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Hitting the Right Note
Stained Concrete Honors 'Father of the Blues'

by Sam Henry, Dalhoff Thomas design|studio


At the heart of the Beale Street Entertainment District and just a few blocks away from the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Handy Park honors the 'Father of the Blues,' W.C. Handy. Since its construction in 1931, the Tennessee park had become run-down and unwelcoming. Dalhoff Thomas design|studio worked with the Downtown Memphis Commission to revitalize the park on a budget. While some of the existing site surfacing was kept, most of the hardscapes was replaced with stained concrete in a pattern true to the theme of the park.

Known as a landmark on Beale Street in downtown Memphis, Tenn., W.C. Handy Park is home to performers, concerts, and nightlife. Initially built in 1931, the park honors W.C. Handy, known as 'Father of the Blues.' A brick wall created an entrance to the park from Beale Street. It also had an 8,700 square foot concrete plaza, a stage, and a seating lawn. The plaza served as gathering space with moveable benches to accommodate a smaller stage. Landscape beds with 5 large trees in various states of health took up about 1,675 square feet of the plaza.

Use, age, and lack of maintenance had given the park a run-down and unwelcoming appearance. The focus of the park, the statue of W.C. Handy, had become weathered and dirty. Sections of paving had settled, creating areas of standing water. The landscape beds created an obstacle within the plaza. Due to people standing in them during events, the soil had become compacted and plants were unable to grow. Blocks used for edging the beds were loose and created tripping hazards.


After laying the new concrete, a local artist sketched the design onto the hardscape, starting at the statue. The design was scored into the pavement, which was then stained with two shades of blue. Accenting bands were stained black, and the remaining concrete was left its original gray and sealed.

Working with the Downtown Memphis Commission, Dalhoff Thomas design|studio was asked to give the park a fresh look that adds excitement and movement to the space, making it inviting from the street as well as inside. DT Studio was also tasked with adding more space to accommodate crowds, allow it to function better for events, and create fewer maintenance issues. With a budget of only $50,000, they had to balance existing materials with a stimulating design, while providing a solution that met the requirements of the client.

The new Handy Park features a pavement design that plays off the blues themes. At the park entrance, a trumpet pattern plays a note, encircling the W.C. Handy Statue. The statue serves as the focal point from which flows an abstract music staff with notes and symbols.


The existing concrete pavement was laid out in 8' x 8' squares, creating the form for the 6,500 square feet of new concrete. Two-hundred square feet of existing pavers were kept adjacent to the lawn. Two existing trees were removed, leaving three in good health.

After review by an arborist, two of the five trees in the plaza were removed due to poor health. Eliminating these trees and their accompanying landscape beds created 1,200 square feet of additional plaza space, as well as giving a more open feeling and allowing better sight lines for security. The W.C. Handy statue was cleaned and buffered, restoring its appearance.

While most of the existing pavement was removed, approximately 750 square feet of concrete, in 8' x 8' grids, was maintained. This set the pattern for the new concrete. The city had also added a paved plaza area. 770 square feet of these pavers were removed, with 200 square feet reused in the new construction.

After concrete contractor Memphis Increte poured 6,300 square feet of new concrete, a local artist drew the free-form musical symbols, which were then scored into the pavement and stained blue (Pantone 295). A lighter blue background (Pantone 295 at 50%) was applied to half the plaza, while the other half was left gray with a clear sealant. Finally, black bands (Pantone Black) representing the musical staff weave through the plaza, helping to bring the design to life.


The brick wall, part of the original park, forms an entrance monument to frame the W.C. Handy statue. The entry wall was maintained and enhanced with new lighting features, including static white lights highlighting the Handy Park entrance signage, and 70-watt metal halide lamps along Beale Street. A series of programmable LEDs are mounted on back of the entrance wall to provide a color-changing visual display on the courtyard paving.

Team List:
Project Lead/Landscape Architect: Dalhoff Thomas design|studio
Electrical Engineer: DePouw Engineering
Contractors: Memphis Increte
Wright Construction
A-1 Electrical Contractors

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2017, Hardscapes.

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December 11, 2018, 2:06 am PST

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