By Dan Murphy
By restoring Charlesgate Park, an ad-hoc citizen’s group hopes to piece back together a city neighborhood lost to the construction of the Bowker Overpass more than half a century ago.
“The Charlesgate neighborhood exists at the ‘back end’ of a number of neighborhood designations and organizations,” wrote Parker James, who, along with Pam Beale, has launched the Charlesgate Alliance to represent the area that abuts the Back Bay and Fenway and runs adjacent to Kenmore Square. “We are one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city, and we are endowed with demographic, cultural and institutional riches. We have been ignored in the past, but no more.”
Venerable landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted designed the neighborhood, as well as Charlesgate Park as the “crown jewel” and key link to unite the Charles River Esplanade, the Emerald Necklace and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall together into a single-park “system.”
In the 1960s, the erstwhile Metropolitan District Commission planned to transform much of the Emerald Necklace into a highway between Boston and Providence. The state razed Charlesgate Park to build the Bowker Overpass – an essential link to a highway that was never built. And the overpass was constructed in 1965 and 1966 – the year it became illegal to use public parkland for highway construction.
“As part of this process, the City of Boston transferred ownership of the park to the state,” James wrote. “Since then, the Commonwealth has allowed park to fall into increasing disrepair.”
In trying to remedy this condition, the Charlesgate Alliance has made strides in reclaiming the park since forming in February, launching its Website at www.charlesgatealliance.org and recruiting 80 members to date. The group now hopes to forge partnerships with non-profits to revitalize the park, as well as to foster cooperative relationships with the Boston Parks Department and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“The DCR is grateful to the Charlesgate Alliance for their advocacy and willingness to support a rehabilitation of the area beneath the Bowker Overpass to better serve neighborhood residents,” said Mark Steffen, DCR press secretary.
The Charlesgate Alliance in turn has already received support from DCR, which dispatched a number of workers in trucks to assist in its park cleanup on April 29. The cleanup, held in partnership with the nonprofit Emerald Necklace Conservancy, drew more than 65 volunteers to the park.
“It’s great that the Charlesgate Alliance has gotten together to give some love to the park, which it so desperately needs,” said Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
Sen. William. Brownsberger, who was on hand for the cleanup, described the Charlesgate Alliance as a “great group” whose leadership has emerged to bring people together in an effort to improve the area.
“Hopefully, the group can partner with DCR to get some work done on the property it owns around the Bowker…and also get some resources from nearby institutions and organizations,” Brownsberger said.
State Rep. Jay Livingstone also pitched in at the cleanup. “The park is much improved, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Alliance, DCR and other stakeholders to continue this momentum,” Livingstone wrote.
City Councilor Josh Zakim voiced his support for the Alliance.
“The group is a great example of neighbors coming together to leverage resources and work with city and the state to improve things,” Zakim said. “They’re really strong advocates for the neighborhood and the park.”
Looking forward, the Alliance intends to create a solid institutional infrastructure, including gaining 501(c)(3) status; to provide sustained, improved care for the park; and to reclaim the forgotten Charlesgate neighborhood.
“We intend to become a bold new voice in support of the park and also of our vibrant, diverse, neighborhood,” James said.