BLC Approves Comm. Ave. Mall Bench; Landscaping Plan for Arlington St. Church

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) met virtually on November 24, where Commissioners approved a new bench for the Commonwealth Avenue Mall as well as a landscape plan for the Boylston Street elevation of the Arlington Street Church. The Commission also heard an advisory review of the Boston Common Master Plan.

Commonwealth Avenue Mall

Liz Vizza, Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden, proposed to replicate the existing granite Union bench and install the new bench in a location on the Mall between Arlington and Berkeley Streets.

Vizza explained that the bench was created for Civil War veterans, and Margaret Pokorny=, also of the Friends, added that it is about 30 or 40 years old.

The bench to be replicated is cast stone, but the replica will be granite and more resistant to the elements, Pokorny said.

Though the two benches would be very similar, the existing bench has some curves and details that were not in the rendering of the proposed bench, and Commissioner Brad Walker added that “people are looking at this Union bench” as a “marker of some previous event in our culture. I find it curious to almost replicate it for a different purpose for a different time.”  He wondered if there might be any interest in commissioning a new design for a granite bench instead.

Vizza said that the Friends of the Public Garden have decided to be “conservative” with the design for “historic purposes.”

“Picking something to replicate is just as conscious as doing something new,” Walker said. “Why is it only partially replicated?”

Pokorny said that the goal was not to make the new bench an “exact replication,” and the donor decided that the proposed design was a good one.

Commissioner David Berarducci said he would like to see the curve in between the legs and under the seat that is on the existing bench to be in the replica as well.

The Commisison voted to approve the bench with the provisos that there is more detailing on the inside of the arm rest, the bottom skirt has the curved detailing, and extend one or both of the bases on the bench to improve accessibility.

Arlington Street Church

Applicant Adam Wylie said that he had come before the Commission last year to get approval for the landscaping plan for the Arlington St. elevation of the Arlington St. Church, and that he has returned seeking approval for the plan for the Boylston St. side.

Landscape architect Toby Wolf said that the Boylston St. side is sunnier and the bed is deeper, so the proposed plantings will differ from the Arlington St. side.

He said that the plantings on the Arlington St. side that were planted in the fall of last year have “come in well this year,” and that for the existing Boylston St. bed, there were some weeds and invasive plants.

He proposed building a walkway and new plantings, but said that it is “not a sidewalk,” but would be “accessible for most of its length.”

He said that “I wanted to make this something that’s attractive but not a feature.” Wolf said that the proposed walk would be paved in Goshen stone, which would give the walkway a “glossier look” and provide more contrast with the matte brownstone on the church.

“We’re not expecting people to use this in any great numbers,” Wold said, adding that the plantings alongside the walkway would be “drifts of different plants that melt into one another. These are not hard lines.”

He said that since this site is sunnier than the other side, he was “careful about choosing plants that will work well together and form a stable plant community.”

Commissioner Christopher Hart had concerns with the lack of accessibility in the front of the church, but other Commissioners said that the landscaping work proposed would not prevent the installation of a ramp in the future.

Berarducci said that he “acknowledges” that no official decision has been made as to which side the ramp would be installed on. “We would be approving this with the knowledge that it could be very well ripped up if the ramp is on the other side.”

The Commission voted to approve the landscaping work for the Boylstonn St. side of the church.

Advisory Review

Nathan Frazee, a project manager for the City of Boston Parks Deparrtment, said that the Master Plan document for the Boston Common Master Plan should be ready by this coming spring, and the proposals presented at last week’s BLC hearing include many “big picture ideas” that are not currently funded. He said that the project team will come before the BLC again “once things are more detailed in certain areas.”

Cheri Ruane of Weston & Sampson talked about several different areas of the Master Plan, including the Frog Pond and the Visitor Information Center, both of which have receved lots of community input.

She said that recommended features of the Frog Pond Pavilion renovation include expanding the existing 3,500 square foot pavilion into a new multi-level, 13,000 square foot building. Additionally, other proposal include planting more trees to increase shade, expanding the children’s playground, creating more seating options, and providing the infrastructure for multi-season events and other programming.

A splash pad is also proposed for one side of the Frog Pond that would include “spray elements with no standing water,” and the pond would deepen moving down the other way. When not in use, the spray area can have tables and chairs with umbrellas, Ruane explained.

Ruane also said that there is the potential to increase the amount of area used for ice skating in the winter.

For the Visitor Information Center, Ruane said the proposal includes expanding the footprint and “establishing a pedestrian connection between the Visitor Information Center and the Mayor’s Walk.”

There will also be pathway connections to the King Memorial that will be on the Common as well. Additionally, there will be expanded seating options as well as increased park wayfinding, and changes to the entrances and gateways.

The Boston Common Master Plan has a long way to go with the Landmarks Commission and other approvals, but there will be more opportunity for the public to hear and respond to proposals moving forward into next spring.

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