Washington Park Redevelopment Draws Criticism, Questions from Some Residents

The past, the present, the future

An $850,000 planned redevelopment of Washington Park is drawing the attention of Councillor Paul Murphy and a number of local residents as well as the owner of area businesses fearing the redoing of the park will not only destroy a historical masterpiece of sorts but would make parking impossible and traffic congestion a way of life in the Prattville neighborhood.

These two photographs, the top taken about 1897 and the middle photograph taken early Wednesday and the raphic, show Washington Park in its Victorian splendor when the city was a far different place than it is today and in its resent state with the graphic depicting in architectural form what it might look like in June, 2013.

The park itself is but a postage stamp of land with nothing but mature trees, grass and a half dozen benches. It is the creation of Caleb Pratt, a patrician Chelsea resident from Chelsea’s most distinguished long-term family, who got it built in 1885.

Perhaps the only bit of history remaining about this small park is the message etched in stone on the former front stair of the Pratt Mansion which is cemented into the wall on the Nichols Street side of the park noting that George Washington visited his troops here during the siege of Boston in 1775. That stone, which can barely be read today, was set in the wall in 1889.

The historic role of the park as the absolute location where Washington garrisoned the left wing of his army is also in question as that compliment of Revolutionary War soldiers were likely stationed in and around Powder Horn Hill and in the area of what is now County Road.

“We are concerned about change in the park. Many of us view it as a historic place and as such, many of us don’t want to see it changed substantially in any way. Let it be what it has been since 1887 and it will serve us well enough,” said Councilor Paul Murphy.

Notwithstanding the concerns expressed by Murphy and some of his constituents, City Manager Jay Ash said the park needs a remake and that it has been a long time coming.

“We’re at the very end of our renewal cycle, as we set out almost fifteen years ago to get into each of our parks to do major repairs and updates.  Washington Park hasn’t been touched for as long as I can remember, maybe for as long as I’ve been alive, and it is showing, with stones falling from the walls, benches in terrible shape and not much there to offer this generation of park goers,” Ash said.

“Our parks people and I have had the best of intentions, fixing the park and adding attractive new elements to please existing park users and attract new ones to the park. We’ve been successful in doing this each and every other time with no complaints.  However, in this case, even though we’ve introduced only very modest play equipment, some in the neighborhood seem to believe that our plans are not in line with the character they want in the park.  We’ll get everyone together, first to make sure we are all looking at the same plans and hearing first hand what we’ve proposed and what some people might find objectionable.  Then we’ll try to work towards consensus.  I don’t think there’s any doubt that the park needs updating, so its now about how far we go on the updates.  It isn’t our intention to turn Washington Park into a big playground and we have maintained the passive nature of the place in three of the four quadrants in the park.  In the fourth, our only intention is to give moms in the neighborhood and their kids a few, fun additions to climb on and enjoy.  No swings or slides, just low to the ground play things to enhance the family experience and hopefully bring more families to the park to see what Washington Park has to offer.  Those who support that type of vision should come to the meeting, as well as those who might feel otherwise.  Everyone’s input is valued and will be factored into the final decision we make,” Ash added.

The Department of Planning and Development will host a community meeting on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 6:00 PM at the Shore Educational Collaborative Henry Owen School at 100 Revere Beach Parkway to discuss details, options and ideas about the Washington Park Redevelopment Project. The City has received a $500,000 PARC Grant from the Department of Conservation Services to fund 70% of the park redevelopment project.

Two community visioning sessions were held in June 2011 prior to the grant submission. The schematic design resulting from those sessions is shown in the image below. The design is for both active and passive recreation and its reprogramming will involve the introduction of active recreation opportunities, additional seating and gathering areas throughout the park, a linear trellis, additional tree plantings, new walking paths, retaining wall repairs, lighting, an irrigation system and approximately 4,500 square feet of additional open space which will realign the Washington Avenue/Nichols Street intersection.

A tentative completion date for the planned project is June, 2013.

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