Spin Screed

Contractor Stories

Bands of red and brown clay pavers laid in a running bond pattern stop short into a basket weave pattern at gathering spots. (All pavers are Pine Hall Brick.) 9 cylinders of gray granite represent the stools that the Friendship 9 sat on. Boulders in the walkway represent obstacles in the path of those seeking fair treatment.

A brick wall covered with layers of paint from old advertisements provided a backdrop to the Freedom Walkway. Some – like the words “Relieves Fatigue” – were kept as a symbolic reminder of the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. The words “Liberty and Justice For All” were added to the wall based on an old photograph of a protester’s sign.

Creating the Freedom Walkway
By Walt Steele

Photos courtesy Matthew Benham Photography

Laurel Holtzapple knows that in the hardscape design business, it’s best to move quickly.

When the City of Rock Hill, SC, advertised a request for qualifications for a walkway project, the Charlotte-based solo landscape architect and principal of Groundworks Studio quickly partnered with an artist who has experience in public art projects and won the business.

When the city asked who would oversee the artistic side, Laurel recruited artists who had specific talents in mural painting and mosaic tile installation, presented them to the city and got approval. When the time came to build the project, Laurel helped coordinate scheduling between builders and artists and visited the site often to ensure that the design that the community wanted is what would be installed.

And later, during the construction itself, Laurel again showed her ability to move quickly when a brick tumbled off a scaffolding and came uncomfortably close to testing the effectiveness of the hardhat she was wearing.

“It’s one of the challenges of working in a small environment,” said Laurel.

The outcome? Freedom Walkway won a 2017 American Society of Landscape Architecture Southeast Merit Award, meaning it was the best landscape design from entries that came from 11 states, along with a 2017 Cultural Diversity Award from the National League of Cities.

The project commemorates the Friendship 9 sit-in at McCrory’s department store in Rock Hill, SC that took place in 1961. The Walkway is located close to the sit-in location on the grounds of the former Woolworth’s building.

On the left, a chimney from the Woolworth’s building was painted dark blue, a color that has traditionally symbolized protection in the African-American community and is lighted at night, as a beacon of hope.

Fast track design
Like most everything else about the project, the design process was fast tracked. Laurel says, “It really was a compressed schedule, because we had 3 months to do the community engagement and conceptual design. We began engaging with the students of Rock Hill and within community meetings, but our real focus was on civil rights arts projects.”

Some of the design came out of the community in unexpected ways. In 2015 as the design was being created, a court case overturned the trespassing convictions of the Friendship 9 protesters and found its way into part of the design for the Freedom Walkway.

Presentations to the community and to the City Council followed and got preliminary approval and bids were let for civil and structural engineering, for electrical engineering and lighting design and for general contracting. The city came back to Laurel to ask who would be able to execute the artistic elements – and Laurel recruited Carrie Gault to handle the mosaics and Sharon Dowell to paint the mural.

The biggest challenge? Freedom Walkway is 12’ wide at its narrowest point and as it was being built, 139 Main, an apartment and retail complex, was being built immediately next to it, which meant there were 2 construction sites with 2 very different projects going on simultaneously. It was an errant bricklayer on the apartment complex who dropped a brick onto the space where the Freedom Walkway construction crew was working, missing Laurel by inches.

“It was all of the things that you would have in a big project, but concentrated in a tiny little space,” said Laurel.

The takeaways?
  • Ability to communicate. In designing a hardscape project, make sure all voices are heard, including the community and the client.

  • A sense of urgency. Find the client and move quickly to get the job and carry it out.

  • A knowledge of local talent. When working solo, know who else in the community that you can call on.

“Gone are the days of the Renaissance man,” said Laurel. “It is the age of specialization. Things are so complex that it is best for you to know your area and know who works in allied professions, so you can rely on a highly qualified team to get the job done.”

The author, Walt Steele, is paver business manager for Pine Hall Brick Company, America’s largest manufacturer of genuine clay pavers. Call Walt at (800) 334-8689 or email waltsteele@pinehallbrick.com. Visit PineHallBrick.com Youtube “Freedom Walkway to learn more about the project.