Outline, lawn to mark Pinebank spot

John Ruch

JAMAICA POND—A granite outline, a low brick wall and interpretive signs will memorialize the demolished Pinebank mansion, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department announced last month.

“I think this is going to become a really popular place” for a variety of events, said Margaret Dyson, the parks department’s director of historic parks, at a June 20 community meeting at Curtis Hall.

The site, on a promontory overlooking Jamaica Pond, will be mostly a wide lawn ringed by a 12-foot asphalt path with five benches, explained project designer Victor Walker at the meeting.

As announced in previous meetings, the design also involves pruning trees to open up three sightlines or “vistas” to the pond. Added to the mix is a restoration of the little-known stairs leading from the promontory to the pond, which came from the Beacon Hill mansion of Declaration of Independence signer John Hancock.

The Boston Landmarks Commission unanimously approved the general design at a June 26 hearing. Construction will likely happen next spring.

The 1870 mansion was abandoned by the city for decades and decayed badly as various reuse efforts failed. It was demolished in January, with much of its debris entombed in a vault in the foundation to be used as reference material if the mansion is one day rebuilt, as the group Friends of Pinebank still dreams of doing.

Meanwhile, a far more modest memorial will mark the spot. The basic idea is a strip of gray granite tracing the outline of the mansion’s foundation and large rear terrace. The granite will be flush with the ground.

The inside of the outline will be mostly grass, with some granite paving stones near what used to be the front of the house, the side facing away from the pond.

Also marking the front of the house will be a low brick, granite-topped wall that can be used as a bench. The wall will be uneven, in imitation of the mansion’s front windows, and have a gap in the middle where the front door once was. Walker noted that the uneven top also will discourage skateboarders.

Up to three metal signs will stand nearby, giving information on the three versions of the Pinebank mansion that stood on the site starting in 1806. The Jamaica Plain Historical Society will be a partner in providing the information, Dyson said.

Residents seemed to accept the memorial design itself. Dyson noted that several residents still upset with Pinebank’s demolition told her they would not attend the meeting.

The landscaping around it drew more attention. The paved path was criticized as ugly and distracting. Walker proposed recessing the path slightly so that it will be invisible to people farther away.

The cutting of vistas through the trees on the promontory’s steep bank also was a hot topic. The idea is to restore historic views from Pinebank to the pond and the boathouse.

Walker explained that it would involve selective pruning of branches and possibly the removal of small trees, but not clear-cutting.

“I just think, for every tree that is removed, another tree [should] be planted on Pinebank Promontory,” said Gerry Wright of Friends of Jamaica Pond. “To start cutting trees in Jamaica Plain these days is a major issue.”

“I would like to do that,” Walker said, but added, “I would have to convince some people.”

Similar thinning is proposed for the dell, a bowl-shaped depression in front of Pinebank, so the new memorial area is visible from the outer park.

The BLC asked about the condition of the large, historic sycamore trees that once flanked Pinebank’s terrace.

“There’s one we’re a little concerned about…There’s a cavity in it” Dyson said, adding, “It’s a big, solid tree.”

That assessment was performed two-and-a-half years ago, Dyson said. The BLC suggested an updated assessment.

There were also questions about programming the space when it is done. Dyson said the parks department doesn’t have a formal event calendar in mind, but added that the site has drawn the attention of the city’s special events planners.

Concerts, poetry readings and theater performances were among the possibilities discussed. Wright suggested an annual croquet tournament, saying, “I think the visions are just endless.”

As the Gazette previously reported, an area of cobblestones was discovered next to Pinebank during demolition. It turns out they were unattractive, in bad shape and lacked historical significance, Dyson said. They will not be preserved in the design.

“They’re not as fabulous as I thought they’d be,” Dyson told the Gazette. “It’s not the beautiful cobblestone yard I was hoping for.”

At the BLC hearing, commissioner David Berarducci handled an original Pinebank brick Walker brought along for illustration purposes. Berarducci turned the brick over in his hands, gazing at it with a fascinated expression.

It was an obvious symbol of the city’s neglect of Pinebank over the years. When the BLC approved Pinebank’s demolition last fall, one of the provisos was that the parks department conduct a survey of all the buildings in the Emerald Necklace parks to make sure none of them suffer Pinebank’s fate. Dyson reported that the new city budget appeared likely to fund a consultant to conduct that survey.

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