating in the monument," said furniture maker Graham Entwistle, of Charles Village, father of playground fan Juniper, 3.

"My daughter calls this her playground," he said.

Designed by the Olmsted brothers in 1914, the dell has long been a focus for improvement. Its drainage problems have been mostly solved, and a stone wall, which surrounds the lower dell, has been restored.

Now, the Friends group is turning its attention to the Union Memorial Plateau. It was vibrant on a spring-like afternoon, as children swung on swings, people wearing headphones sat on park benches and others walked their dogs in the bowl-shaped lower dell.

A meeting of the Friends group started indoors at the Miller's Court conference room in Remington, but it was so nice outside that participants decided to walk five blocks to the dell to continue their discussion.

Waiting there was the "Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument," sculpted in 1909 by Adolph Alexander Weinman.

The bronze sculpture, with a granite base, depicts a farmer as a citizen-soldier, striding forth to fight for the North during the Civil War, assisted by winged mythological goddesses of war and victory.

The city moved the monument from Druid Hill Park to 29th and Charles in 1959, a relocation necessitated by the construction of the Jones Falls Expressway.

The Friends group has yet to revisit another sculpture — this one on the southwest side of the dell, opposite the Baltimore Museum of Art. It's called the Lee and Jackson Monument, and depicts Confederate soldiers Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as they ride off to war on horseback.

But that's another story.

"We haven't gotten there yet," McGilloway said.

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