'Whatever Happened to Tivoli?'

Columbia's planners envisioned a town center evocative of Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, above. Below, in Columbia's early days, Bill Finley, left, James W. Rouse and Mort Hoppenfield discuss plans for the town.
Columbia's planners envisioned a town center evocative of Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, above. Below, in Columbia's early days, Bill Finley, left, James W. Rouse and Mort Hoppenfield discuss plans for the town. (By Morten Juhl -- Associated Press)
By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 13, 2005

Columbia Archives manager Barbara Kellner works at a large Danish modern desk that belonged to Columbia's creator, the late James W. Rouse. His eyeglasses rest in the top drawer. His early vision for Columbia surrounds her in the office near Lake Kittamaqundi.

Here, Kellner is free to ponder the sketches and architectural drawings, many of them more than 40 years old. They describe dreamers' visions of Columbia's Town Center -- a place of fresh air and fountains, market stalls and sunlit walkways. Some notes from the time suggest a place evocative of Tivoli, the famed pleasure gardens at the heart of Copenhagen.

But nowhere in the archives can Kellner find anything to explain what became of that place, that vibrant, even magical, town center.

"That's my question," Kellner said.

"Whatever happened to Tivoli?"

She never stopped wondering. And she is not alone.

Beginning Saturday, as they embark on a five-day series of workshops known as a charrette, residents will be asked to reimagine a town center for Columbia. As they look to the future, they may get a chance to rekindle the dream of Tivioli.

In the years since Columbia took shape, office buildings and schools and thousands of houses and apartments have emerged amid lakes and parks. At the center is a shopping mall, ringed by anasphalt parking lot. The lot and busy Little Patuxent Parkway separate the mall from the lakefront that once was envisioned as the true center of the planned community begun in the 1960s. Now, walking from one place to the other involves crossing the busy four-lane parkway or a trekking across a bridge that, with its steps, is inaccessible to those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers.

So whatever happened to Tivoli?

William Finley remembers. He was there when the dream was dreamed and when it got lost in the shuffle.

During the frenetic 10 years he spent helping to plan and build Columbia, starting in 1963, Finley rose to become senior vice president of the Rouse Co.

"Tivoli became one of the things we put into the stew," recalled Finley, now a developer in Florida. "But we were under the gun."


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