The park’s location is ideal. Its southwestern corner at M and Second Streets SE is only half a block from the Navy Yard Metro station and only a few blocks from the Anacostia riverfront and Nationals Ballpark.
Yet this accessible park is not just another landscape to look at, drive around, walk across and mow. It is intended to be animated 52 weeks a year. Designed by Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm OLIN and Washington-based STUDIOS Architecture, it breaks new ground on historic old ground.
Canal Park’s name is historically apt. L’Enfant’s 1792 plan for the capital included this piece of land, which in 1815 became part of the newly opened Washington City Canal connecting the Potomac River and Eastern Branch, now the Anacostia River. By the 1850s, the canal had fallen into disuse. The Tiber Creek portion of the canal was paved over in the 1870s and the rest of the canal in the early 1900s, after which the southeast canal segment became Canal Street.
A century later, as Capitol Riverfront’s transformation gained momentum, Canal Street served as a D.C. school bus parking lot. In 2012, after an eight-year design and development effort, Canal Street and the bus parking lot became today’s innovative Canal Park.
Canal Park is unusual in a number of ways, starting with its oblong proportions. Extending northward along Second Street for nearly 1,000 feet, the park proper is only slightly more than 100 feet wide. K and L streets cross the long, narrow park, creating three slender park blocks containing less than three acres. Yet the perceived area of the park seems larger.
The park’s abstract architecture is likewise unusual. On the east side of the south block is a slender, 9,000 square-foot concrete, masonry, wood and glass building. It houses Park Tavern, a full-service, 65-seat restaurant and bar — at last, a place to dine, plus restrooms, in a D.C. park. On its roof, accessible via broad outdoor stairs, are walkways, terraces and two rectangular pavilions.
This is a park with a mezzanine. And the mezzanine overlooks a pond-shaped, 10,000-square-foot ice skating surface that occupies much of the south block. Skate rentals are available in the restaurant building. The skating pathway loops around a vegetated island at each end of the pond-shaped surface, and ice skating is already a big hit. Outdoor restaurant seating abuts the ice surface, which in warm seasons becomes a plaza with an array of playful water fountains.