Neighbors Go for Lighting at Temple Street Park

It’s a hole in the wall. Or maybe it is a vest pocket park. A mini-park? Perhaps it is simply an unlikely open space in a line of rowhouses that almost didn’t happen. Technically, it now belongs to the city. It is the Temple Street Park, located exactly opposite the front door of the Archer Residences, the new luxury condominium building that occupies what were once Suffolk University’s Archer and Donahue buildings.

The Temple Street Park sits in the space where two 18th-century wooden houses once stood. They backed up to Bowdoin Street’s Church of St. John the Evangelist, which owned them. The church demolished the houses in 1952—hard to imagine now—in order to install a parking lot. Over the years the space, with the church’s decorated back wall, has evolved and after many years as a park, is in need of several improvements. During construction of the Archer Residences, this small space was sometimes used as a staging area. Its paving and fence are in need of repair or replacement. And, oh—the City of Boston Park sign is missing. But currently the biggest problem for nearby residents is how dark the park is at night because it has no electricity or lights.

The Temple Street Park attracts users of all ages.

“It’s a lovely park, used by a lot of people,” said Katherine Sims, whose home abuts the park’s south side. State House employees use it as do families on Temple Street and adjacent areas. But that is in the daytime.

“At night it is a dark, dark hole,” she said. “We’ve observed homeless people sleeping there and needles and drug use. It’s a sanctuary for behavior you wouldn’t want in a family-friendly place.”

When Suffolk occupied the Temple Street buildings it sold, it took care of the park, and there were many students around at all hours, making it seem safer even without lighting. But while Suffolk still empties the trash barrels and picks up debris, neighbors expect that the university’s interest in the park, whether in lighting or anything else, will naturally wane, now that the university has left the area.

While the Archer Residences across the street were under construction, lighting in the park was less of a problem because the contractor left plenty of lights on in the open floors, Sims said. Now, the Sims family is temporarily providing two flood lights aimed into the park and running off their home’s electricity, but that is not a permanent solution.

At one point, Temple Street residents were hopeful they could improve many conditions in the park, as it was a recipient of $50,000 from Center Court Mass LLC, the developer of the Archer Residences. Water was the priority. When Suffolk occupied its Temple Street buildings the university ran hoses from its spigots over to the park. When Suffolk left, the ever-resourceful Sims hooked up a hose to her building’s spigots and watered the plants and hosed down the paving. The first priority became installing a water supply for the park, which ended up costing about $45,000, said Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods. Little was left for other improvements.

So Temple Street residents have come up with a plan to light the park. It is expensive to execute, and there is no financial help to be had—at least for now—from the city.

Temple Street resident Nan Borod is leading that effort. Last year’s application from park friends to the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s Community Fund, which funds local initiatives, was not successful, she said. After consulting lighting experts, her team put together a new application and calculated that design, equipment and installation of appropriate lighting in the park could cost as much as $29,000. She has the verbal support of the Beacon Hill Garden Club and the City of Boston.

“We’d be supportive of lighting the park,” said Woods. “But it is not in the capital budget.”

Borod is applying for a grant of $15,920 from this year’s Community Fund. This includes approximately $3,900 for design work and $12,000 as a matching grant for completing the work. The group would then raise additional money from park users, residents, and local organizations among other funders.

Chances for receiving the grant will depend on several factors including competition from other grant applicants, so the group is not counting on it, but also sees that without such a grant, the fund-raising will be a significant challenge.

Developers of the Archer Residences, which take up between one-third and one-half of the frontage on the west side of the street, refused to comment on the park or the grant application, although it has cited the park as an amenity in its marketing materials.

If the Friends of the Temple Street Park are successful at getting the Community Fund grant, they hope to start the rest of the fund-raising, as well as the initial design during the winter and spring, said Sims. If they are unsuccessful, the fund-raising will still go on.

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Temple Street Park history

1769   Temple Street named for Sir John Temple, who married Governor Bowdoin’s daughter.

1787   Two wooden houses built at 44 and 46 Temple Street. They eventually become the location of St. Anne’s Episcopal Convent.

1952   The wooden houses, which backed up to the Church of St. John the Evangelist and were owned by it, are demolished and used for parking for the church, which fronted on Bowdoin Street.

1963   Temple Street, along with other North Slope streets, is included in the Beacon Hill Historic District extension.

1966   Suffolk University, exempted from the Beacon Hill Architectural Guidelines at that time, builds the Donahue Building at 41 Temple Street.

1975-77   Through the efforts of the late architect Jim McNeely and others, Temple Street becomes Temple Walk, transformed into a pedestrian-friendly walkway, featuring a single one-way traffic lane with wide sidewalks, no parking, a double line of trees and containers for greenery. The name Temple Walk never completely replaces the name Temple Street. The parking lot at 44 and 46 Temple becomes a park that Suffolk University agrees to landscape and maintain. Neighbors gather several days a year to plant the street containers and take care of the park.

2001- 2002 Cash-strapped Church of St. John the Evangelist decides to sell the park to a real estate developer who plans to erect two houses, much to the dismay of park users. The Massachusetts Historical Commission refuses to lift a preservation restriction on the park land, thereby preventing the houses from being built. Temple Street residents, other neighbors, Beacon Hill non-profits, Suffolk University and the City of Boston contribute toward the purchase of the park, which becomes part of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Suffolk again takes responsibility for the care of the park.

2005 Park benches, fencing and brick paving are added due to donations from the City of Boston, Suffolk and other grants.

2018-2020 Suffolk University’s sale of its two buildings means that the park is used sometimes for construction of the Archer Residences. Park users look forward to the time when the park will be restored, repaired and able to function with water and lighting on its own since Suffolk no longer will be around to take care of it.

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