While the pandemic continued to dominate the news in 2021, it also proved to be a watershed year as the City of Boston elected former City Councilor Michelle Wu as the first female, as well as the first woman of color, to ever serve as Mayor.
On Beacon Hill, Charles Street’s retail landscape also experienced a renaissance in 2021, with numerous new businesses opening on the street.
After taking last year off due to the pandemic, several beloved neighborhood traditions returned as in-person events, including the Beacon Hill Business Association’s annual Beacon Hill Sidewalk Sale, which came to Charles Street over the weekend of June 25 and 26, as well as the Beacon Hill Art Walk, which returned (albeit later than usual) on Sept. 26. The Beacon Hill board of directors held its first in-person monthly meeting since the pandemic struck on Dec. 13 at the Boston Athenaeum as well.
The year also saw what could mark the beginning of another annual tradition in the neighborhood when the inaugural “Spring Eternal!” event came to Charles Street on May 22.
*On Jan. 22, the Esplanade Association commemorated its 20th anniversary by debuting “Hatched: Breaking through the Silence” – an original 15-minute visual performance led by Boston-based creative Maria Finkelmeier of MF Dynamics that was specifically designed for the 80-year-old DCR Hatch Shell. The free program ran through Feb. 22, with multiple showings each night.
*In February, Sen. Sal DiDomenico, together with Rep. Jay Livingstone, filed new, updated legislation that would allow the state to lease Lee Pool on the Charles River Esplanade for a 30-year term, thereby returning the long-shuttered two-acre site to public use. The bill would allow the designated lessee to enter into a long-term agreement with the Esplanade Association, the nonprofit that manages the park in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, with the stipulation that it only be used for the proposed Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion.
*On March 22, Mayor Marty Walsh gave his final farewell as Boston’s mayor, as he prepared to head to Washington to serve as President Biden’s Secretary of Labor. City Council president Kim Janey then became the first person of color and first woman to lead Boston.
*On March 22, Rep. Jay Livingstone and City Councilor Kenzie Bok co-hosted a virtual meeting to discuss a prosed new location of Bluemoon Smoke Shop, which had signed a 10-year lease to occupy the ground-level storefront at 138 Charles St., the previous home of Danish Country & Modern. But in response to the outpouring of opposition that the plan received from the community, especially given the proposed location’s close proximity to several nearby schools, Blue Moon ultimately opted not to open the new store on Charles Street, and the property owner allowed them to dissolve the existing lease.
“I respect the opinion of the neighborhood and am not going to pursue the plan,” Malik Hayat, one of the business owners, told this publication following the meeting. “We’re sorry for any inconvenience, or bad feelings, we have caused the neighborhood, and we respect their opinion.”
*On April 1, “Ducks on Parade!” – a photo book exploring the ongoing phenomenon of the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Public Garden and its ever-changing array of topical attire and its ever-changing array of topical attire – was published by Brandeis University Press.
Nancy Schön, the West Newton sculptor who brought the family of aquatic birds from Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings to life in the Public Garden, edited the book, which is divided into two sections – “Four Seasons of Ducks” and “Ducks with a Message.”
“Four Seasons of Ducks” follows Mrs. Mallard and her kin over the course of a year. They wear green for St. Patrick’s Day, all dress as bunnies for Easter, don medals for the Boston Marathon and even masquerade as pilgrims for Thanksgiving, while showing their support for all the home teams, including the Bruins, Celtics, Sox and the Pats, with a changing array of uniforms.
The book’s second section, “Ducks with a Message,” shows the aquatic creatures taking a political stand in costume, such as the knitted pink hats they wore in conjunction with the Boston Women’s March for America, which drew a crowd estimated at 175,000 to the Boston Common on Jan. 21, 2017 – one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration – in support of women’s rights. Or, during a guerilla art installation in August of 2019, when the Ducks were caged in chicken wire to show solidarity with immigrants facing mistreatment at the border.
The book’s forward was also penned by former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who wrote, , “On any given day, you can walk through the Public Garden and find the Mallard family dressed up to reflect the current cultural moment and adorned with props to signify historic milestones in Boston’s history. You’ll see whimsical, over-the-top tributes to holidays and sports teams, and you’ll see serious reflections on our country’s political climate, too. In that way, Nancy Schön didn’t just create one of our city’s most beloved works of public art; she also gave us a living record of life in our city, and encouraged us all to become artists and reflect on the moment we’re living in.”
*On April 7, Dr. Peter Slavin announced he was stepping down as president of Mass General after spending 18 years at the helm of the hospital.
At that time, Dr. Slavin said he had agreed to stay on until MGH could find “a new captain for the ship, someone with new energy and new ideas, who can ably steer this great hospital forward.”
In August, Mass General Brigham Names David F. M. Brown President of Massachusetts General Hospital.
*On May 7, former New England Patriot Ron Gronkowski announced his $1.2 million gift on behalf of the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation to the Esplanade Association for a complete renovation of the Charlesbank Playground on the Esplanade.
*On May 22, the inaugural “Spring Eternal!” event took place on Charles Street.
Thirty-five businesses, all of which donated gifts for an event raffle, took part in the street-wide celebration, organized by longtime neighborhood resident, Mark Duffield, to welcome the onset of spring.
Among those in attendance for the event, which Duffield said he hopes will become a neighborhood tradition, were City Councilor Kenzie Bok, Rep. Jay Livingstone, and then-City Councilor Michelle Wu, as well as Darrell Byers, CEO of Interise.
*On May 28, the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial reopened on the Boston Common after undergoing a $3 million renovation.
The extensive restoration work, which was undertaken through a partnership between the Friends of the Public Garden, the City of Boston, the Museum of African American History and the National Park Service, entailed removing the brass memorial from its stonework encasing and transporting it to Skylight Studios in Woburn for refurbishing, as well as installing supplemental steel within the monument itself and a protection system for the existing beams within the plaza. The monument was also “retro-fitted seismically” to withstand earthquakes.
*On June 25 and 26, the Beacon Hill Business Association’s annual Beacon Hill Sidewalk Sale returned to Charles Street.
*On June 30, the Beacon Hill Garden Club’s Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill Tour, which traditionally took place on the third Thursday in May during pre-pandemic times, returned as a virtual tour featuring seven members gardens.
*In July, Brewer Fountain returned to life on the Boston Common after lying torpid for nearly two years due to the pandemic.
“We are delighted to be able to reopen this outdoor community space. How wonderful it is to see people enjoying the outdoors, using the tables and chairs under the umbrellas, and hopefully, everyone will be enjoying the Berklee College musicians again,” said Liz Vizza, president of the Friends of the Public Garden, which has programmed the fountain since 2012.
*On Aug. 25, then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced the winners of the 25th annual Mayor’s Garden Contest, including first-time contestant, Sally Reyering of Pinckney Street, who took first place last week in the Shade Garden category. Reyering was also the only contest winner from the neighborhood.
Additionally, another Beacon Hill representative, Miguel Rosales, was inducted into the Garden Contest Hall of Fame for receiving recognition in the competition three times. This distinction will allow him to participate in the competition as a judge in the future, but as a three-time winner, he’s also now ineligible to participate in it ever again.
* On Aug. 29, the eagerly awaited Esplanade 5K, which was held virtually in 2020 due to the pandemic, will return to the park as an in-person footrace.
Proceeds from the event, which was again presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, went directly to support the work of the Esplanade Association to revitalize and enhance the park.
*On Sept. 26, the Beacon Hill Art Walk, which typically took place in June in pre-pandemic times, returned as a live, in-person event.
*On Sept. 22, “What Do We Have in Common?” – a new park-wide art installation to mark the Friends of the Public Garden’s 50th anniversary – opened on the Boston Common – one year later than originally planned due to the pandemic.
The centerpiece of the art installation, curated by Now + There, a Boston-based nonprofit public-arts group, and created by Brooklyn, N.Y., artist, Janet Zweig was a massive wooden cabinet, with 200 compartments, each containing an illuminated, blue marker asking a poignant question. The first three questions, which were posed in Spanish and Vietnamese, as well as in English, during the Sept. 22 launch for the installation were: “who owns this park?”; “who owns the moon?”; and “who owns the air?.”
Twelve guides were on hand in the park each day for the exhibit, which ran for 30 days until Oct. 22, to answer questions from guests, who were also invited to take a free book from the cabinet.
*On Sept. 25, more than a dozen kids turned out for the city-wide finale of “We Sing: Boston” – a series of free, outdoor singing events presented by the Friends of the Public Garden in partnership with Boston Children’s Chorus – at Brewer Fountain on the Boston Common.
Participants included newcomers, as well as children who had attended one of the previous “We Sing: Boston” interactive live-music experience, which took place over five weekends from Saturday, July 17, through Sunday, Aug. 15, at outdoor public spaces in neighborhoods in and around Boston.
“We Sing: Boston” also received additional support from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.
*In October, some 65 participating Beacon Hill businesses stepped up to show their support for The Jimmy Fund as part of the neighborhood’s “Get in the Spirit” campaign organized by longtime neighborhood resident Mark Duffield, which raised around $17,000 to support the Jimmy Fund.
*On Nov. 13, the Beacon Hill Civic Association sponsored its annual Garlands & Greens cocktail party at Hampshire House to raise money for the garlands and wreaths to decorate the neighborhood’s more than 1,100 historic gas lamp-posts during the holiday season over the weekend of Dec. 4-5.
*On Dec. 13, the Beacon Hill board of directors held its first in-person monthly meeting since the pandemic struck at the Boston Athenaeum.
At this time, the board awarded $39,500 in annual grants to 10 deserving community-based nonprofit organizations from its Beacon Hill Community Fund.
Additionally, the board voted unanimously on a motion to support the enactment of a Home Rule Petition by the City Council to amend the language for the Enabling Act that created the Beacon Hill Historic District to expand its boundaries, among other changes.