Arboretum wall collapses

June 24, 2011
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ARBORWAY—A 120-year-old stone wall bordering Arnold Arboretum collapsed at several points during heavy rains last month, spilling chunks of rock near a public path.

Experts have warned for years about potential collapse of the historic retaining wall, which essentially holds the Arborway in place along the Arboretum’s eastern border, but the City of Boston could not muster the funds to fix it.

At least four large sections of the wall gave way and are now encircled by chain link fence. One section almost fully collapsed, while others shifted and spit out a few large stones.

There is no immediate sign of further collapse or shifting of ground on the Arborway, said Margaret Dyson, the city’s director of historic parks.

“There’s still a lot of stone holding up that soil,” she said.

Arnold Arboretum spokesperson Audrey Rodgers did not return a Gazette phone call.

The Harvard University-run, city-owned Arboretum is both a scientific plant collection and a public city park. The Arboretum controls the land under a long-term lease, but the walls are the City of Boston’s responsibility.

Three years ago this month, residents and engineers at a meeting about Arborway sidewalk improvements warned about the potential collapse of the wall. The city budget was too tight for repairs then, but the municipal wallet has to open now.

The City is still awaiting a repair estimate from an engineering firm specializing in historic preservation, Dyson said.

“It has to be dealt with,” Dyson said. “Things like this don’t get easier to fix.”

“The section that collapsed is going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up,” she said. The other sections may be patched up.

The City worked on a similar problem earlier this year, rebuilding a culvert attached to the same wall at the Arboretum’s main entrance at 125 Arborway. The culvert was also subsiding.

Dyson said the City is also looking at minor damage to another perimeter wall along Walter Street.

The Arboretum Park Conservancy, a nonprofit friends group for the park, was slated to discuss the wall collapse at its meeting this week, according to JP resident and APC vice president Virginia Marcotte.

The APC previously raised funds to repair walls in the Arboretum’s Bussey Brook Meadow area. But regarding the current collapse, Marcotte said, “I’m reluctant to say we’ll throw money at it.”

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