Preserving Hellenic Hill

May 12, 2011
By

Historically, Hellenic Hill was never the densely wooded drumlin with a symmetrical crown neatly framing Jamaica Pond.

It had two large homes built on the Prince Street slope. The grounds were landscaped with drives and dotted with specimen trees, mostly beech, most of which are still growing. The slope nearest the Pond had ice houses and estates, which also broke up the treeline.

The wooded hill so familiar for decades is the result first of the construction of Jamaica Pond as a public park with tree plantings in three levels—at the waterside walkway, on Parkman Drive and on Prince Street. These trees have grown as intended into a solid green fence forming a backdrop for the water sheet.

The second is the decline and removal of the large Prince Street estates and the resulting abandonment of the hillside over the past 60 years. This neglect has enabled a dense thicket of succession growth to grow, giving the hillside its rounded crown. Hellenic College never built on the crown of the hill, but set deliberately planned, low-scale residences back enough to be screened by existing and new trees.

All of this will inevitably change whether the college develops the hill side or not. Hellenic Hill has two owners: one public and the other private.

The very old hardwood trees at Jamaica Pond and especially Prince Street and Parkman Drive are in decline and will die; hemlock blight is killing off those trees. If the Parks Department does not begin a program of judicious removal and replanting, there will be no treeline buffer on the southwest side of the pond easily within a generation.

Prince Street is a gloomy and forlorn street; it needs homes along the college side to bring life and light to that street. An argument could be made that if the college developed housing on the Prince Street side following in part the old entrance drives, it may provide revenue for the college. It would also be a compromise solution that would maintain the tree canopy (with a conservation restriction perhaps managed by The Trustees of Reservations).

Four things need to be done to make this compromise successful –the first three require public action.

  1. Parkman Drive is transferred to the Boston Parks Department and becomes narrow pedestrian way connecting the Parkman Memorial with the Pond.
  2. The Parks Department begins a long-term program of tree planting and forestry management of those two wooded slopes.
  3. The Boston Transportation Department makes Prince Street two-way.
  4. The college gets community support for housing on Prince Street with a conservation restriction and forest management plan for the crown of the hill, both perhaps with The Trustees of Reservations.

Richard Heath
Jamaica Plain

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