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Troubling Sign

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Correction: In earlier print and online versions, we incorrectly reported that Custom Ornamental Iron Inc. had received authorization to make changes to the Forest Hill Park sign. The company removed the sign before receiving authorization, according to Friends of Forest Hill Park.

A heated conflict over restoration of a historic iron archway at Forest Hill Park has divided leaders of two of the surrounding neighborhood's most active booster organizations.

Amid the fracas, neighbors are scratching their heads about what happened to a much ballyhooed new sign that was dedicated at the park fewer than four months ago and then abruptly disappeared during the week of Oct. 22.

The original arch was erected around 1890, when the rolling hills off of Forest Hill Avenue were the site of an actual amusement park, complete with swimming lakes, a carousel, a bowling alley and a penny arcade, among other attractions. It was removed in the 1940s when reusable iron was being collected from any available source for the war effort.

A new arch was installed as a replacement July 15 of this year-- just before Sunday in the Park festivities that day.

Monica Rumsey, president of Friends of Forest Hill Park, which has overseen the arch restoration project, says the new sign as constructed was historically inaccurate and thus unacceptable. The letters were too close together and the font was "completely wrong," she says, using tapered rather than the original block serifs. Also, the "S" in the word "forest" was upside down and the "A" in "park" was installed backward, she says.

That's not nearly good enough, considering the park's listing on the state and national historic registries, Rumsey says: "Only the best will do."

Rumsey's organization complained to the sign-maker, Custom Ornamental Iron Inc. of Glen Allen, which had done previous work at the park's Stone House. The company offered to make corrections, then abruptly removed the arch without telling the Friends of the Park even though it had not received authorization to fix the problem.

Custom Ornamental Vice President Jim Kramer takes responsibility for the errors, saying the project "sat on the back burner" because of heavy workloads and then was shifted into rush mode to have the arch ready for the Sunday in the Park dedication. "We want to make it right and we want to make everybody happy," he says.

So far, Friends of the Park has contracted with a different company to design replacement letters for $350, Rumsey says, but hasn't yet decided who will make and install them.

Some members of the Forest Hill Neighborhood Association assert the project has been botched from the start. In 2006 the association pledged $4,600 — a percentage of its first house tour held that year and no small sum for the group — to pay for the sign and other park needs.

Custom Ornamental's original estimate was about $3,400. Friends of Forest Hill Park will absorb additional costs, Rumsey says.

The dispute came to a head at the association's October meeting, which president Phil Licking says devolved into an unfortunate shouting match between neighbors. "I was one of the most vocal, I'm ashamed to say," he admits. While the association voted at that meeting to consent to the arch's reworking, Licking says hard feelings between the two parties remain.

"It's about fiscal responsibility," he says, arguing that the Friends of the Park should have reviewed design proofs or had a better grasp of the project's status before the sign was delivered. "This lack of oversight is simply unconscionable for an organization that uses donated funds."

There's also the issue of poor communication between the groups, Licking says. After learning from a Style Weekly reporter of the sign's recent disappearance, he says, "I felt like a fool." S



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