So we’ve mentioned what a failure City Hall Plaza is before. It’s a nine-acre plain of 1,246,343 bricks and nothing else. We’re always interested in the latest plans and schemes to make something useful out of it.
Wind speed averages 24 miles per hour on a portion of the plaza’s barren flats, which was rated “dangerous and unacceptable” in a 1996 engineers’ study.
It originally had a fountain, which Architectural Digest hailed as Boston’s answer to Trevi Fountain in Rome! I’m guessing no one at that publication had ever actually seen Trevi.
But the fountain leaked from the beginning, with the water going into the subway below, and quickly morphed into a weed-choked hole. It’s gone now -they put plywood over it and then concrete.
In 2014, safety concerns were raised. The Boston Herald reported plywood under the concrete is severely waterlogged and sponge-like, and could be compromised. “Due to the observed plywood saturation, mold and insect infestation, we consider the remaining service life to be uncertain,” BSG Group engineers wrote in a report.
Over the years, lots of things have been suggested to improve the space. Jan Wampler, an MIT architecture professor who worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, considered the plaza “horrible,” and in 1970 began suggesting improvements: a drive-in movie, maybe, or public vegetable gardens.
The cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who lives in nearby Cambridge, supported a proposed $4.5 million “music garden” inspired by Bach’s “First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello.” But after a year’s wrangling over money and scheduling, a frustrated Mr. Ma pulled up stakes and found another city: Toronto, where, in a day, he secured a prime three-acre site and basic backing for the deal.
In the 1990’s, mayor Tom Menino held a contest for the best ideas on what to do with it. 190 people submitted ideas, including put a ballpark there, or an abolitionist museum, a video village, a “Tomb of the Bambino” (for Babe Ruth).
In 1995, he formed The Trust for City Hall Plaza, a 33-member panel led by real estate developer Norman Leventhal, who was responsible for many successful projects in Boston, including the beloved Post Office Square park.
At hearings, a Trust member requesting anonymity said, referring to the City Council chambers, “Since the redesign process is starting from scratch, why not think big? Why not get rid of the monstrous City Hall building, an architectural Frankenstein, and replace it, in a new location on the lot, with something that works. This room is a prime example of what’s wrong with City Hall. It’s a hearing room where you can’t hear.”
They came up with proposals that included a hotel, a glass-enclosed Winter Garden and cafe, civic green and more. But people in Boston objected to the Trust, saying it only had real estate developers and corporate interests on it, and not enough average citizens, and anyway it didn’t have the authority to recommend anything.
In Boston, everybody has to have their say and this usually means nothing can get done. Menino backed away from the Trust and their ideas withered away.
For the entire month of December, Boston’s City Hall Plaza will be transformed into a magical land of winter festivities, New England’s first European-inspired holiday market featuring 42 shopping chalets, and attractions. Bostonians and visitors alike will be dazzled by the eclectic array of winter activities with more than 50 things to do, from wine and chocolate tastings, ice skating, live events and local artisans and musicians. #BostonWinter has plenty to offer all ages every day of the week from 11 a.m. daily through New Year’s Day. See website for holiday hours and evening closing times. Tickets for paid attractions are available online in advance (bit.ly/BostonWinterTix); shopping, public performance and browsing is free and open to the public.
Closing times? Ticket prices? Will we never learn? This is why we can’t have nice things.