BLC Approves MLK Memorial; Final Portion of Comm. Ave. Mall Statue Improvements

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) met virtually on May 25, where it approved the remaining portion of the lighting and landscape improvements for the Glover, Hamilton, and Sarmiento statues on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, as well as The Embrace Memorial on the Boston Common in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Comm. Ave. Mall Statues

The BLC has voted to continue  portions of the proposal for landscape and lighting improvements for the Hamilton, Glover, and Sarmiento statues for several months now, and approved the remainder of the proposal on Tuesday night after discussing the best options with the project team.

After last month’s hearing, the Commission still had questions about the size and siting of the proposed electrical cabinets, as well as if any of the irrigation and power controls could be combined.

Robert Mulcahy of the Friends of the Public Garden explained that the cabinets are located approximately in the middle of the block, and for this case, are “typically perpendicular to each piece of sculpture that we’re lighting.” He and other members of the team also discussed why these cabinets could not be located underground instead, explaining that flooding could occur.

Commissioner David Bararducci told the full Commission that after hearing the presentation, the design review committee recommends approval of the proposed locations of the cabinets, with the proviso that the color of the cabinets be changed.

Right now, the existing cabinets on the mall are a darker black/gray color, and “we were thinking more of a taupe color,” Berarducci said, that would be applied to the existing boxes as well as the proposed ones.

He said this “gray/brown combo I think would be more appropriate in terms of helping these be a little more disguised out there.”

The BLC voted to approve the cabinets with this proviso.

Berarducci also said that other items that were approved from the last hearing included relocating the proposed hoop fencing along the base of the sculpture to the back of the curb “instead of in the middle of the planting” and ensuring that the height of the proposed curbs were consistent “so that the base feels like it’s part of the sculpture rather than part of the landscape,” he said. Additionally, the BLC had asked the project team to “simplify the planting that was proposed to reflect more of an urban character and have it be a little more simple,” which the team had agreed to do.

The Embrace Memorial

The BLC has been looking at the proposed sculpture honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King through advisory reviews, but on Tuesday, it came before the Commission for an official vote, where it was approved.

This was the “final hurdle” for the memorial, according to a press release from King Boston, and construction can now begin.

Jonathan Evans, a principal at MASS Design Group, explained that King Boston is the nonprofit organization that is “taking this call to action” to erect a sculpture to honor the work and legacy Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who met in Boston.

“This is an important memorial,” Evans said. This design was chosen as the winner from 126 original submissions and five finalists, and was designed by African American conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, along with MASS Design Group.

A slide from the presentation read: “King Boston is a privately funded non-profit working closely with the City of Boston and the Boston Foundation to create a living memorial and programs honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and their time and work together in Boston. The memorial is intended to inspire visitors to reflect on the values of racial and economic justice that both espoused.”

The memorial will be located near the Tremont Street side of the park.

Liza Meyer of the City of Boston Parks Department spoke briefly about the Boston Common Master Planning process, which she said is in its final phase and is expected to be completed this year.

“The Embrace has been integrated into the planning process as an element in the park,” she said.

Evans then went over some details of the memorial, which features a “peace walk” on the perimeter with paver stones, a crescent-shaped wall that will feature a quote from Coretta Scott King, and in the middle will be the 22-foot bronze sculpture of the embraced hands and arms of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, which is based on a photo of Dr. and Mrs. King in 1964 after he had found out he won the Nobel Peace Price.

Evans said that the crescent shaped wall “becomes kind of the backdrop to the piece,” and there will also be recessed lighting in the plaza that will uplight the sculpture at night.

The paving will feature bronze inlays that “take some cues” from the bronze in the sculpture, Evans said, and will feature names of people from the “Boston Civil Rights Community,” according to a slide presented.

The crescent wall will also feature some bench seating for people to rest and take in the memorial. The plaza is wide open for people to be able to walk through as well as walk underneath the sculpture, and Evans described the memorial as a place for everyday use as well as a “museum at the same time.”

Greg Galer of the Boston Preservation Alliance said that “I just want to thank the design team and the Parks Department for working collaboratively on this effort.” He said that this is an “appropriate memorial,” adding that he believes this will be popular with the public and that “it’s really embracing the entire movement and there’s lots to look at in an appropriate way.”

“I think this is a much enhanced proposal,” he said.

There was a question from Commissioner Christopher Hart regarding accessibility, and Evans said that “we want to be very proactive and not reactive to how we think through making this an accessible experience for everyone.” He said that one example of accessibility could look like somehow “narrating the experience of the sculpture” for those who cannot see it.

“We are thinking about ways this can be an immersive experience,” he said, adding that the tea is working with disability consultants to ensure proper accessibility for all.

The BLC voted to approve this application as submitted. “I think it’s going to be an amazing piece out there,” Commissioner David Berarducci said.

He added that the project team had listened to the Commission’s previous requests to remove things from the “foreground leading up to the sculpture,” which he feels “makes this sculpture so much more elegant.”

The sculpture is expected to be fully installed by October of next year.

“Most of Boston¡¯s historical monuments, buildings and other commemoratives are physical reminders of white supremacy, inequity, and racism, yet ¡°The Embrace” will be a new landmark honoring the Kings, Boston civil rights leaders and the city¡¯s unique contribution to social justice. It will be unveiled in a city that is 25% Black, more than twice the percentage of the Black population of America,” a press release from King Boston states.

¡°This is a momentous achievement, not only for Boston but for society in general,” Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of King Boston, said in a statement.  ¡°Boston has the opportunity post-pandemic to continue and differentiate itself from the rest of the country by being one of the most welcoming, friendly, forward-looking cities in America. One the anniversary of the death of George Floyd and the national racial reckoning that followed, the approval of ¡®The Embrace¡¯ goes a long way in helping do just that.”

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