Work on the $2.8 million facelift of the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial on the Boston Common, which pays tribute to the first Northern black volunteer infantry unit enlisted to fight in the Civil War, kicked off the last Wednesday, May 20.
The bas-relief memorial, which sits inside the Common on the corner of Beacon and Park streets, was created by venerable American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and installed in 1897. It is being restored through a partnership, including the City of Boston, National Park Service, Friends of the Public Garden, the Museum of African American History and the Friends of the Public Garden, which filed a work and safety plan that was approved by the city to begin construction under the Phase I reopening guidelines issued in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the project, around 900 feet of interpretative signage created by Visual Dialogue and printed by Boston Building Wrap, Inc., will be installed along the fences around the construction site that tell the story of the Civil War, the 54th Regiment and the Memorial, and include images of handwritten letters from Col. Shaw and enlistment signs recruiting black men to the cause, as well photos of the men who served in the infantry unit.
“Our parks have the largest concentration of public art in the city, and at a time when museums are closed, this is going to be an incredible exhibit without walls,” said Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends group.
The signage also contains QR codes that allow visitors to dial up an “augmented reality” (AR) app to enjoy an interactive experience featuring three narrators telling the stories of the 54th Regiment, as well as the creation of the monument and its history, Vizza said.
Staging and site preparation will continue for several weeks, followed by restoration work, led by Louis C. Allegrone Construction, and with support from design consultant Silman Structural Engineers. All stone and bronze elements, including the centerpiece bronze sculpture, will be removed from the plaza level up and taken offsite to a conservation studio, where new waterproofing will be installed under the plaza’s brick. A new concrete foundation will be built under the bronze, which will then be pinned to the marble structure that surrounds it.
Vizza said it would take weeks before the monument’s elements are moved off site and another five or six months until completion of the project, which is expected in November.
“We’ll have a rededication ceremony for the monument in 2021, but we don’t know when yet,” Vizza said.
Michael Creasey, Superintendent of National Parks of Boston, said he is pleased that the construction phase of the project has commenced.
“It’s especially meaningful as the launch aligns so neatly with two significant anniversaries: the mustering out of the MA 54th Regiment under the command of Robert Gould Shaw on May 28, 1863 and the original unveiling of the Memorial on May 31, 1897,” Creasey wrote. “Since its unveiling, the Shaw Memorial has been a beacon of hope and a rallying point for conversations about race, justice and human rights – issues core to who we are as a people and a nation.”