Beacon Hill was expecting a lot of company.
It was May 20, the day before 2000 visitors would come for the Beacon Hill Garden Club’s annual Hidden Garden Tour. John Corey and Miguel Rosales had rounded up a group of volunteers to help spruce up the place, so to speak.
The Mt. Vernon Street residents, who years ago had envisioned installing decorative, uniform tree guards around all 58 Charles Street trees and now co-chair the Beacon Hill Civic Association Tree Committee, wanted to give the winter-weary tree pits a fresh, spring look. And the community that had helped realize that dream in 2012, came back again, this time to help clean them up.
“We were grateful that John and Miguel took the leadership,” said Leslie Adams, president of the Garden Club, which generously donated $4000, the expertise of its members, and the down and dirty work of about five members to help clean and refresh the densely compacted soil surrounding the street trees.
Because the project took place on Keller Williams Realty’s annual community service day, Ivy Turner rounded up ten more volunteers. About 25 bags of soil, 81 bags of mulch and 195 vinca plants had been delivered and dumped on the brick sidewalks. The group dug into the daylong task of aerating the grounds and adding new soil, compost, mulch and plantings.
Realtor Max Mazzone did a lot of the heavy lifting. A fitness tracker he wore recorded nine miles of footsteps taken while lugging heavy bags of soil, compost and mulch from tree pit to tree pit.
“When you think of all the things that have been accomplished in the neighborhood, what makes Beacon Hill special is that there are always a lot of people involved,” said Turner. “Someone takes the initiative, the community gets behind them, and together they create a lasting improvement to the neighborhood. We were happy to be a part of this spring clean up.”
The 2012 restoration of the long-neglected tree pits were part of an overall Charles Street improvement plan originally envisioned by Corey and Rosales in 2009. While on a visit to London, the two had been inspired by Jermyn Street, located in one of London’s most historic and fashionable districts. It is home to high-end boutiques, shirt makers, leather goods suppliers, food and wine merchants, restaurants and art galleries.
“That street has the same scale, the same vibe, as Charles Street,” said Corey. “It is filled with four story buildings with uniform storefronts. It was very clean, pleasant and captivating.” It gave them an idea of what the community could do for the businesses here, and Rosales and Corey, who had joined the BHCA board of directors in 2008, returned home excited and energized about getting started.
That energy, it seems, never ends.
Both are designers at heart. Rosales made his mark on the city as lead architect for the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge and other bridges here and around the country. Corey, a real estate developer with Boston Investment and Development, has restored several historic homes on Beacon Hill and multi-use buildings in the North End, Hyde Park and Dorchester.
Both donate their skills and time working on quality of life projects and value the benefits of well-designed streetscapes. “We are interested in the green, the trees, little gardens, canopies to keep the sidewalk shady,” said Corey. “And it isn’t only the aesthetics. It’s the functionalities, too, in terms of trash and recycling pickup, zoning, safety, traffic, and parking.”
For some time, both have been members of the Tree Committee that had been revitalized in 2006 as a partnership with the Garden Club and Boston Parks Department to preserve and restore the trees lining the neighborhood’s brick sidewalks. Until last year when they took over its chairmanship, Chestnut Street resident Linda Cox was at its helm.
During her tenure, 240 new trees were planted throughout the neighborhood and all trees were pruned under an innovative partnership with the city and residents, she said. In 2007 the committee launched a tree guard sponsorship program to make it easier and more economical for residents to install custom-made iron guards to protect trees from cars, dogs and humans. Under that program, which ended in November 2009, seventy guards were installed.
The installation of guards around Charles Street trees was also a focus of the newly formed Joint Charles Street Committee, chaired by Corey and Susan Symonds who was then president of the Beacon Hill Business Association.
They launched a tree guard pilot program with the help of Chris Pedersen, owner of Charles Street Liquors, and Lou Desautels, owner of the Boston Antiques Company, who each paid for the installation of a tree guard in front of their businesses. Residents and other businesses on the street enthusiastically received them, but money was short and the Committee was struggling to find monies to install more guards.
That was when the BHCA board decided to further John and Rosales’ vision for the street by raising $90,000 for the installation of the tree pits to celebrate the group’s 90th anniversary. Bob Owens and Alyson Lindsey headed a fundraising campaign that raised even more to cover the costs and maintenance of the tree pits.
With the funds in place and their energy level still high, Corey and Rosales moved forward with city and community help. They attended countless meetings, secured needed permits and worked with arborist Greg Mosman to design the 36’ x 66’ pits according to city standards. The Public Works Department paid for and completed all brickwork. Iron tree guards, donor plaques, plants and supplies were ordered, and a watering service contracted.
“It was a coming together of a lot of people overcoming a lot of hurdles, said then-BHCA President Steve Young at the September 2013 ribbon cutting ceremony. “The plantings went in, the guards went in. Everybody was very happy with the results.”
“We are very lucky as our community attracts businesses with deep pride for their business,” said BHBA president Nina Castellion. “They are thrilled to have the support [of the community] and to work together towards the betterment of Charles Street.”
“While there have certainly been struggles in turning tree pits that had been neglected for decades into gardens that would support plants, it is gratifying to see the efforts of the community in bringing them to life,” said Keeta Gilmore, BHCA chair. “With leadership from the BHCA, and help from the garden club and the business community, we hope that the trees and plants will help beautify Charles Street for many years to come.”
“I like to say that projects are never-ending,” said Corey. The guards, plants and soil must be maintained at an estimated cost of $10,000 a year. Eventually more funds must be raised. And they’ll always need volunteers to help. Turner promised that her group of realtors would be back to spring clean next year.
“These are urban trees,” added Rosales. “The salt, snow and extreme dryness makes it hard for them. It is very important that residents and business owners care for them. They need plenty of water. And, should there be any tree damage or death, residents should let the city know through the city’s Citizen Connect app.