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Last month a new version of Murray Plaza was unveiled. Version 5.5, or was it 6.0? They have all blurred together. What we saw was just another version and not a true vision for this key component of Napa.

Since the '70s, this plaza has been a challenge. Initially crowned with a hippie clock tower and a string of nonfunctioning fountains, this important corner of downtown Napa has been relegated to an embarrassing state of uselessness. With the tower removed and the fountain dry, Murray Plaza is now just a wide spot in the road. It continues to elude planners and public officials on how to use it, and how to repurpose it.

Murray Plaza is not big: It barely qualifies as a pocket park, but it is Napa’s front room. Having said that, why isn't it treated as an opportunity to create something unique and inspirational: Give it a sunlit roof, or an elegant transparent cover for any weather year-round. Once we place trees around the plaza, flexibility will be further limited; as much as I love trees, they really restrict the practical use of this small space. Trees also date a space and show the lack of EC: Thank goodness the palms are gone.

The one bright notion for the plaza was by the landscape architect, Phillip Vandertoolen, for the central vanishing fountain. When on, a traditional fountain spray would fall on slightly recessed sloping stones, when off, the area becomes part of a bigger stage. This certainly could provide year-round delight for hot summer days, kids splashing, elegant ceremonies, and colorful nighttime extravaganzas, if properly lit. This could be a delightful reminder of Napa’s historic water connection. Unfortunately, the psychedelic schizophrenic patterns of the plaza surfaces as presented can only be seen by Google Earth and not by pedestrian plaza seekers. Let’s keep it simple.

Why can't we treat this as the majestic front room or parlor of our noble city? It could be covered with an exhilarating structure of a light transmitting cover structure, possibly with interchangeable fabric materials. The options are endless today.

Let's not just create another version of the same-old, same-old: let's have a new vision that stretches the imagination and is truly worthy of a great city like Napa. For examples of imaginative overhead structures by other architects, go to craiker.com/murrayplaza.

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Chris Craiker

Napa 

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