History of Fort Hill, Part 2 (2008). Mural by: Loray McDuffie, Taylor Saintable, Edwin Perez-Clancy, Christine O'Connell, Julia Andreasson, Jorge Benitez, Divah Payne, Lucy Saintcyr, Laua Dedonato, Gregg Bernstein.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Blighted Legacy Taunts Alvah Kittredge Square

The annual clean-up of Alvah Kittredge Square is scheduled for this weekend. From 9 to 11 am this Saturday, 24 April 2010, the "neighborhood scrub down" takes place. A sweet little announcement came to the neighborhood email list asking the neighbors to turn out, to bring flowers to plant and ideas for an after-school program, and to shovel around some city-provided mulch.

If there is enough time and willing hands, folk will walk down to Highland Ave and Centre Street to dress up that corner. The email even includes a pretty picture from Roxbury Highland's glory days.

The Friends of AK Park report they have secured commitment of significant funding from several foundations, have received a promise of help from Mayor Menino, and are confident of additional funding for a reconstruction of the park.

That's not all. The Project Review Committee of Highland Park is considering plans for the construction of a new rowhouse, "a landmark green building, producing more clean energy than it consumes" on the square at the corner of Highland and Linwood streets.

But, wait ... there's still more. It seems that the community garden at Alvah Kittredge Square is soon to be upgraded with a water supply, a concrete walk-way, a (wrought-iron!) fence and gate, and division into thirteen garden plots.

It's been a struggle over the years, but with the development of the apartment buildings facing the square, the investment of many owners and renters, the work of Historic Boston with the rowhouses on the square, the community garden, and other efforts, Alvah Kittredge Square has come a long way.
Except for one small detail: Alvah's house.

This poor derelict presides over the square from its address of 10 Linwood Street. It is a wreck and it continues to slide toward destruction right before our eyes. Here is the facade on a recent morning, propped up with scaffolding.

Here are photographs of the rear of the building and of its west side.

Will the scaffolding be sufficient to keep the rotted wood from tumbling onto the sidewalk? Does the blue tarpaulin partially draped over the roof really keep the rain out?

In a photograph from the web site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, dated July 2004, the Alvah Kittredge House looked like this.
Given the current scandalous neglect, in a very few more years there will be nothing left of this historic treasure to restore.

The Roxbury Action Program (RAP)—whose name adorns the front of the building—owned this house in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Preoccupied elsewhere in the neighborhood, RAP sat on the house and allowed it to deteriorate like any feckless, absentee landlord. Since that time RAP has pulled up stakes from 10 Linwood Street and has conveyed the property (probably in 1999) to Alexander Leroy who is trustee of something called the Linwood St Realty Trust.

10 Linwood Street is listed with the city as commercial property, assessed at $179,900.00, with an annual property tax of $5,285.46 for fiscal year 2010—plus interest and fees of $271.95, as nothing has been paid against the tax bill this year. See the roller-coaster valuation history at the City of Boston On-line Assessing web site.

Mr. Leroy, and his do-nothing trust, are dreadfully misusing this historic house and the neighborhood in which it sits, just as the Roxbury Action Program did when it was the custodian.

Diligent neighbors can plant flowers and plan gardens, committed owners can invest, build, and renovate, and responsible and successful charities can lend a hand.

But, until Linwood St Realty takes its civic duty seriously, Alvah Kittredge Square will continue to be taunted by the irresponsibility manifested in this wreck.

Or, Alexander Leroy & trust can get out of the way and convey this piece of historic Fort Hill to someone who can do the job.

This status quo is shameful.

An addendum: On page 40 of this Notice of Taking, [1.465KB pdf] the Collector-Treasurer announces that it is his "intention to take for the City of Boston On Tuesday, the Fifteenth day of December, 2009" 10 Linwood Street, among other "parcel(s) of real estate for non-payment, after demand, of the taxes thereon" of $5,975.20.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Clean Streets III

Odd-side street sweeping rolled around to Centre Street for a second time this season, but it seemed there was only ticketing and not the towing that Iseut reported on 6 April.

The guys at the DPW have new toys to sweep the streets with. They've been spotted in Jamaica Plain, East Boston, and Roxbury, so perhaps the entire city fleet has been replaced. These photographs were taken at the Highland Street DPW yard.

Here are photographs of the old sweepers.

(Photo credits. Above: Globe Staff Photo / Mark Wilson. Right: Boston Zest)

If you are in search of a hobby, there seems to be a small, but dedicated, group of folk who are interested in street sweeping equipment—like rail-fans, but with rubber tires and rotary brushes.

Here's a list of popular equipment, plus a Flickr street cleaning fan site: Elgin Pelican (always a classic!), Wayne 993, FMC 984, Elgin Streetking, Johnston 4000, Hako Citymaster 1200, FMC Vanguard 3000, Verro City, Mobil M9D, LMV B62, NIMOS Sweepers, TENNANTS, Zamboni, Wayne 2984, Olympia, Wayne Sweeper, Aebi MFH 2200, Athey Mobils* to get you started.

Boston's street sweeping equipment vendor, American Sweeping, seems to favor the classic Elgin Pelican. Here is an encomium to this great machine on the occasion of its 90th anniversary. This is the Elgin Sweeper Company web page.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes

Every year on Patriots' Day since the 1980s, there has been a celebration in the Roxbury Highlands of William Dawes's 1774 ride from Roxbury to Lexington, bringing notice to the American guerrillas of British infantry movements.

This year, the 380th anniversary of Roxbury's founding, is no exception, with the annual celebration occurring on Monday, April 19, from 8am to 12:30pm.

Discover Roxbury has the details. There is free breakfast, presentation of the Warren I. Brown scholarship, a lecture by the local architects of Donald Stull and David Lee [their corporate web site], and a trolley tour of the neighborhood.

Open, and free to the public, on that day are the Dillaway-Thomas House (183 Roxbury St), the Shirley-Eustis House (33 Shirley St), and the Eliot Burial Ground (Washington St. at Eustis).

The ceremonial equestrian unit, the National Lancers, is providing a couple of horses and a Dawes facsimile for the ceremony in the yard at the First Church, before setting off on this route to Lexington. The National Lancers have a hodgepodge of photographs from 2008 at their Picasa site, starting with this picture (presumably of William Dawes with his dear mother).

Of course, Wikipedia has an article on William Dawes, too. WGBH did a short feature back in 1991. The Fort Hill Civic Association has some pictures of the 2006 festivities half-way down this page. Wicked Local Brookline has this 2008 story. Visit this historic marker the next time you are near Harvard Square. The Paul Revere House website shows the routes of Revere, Dawes, and the British.

And then there is the Jimmy Hatlo They'll Do It Every Time rendition.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Urban Amenities: The DPW Yard & Salt Shed

Again, this is not precisely what one would immediately consider an urban amenity, but we shouldn't forget the benefits Fort Hill gains by having the Boston Department of Public Works (DPW) yard and salt shed on its southern flank.

Having this mountain of salt nearby, with the resulting stream of snowplow trucks entering and leaving the yard, means that Centre, Dudley, Roxbury, Marcella, and Ritchie streets are the first to be plowed and salted and are kept clear of snow and ice throughout every winter storm. I can't speak for the other arteries in the neighborhood (Highland, Cedar, Thornton, Guild, and Milmont streets), but Centre Street and Marcella and Ritchie streets are kept pretty clean of snow even at the height of a storm.

One can argue about the environmental impact of spewing salt all over city streets so that Boston drivers can continue driving ... well, like Boston drivers ... even as the first flakes fall. One might also consider if the DPW takes sufficient environmental caution with its huge cache of salt. One might ask if creating a hard-pack snow surface would be better than insisting on plowing right down to the blacktop. (Google Seattle salt sand snow for a variety of views on Seattle's recent experience on the subject.)

But, as long as Boston maintains its current snow removal policy, we should be glad the DPW houses this operation in our neighborhood.

However, in a 29 March 2010 letter to the BRA Board of Directors, Councillor Turner addresses the development plans for Jackson Square. In this letter he states that the presence of the DPW yard and salt shed limits the potential for economic development on the Roxbury side of Jackson Square. He relates that DPW officials have been unwilling to even discuss the long-term prospects of moving the operations of the yard and salt shed to another location.

Councillor Turner would rather the DPW relocate its Highland Street yard and salt shed somewhere else so that the real estate could be devoted to economic development in Roxbury.

See this 14 August 2009 article, "Urban Edge proposes new first-phase plans," in the Jamaica Plain Gazette Online for details on the problems siting housing next to the salt shed. The article claims that salt for half the city comes from this shed. Universal Hub has this 2010 photograph of operations at the West Roxbury salt shed [maps.google satellite view] at Millennium Park.

I don't have strong opinions on the matter, but, for as long as they last, I'm happy to enjoy transportation side effects of our neighborhood hosting this DPW operation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Urban Amenities: Location, location, location

From this prospect behind the Dillaway-Thomas House at the Roxbury Heritage State Park the view encompasses from Back Bay to South Station.

While not perhaps an amenity, per se, Fort Hill's location must be one of its single greatest assets.

Central to the City of Boston, Fort Hill is within easy striking of the entire city, whether on foot, by bicycle, or by mass transit. It is even convenient to drive, if you know the secret parking places closer into the city center.

Walking or bicycling inbound, the Southwest Corridor Park is a green slice through Roxbury and the South End directly into the city. Going southwest, the Corridor leads all the way to the Arboretum.

The Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Gardner Museum, the Fenway and Muddy River, Symphony Hall are all easy bicycling and walking destinations on a bright spring day. Even closer are Malcolm X and Harris Park and the National Center of Afro-American Artists.

These schools are all within walking distance: Northeastern University, Simmons College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Massachusetts College of Art, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Massachusetts School of Pharmacy, Emmanuel College, and Wheelock College. (What have I left out?)

Slightly farther away are the the Back Bay and the Charles River Esplanade. In the other direction, Leverett Pond, Jamaica Pond, and the Arboretum are all within easy bicycling and walking distance. Franklin Park and the Franklin Park Zoo are a short distance down Seaver Street.

Even if these destinations seem a little far to walk for our tender American feet, Fort Hill is served by over 40 bus stops, 2 rapid transit stops, and 21 different bus lines.

For those of us who only think in an automotive mode, Fort Hill is close to Storrow Drive, the Mass Pike, and the Southeast Expressway. Route 9 leads the way west to Newton and 128. This means that employment flexibility is maximized as measured by commuting time. In addition to the center city, Andover, Braintree, Waltham, Cambridge, Burlington, and Lexington, are all feasible commutes by car. They have the additional benefit of being reverse commutes, as well.

The next posts will examine the wealth of MBTA options that runs through and adjacent to Fort Hill.