When Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the Buchanan Plaza playground in Southeast Washington in 1968, she called it "a constructive answer to the urban problem." The D.C. Recreation Board vice chairman said that it was "an inspiration point for the entire city."
Today, the tiny park next to Buchanan Elementary School hardly resembles the around-the-clock community playground that the Astor family donated $390,000 to create.
Broken glass and beer cans surround the sliding boards, climbing poles and treehouse, making the play area an obstacle course that the architects hardly envisioned. Grass grows out of crevices in the pavement under trees unpruned for years.
The lights that overlook the park have been out for most of the last 10 years, either because the bulbs have not been changed or because the fixtures need maintenance work.
Bees circle over the sand that has become a general dumping ground, A child playing there one day found a hypodermic needle.
Many of the park's wooden benches and chairs have succumbed to decay and termites.
The wooden barricades that once blocked 13th Street between D and E streets lie in a pile near the sidewalk, the victim of a driver who used a rope to pull them clear.
In short, the $390,000 playground, which once brought some sparkle to the working-class neighborhood, has gone the way of some of the dilapidated housing that lines 13th Street.
"The sand here hasn't been turned since Lady Bird Johnson dedicated Buchanan," said John Matthews, who lived in the neighborhood long before the park was built. "I guess they'd call it the unknown park that Lady Bird Johnson gave to the city."
Matthews, who runs a shoe repair shop on the property adjoining the Buchanan playground, said on several occasions he has organized small children to clean up the playground. "But we need a professional to get the glass out of that sand," he said.
Matthews said that to bring attention to the plight of the park, he has called everyone from neighborhood citizens to Lynda Johnson Robb. "I called her a few weeks ago and she said, "I'll be over to look at it." But I haven't heard from her since," said Matthews.
"No one wants this park," he said. "Ask anyone and they tell you, "No, no -- not me. I didn't have anything to do with that park" . . . I had hoped that some parents would come over and see where their kids play, then complain to the city."
Officials interviewed at the Department of Recreation and the Board of Education at first blamed the park's condition on each other "We only do work at Watkins," (a school across the street) said David Huiy of the Board of Education. "The Department of Recreation handles that property."
Howard Gasoway of the Department of Recreation Maintenance Division said, "I'm tired of those people over in schools putting the responsibility for their playground on us. It's their responsibility."
But Bill Bailey, assistant chief of operations for school maintenance, acknowledged, "It's definitely school property. I've gotten a few complaints about winos breaking bottles on the playground and kids stopping up the drains, but we haven't had a chance to send anybody out."
Bailey said the Buchanan Elementary School custodian worked in the park part-time one year but "when the school closed down he was relocated," Bailey said.
"The park isn't really there for the sake of the school. It's there for the kids in the neighborhood," Bailey said. "It probably hasn't been budgeted for because it doesn't have any education-related functions."
Bailey said that money should have been set aside in the beginning to take care of maintenance in the park.