Charlesgate Park is historically considered the ‘crown jewel’ of Frederick Law Olmsted’s world renowned ‘Emerald Necklace’ (suggested link) and, as its name suggests, the ‘gateway’ to the Charles River. It was once an elegant point of contact and transition, linking the ‘City on the Hill’ with its sister neighborhoods.
In 1878, the City of Boston Parks Commission awarded Frederick Law Olmsted a commission to develop a parkland system. His idea was a ‘necklace’ of parks extending from Franklin Park in Dorchester through the city to the Public Gardens/Commons to the Charles River. The ‘crown jewel’ was Charlesgate Park. That vision helped to create the lovely residential neighborhood that formed the Charlesgate, Kenmore Square and Fenway communities.
As the mid-twentieth century approached, the park and many of the residences fell into disrepair. With the construction of the Mass. Turnpike, Storrow Drive and the expansion of both Boston University and the Harvard Hospitals, vehicular traffic dramatically increased in the neighborhood.
All of this led to one of most unfortunate urban design decisions ever promulgated in Boston: the creation in 1967 of the Bowker Overpass connecting Storrow Drive to upper Boylston Street and Park Drive. This decision effectively destroyed the parkland, narrowing and re-routing the Muddy River leaving a small, stagnant, trash-filled stream.
Despite that physical damage, now, more than 40 years later, the Charlesgate neighborhood is reviving because residential owners, local businesses and two universities (and their hospital affiliates) have invested heavily in its revitalization. With the acknowledged deterioration of the Bowker Overpass and the concomitant safety concerns, there is now a historic opportunity for the Commonwealth to right the wrong done to this park and its neighborhood decades ago.
The DOT is currently considering plans for rebuilding the Overpass. The Friends of the Charlesgate oppose this plan. We are prepared to make the case to DOT and DCR that from the viewpoint of traffic improvement to urban landscape design to community relations, the Overpass should now be removed and traffic re-routed back to land-based patterns. This is the most practical, cost-effective and ultimately mutually beneficial option.