The Hidden Brookline History of Roland Hayes

Roland Hayes Concert March 15

You’ve probably the heard of the great Marian Anderson and the great Paul Robeson but do you know who was the first African American concert performer of international fame that paved their way? Do you know that this ground-breaking musician was also a courageous champion against segregation and racism? Do you know that he lived on Allerton Street on Pill Hill for almost 50 years?

Roland Hayes, who grew up poor in Georgia, became one of the premier tenors of all time and was an inspired composer. He performed classical music at the highest level but he is best known for elevating Negro spirituals and what he called “Aframerican” religious music to the concert stage.

Throughout his life he used his fame to break barriers in our country and abroad. He was the first African American soloist with the Boston Symphony, gave a command performance at Buckingham Palace and even won over an overtly racist audience in prewar Germany by the sheer force of his voice. At a time when racial oppression was rampant he demanded that his audiences be desegregated. In 1924 the NAACP awarded him their highest honor, the Springarn medal.

Despite his stellar achievements and long dignified career this amazing man has not achieved the long-lasting recognition that he deserves. If you could hear his music, performed as he did so many times around the world, you would feel its power to move people to change.

The Hidden Brookline Committee, an ad hoc committee of the town’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Department, wants to bring the music of Mr. Hayes and the story of his inspiring life to those who have not heard.

At 3 pm on Sunday, March 15, “A Tribute to Roland Hayes” will commemorate the art and legacy of this extraordinary force in American music history with a concert at historic Christ’s Church Longwood in Brookline. Presented by Hammond Real Estate and emceed by the always-engaging Reverend Liz Walker, this event promises to deliver a memorable afternoon of music and storytelling. Featuring the BSO’s eminent vocalist Robert Honeysucker, the program will also include the Joyful Voices of Inspiration Choir, the Brookline High School Camerata, Wenc Bogdanoff and a short film.

Admission is free but reservations are required because seating is limited. For more info contact Rob Daves or Betsy Shure Gross at

Go to to make a reservation. Seats are going fast.

Hearings on override ballot questions

Thanks to Selectman Neil Wishinsky: The Selectmen are holding two public hearings on the potential Override ballot questions for the May Town election. The hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9:00 am and Thursday, January 22 at 7:30pm. Both hearings will take place in the Selectmen’s Hearing Room on the sixth floor of Town Hall.
The Override Study Committee met for about a year and produced a report which effectively laid out the framework for the Selectmen’s analysis.
A chart summarizing the proposals under consideration has been posted on the Town website at: Town Meeting Members and others understand what is being proposed.
The chart contains three columns labeled Plan I, Plan II and Plan III. The chart shows the effect on the taxes for the median Single Family (SF), Condo and Commercial taxpayers under each of the proposals.
All three proposals assume that a combined $2 million in non-tax revenues and/or municipal efficiencies will accompany the voter approved tax increase. The three proposals use numbers drawn from a chart presented to the Selectmen by Superintendent Lupini on 1/6/2015.
That chart is posted here:
More detailed information about the line-items in the 1/6/2015 chart is contained in an earlier presentation by Superintendent Lupini which is located here:

Plan I
The operating override portion of the Plan I proposal (Lines A and B) is based on the so-called 100% column (“Fully Funded”) from the 1/6/2015 chart. The proposal adjusts the 100% column amount downward by assuming a smaller increase in teacher compensation being agreed to in the teachers next contract with the public schools, a smaller increase in central administration staffing, the hiring of fewer custodians, not funding a proposal to place paraprofessionals in second grade classrooms, and a more nimble Brookline High School Administration. Plan I would fund a public schools spending plan increase of $10.95 million (from FY 2015) which is reduced by the $2.0 million in non-tax revenue/municipal efficiencies to yield a proposed override of $8.95 million. Note that even though specific programs were identified when constructing the proposal, the School Committee is under no obligation to cut or remove those particular programs when they construct the FY16 budget.
The proposal also contains a potential pyramid override scheme for comment. Under a pyramid override two operating override questions appear on the ballot; one to raise a base amount of additional revenue and a second seeking to raise additional funds beyond the base. The highest spending proposal which gets 51% of the votes wins. You may recall that Brookline’s 2008 operating override was structured in this manner. The Plan I proposal would include funding for a portion of an enhanced educational technology program ($530k) in a pyramid. The voters would therefore have an option for a lower amount which excludes funding for this program.

Plan II
The operating override portion of the Plan II proposal (Lines A and B) works off the so-called “90% scenario” from the 1/6/2015 chart. This column used the recommendation of Group 2 of the Override Study Committee adjusted for some updated assumptions. The Plan II proposal lowers the collective bargaining assumption (the same amount as the Plan I proposal) and removes a so-called rental contingency which was mistakenly included in the 1/6/2015 chart. This yields a spending plan increase of $10.13 million (from FY 2015) which is reduced by the $2.0 million in non-tax revenue/municipal efficiencies to yield a proposed override of $8.13 million.
The proposal also contains a potential pyramid for comment. Plan II could place funding for a portion of an enhanced educational technology program ($530k) in the pyramid.

Plan III
This proposal is the same as the Plan II proposal with 2 exceptions:
1. $65,000 is added to the Override amount to finance the purchase an additional sidewalk snow plow and snow throwing equipment to better clear curb areas with a focus on commercial districts.
2. No pyramid is proposed.

Debt Exclusion
A Debt Exclusion vote raises taxes for the term of debt incurred to complete the project listed in the ballot question, in this case, the Devotion School.
Two scenarios are presented for comment.
Line C is a debt exclusion of $44.576 million. The Devotion School project is currently estimated to cost $118.4M. The current funding plan includes the following components:

Estimated total project cost $118.4m
Estimated MSBA share $27.8
Estimated Town Share: $90.6
Existing Borrowing Capacity $54.0 m
Needed for Debt Exclusion $36.6m

As you see above, it is estimated that the Town will have to contribute $90.6M toward the cost of the Devotion School project. For the past several years, the Town has set aside $54M in its long range capital plan to cover the cost of the Devotion School project leaving a $36.6M gap in funding. The plan is to place a Debt Exclusion on the ballot for this cost plus an additional $8M in school department capital needs.
The additional $8 million will allow the Town to fund the School Department’s short term space plan which includes modulars for Baker School, rental space for BEEP and other items presented to and adopted by the School Committee.
Line D is a debt exclusion of $49.876 million. This would add capacity for an additional $5.3 million in capital improvements. The additional capital dollars could be used in the event of:
· increased Devotion School construction costs

· to fund additional smaller scale school capital projects and to mitigate the impact of increased school enrollment. Any additional projects would need to obtain Town Meeting approval before money could be expended.
An additional note; the Debt Exclusion votes proposed here addresses the Devotion School and the short term space plans of the Schools. It does not address construction costs of future expansion at the High School, permanent expansion at any elementary school or a possible ninth school. What this means is that there could be additional Debt Exclusion votes in the next 3-6 years to fund additional school expansion/renovation/construction projects.

MLK Day Celebration at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Monday

MLK_letter_size_Jan2015_for_webPlease join in for Brookline’s celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday Jan. 19th at 4 pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

The Brookline MLK Celebration Committee has partnered with Brookline’s public access television station, Brookline Interactive Group, to create a documentary currently titled “Conversations on Race in Brookline”.  An excerpt from the film-in-progress will debut at the Coolidge Corner Theater on Monday.

Among his many other achievements, former Congressman Barney Frank was part of Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.   He traveled to Jackson, MI where he joined hundreds of northern white college students to train in the techniques of nonviolent direct action in order to register thousands of new black voters.  Mr. Frank is expected to speak about this experience, which informed his later efforts to achieve civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans.

Please come early to ensure you are admitted, as seating is limited.  The Coolidge Corner Theater box office will distribute free tickets starting at 12:00 noon on Monday.  Seating will begin at 3:30 PM.   Sign language interpretation will be provided.  The Coolidge Corner Theater is accessible to persons with disabilities.

On the medical marijuana front

Last Monday, the High Street Hill Association board voted 7-3 to send a letter asking for support of Warrant Article 12 at tomorrow’s Town Meeting. Article 12 would revisit a 2013 zoning bylaw which adjusted state recommendations so as to allow registered marijuana dispensaries (RMD) to be sited more easily in Brookline. If passed, Article 12 would be prohibit a RMD from operating within 500 of a “daycare enter or any facility in which children commonly congregate.” While zoning laws are generally applied town-wide and not supposed to be parcel-specific, adoption of Article 12 would effectively disallow an RMD at the former Brookline Bank in Brookline Village, and the remaining possible sites for an RMD in Brookline would be limited to a small strip along Route 9 between Hammond Street and the Newton line. The text of the letter is below.
For a complete discussion of Article 12 and to see the latest recommendations from the Advisory Committee and Selectmen go to:
… and download the “November 18, 2014 Special Town Meeting Combined Reports with Supplements.”
November 15, 2014
Dear  Selectpersons and Town Meeting Members,
We write to you at this important juncture in Brookline’s development to report that the High Street Hill Association (HSHA) formally supports the adoption of Warrant Article 12. We believe Article 12, with its appropriate setback guidelines, would help keep our children and community safe.
The High Street Hill Association is the neighborhood organization for residents within the Pill Hill Local Historic District.  Located just south of Route 9, our neighborhood begins less than 200 feet from the Brookline Bank Building, the site chosen by New England Treatment Access (NETA) for its Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD).
The HSHA supports the medical use of marijuana, and we support Brookline’s commitment to provide medical marijuana for people with serious medical conditions.  But we call for appropriate guidelines for distribution that will ensure safety in our closely-intertwined community. Therefore, we also support Warrant Article 12.
The state and federal guidelines are clear. Mr Arnon Vered, while serving as an officer of NETA, wrote in a letter to the Zoning ByLaw Committee on August 12, 2013, that the federal guidelines:
  “limit cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana- even medical marijuana- within 1000 feet of schools.”
He also wrote in the same letter:
 “As a result, an appropriate and necessary standard of care for a conscientious RMD operator in Massachusetts is to limit its site selection criteria to locations that are beyond 1000 feet from a school. This is the approach we are taking throughout Massachusetts.” (ibid.).
 “We recognize that the 1000 foot buffer zone may disqualify many commercial areas and properties from eligibility for obtaining a special permit for an RMD. Nonetheless, based on GIS mapping, there will still be locations that meet your other zoning criteria even with a 1000 foot buffer zone from elementary or secondary schools. For all of these reasons, we encourage you to amend your proposed By-laws to make the elementary or secondary school buffer zone 1000 feet.” (Ibid.)
We completely agree with Mr. Vered’s 2013 statements, and do not understand why he and NETA have done an about-face on this issue so critical to our community.
We would like to see Brookline adopt the state or the federal guidelines. We believe the proposed location of the RMD puts children at risk.  There are many small children and teens living in the High Street Hill neighborhood, as well as other nearby areas like Emerson Park. They walk past the Brookline Bank building to get to school, to the Town Center and Library, the T stop, the new Teen Center, and also play at the nearby playground on Juniper Street. Soon there will be even more children in the area when the old Lincoln begins to serve as a swing school.
We feel it is important to limit children’s exposure to marijuana.  Article 12 adopts buffer zones for Brookline in accordance with state recommendations for safety of young children. The federal guidelines are even stricter, clearly recognizing the dangers of having marijuana sold close to schools and playgrounds.
This proposed RMD challenges our capacity to raise our children safely. Many of us will think twice about allowing them to walk independently through their own community. Please allow the state or federal standards to protect them.


What sort of curiosities will you find?

Neighbor Dick Balzer has cordially invited HSHA members to view one of the truly amazing hidden treasures of our neighborhood — this Sunday October 26 from 11-2. The converted carriage house behind 92 High Street holds his world-class collection of vintage visual devices — zoetropes, magic lanterns, vue d’optiques and more.
“Nearly five hundred years ago European collectors arranged their pieces in cabinets of curiosities(Wunderkabinette) in an attempt to display their rare pieces. As collections grew, the more ambitious set aside rooms called Wunderkammern (Rooms of Wonder) for visitors to come and view their collections. These were the first museums. Today, the internet allows the possibility of visiting museums without leaving one’s home, and similarly, the possibility of constructing a virtual Wunderkabinett — my cabinet of curiosities.
“What sort of curiosities will you find? I have been collecting for more than thirty years, and my collecting wanders around the theme of visual entertainment, and almost all of the collection dates from before 1900. Over time you will find magic lanterns, peepshows, shadows, transparencies, thaumatropes, phenakistascopes and a variety of other optical toys. You may find things that seem odd in this collection, however, always remember that collecting is a very personal thing and these items may stretch the boundaries of visual entertainment but nevertheless have found a place in my collection. “
11 am to 1 pm Sunday, October 2692 High Street. To attend please e-mail Diana Post at

Latest News

An Unexpected Offer
Welcome to the HSHA’s website’s first blog post! While today we are looking to the future, we thought we might take a moment to look back briefly to how we got here . . . .

About ten years ago we had a minimal, but for that era, respectable, webpage. A first for any neighborhood association in Brookline, it was developed in 2001 by neighbor Hugh Mattison and it contained a few pages of information with some links. We thought we were pretty advanced (for a neighborhood association, that is).

And then I met Tom Elwertowski from Highland Road. He suggested that our site could be much more than it was, if he could be given free reign to develop it. I was quite skeptical that a neighborhood website could become interesting or useful and I doubted that anyone would devote much effort towards such a thankless goal.

But Tom quite quickly built something that surprised us all. From various sources he unearthed historic maps, photos, walking tours and reminiscences from long ago about the neighborhood. He posted links to local institutions and organizations who shared common interests and displayed info about HSHA current events and advovacy.

But Tom did something more. He created new, innovative ways to explore our neighborhood.

  • He wrote a program that took the photos and information found on the Town’s Assessor’s online database and combined it seamlessly with the historical info in the Massachusetts Historical Commission database. For the first time anyone could search for houses in town by architectural style, value or architect. Real estate agents loved it and he received an award from the Preservation Commission in 2008.
  • He developed an intriguing exploration of the Old Burying Ground on Walnut Street with maps and extensive descriptions of each burial plot including photos and the text of inscriptions on each tombstone. When a featured historian failed to show up for a tour of the Burying Ground Tom filled in giving an informative tour that, by all accounts, bested the scheduled speaker.
  • When the 2010 census became available he built a data chart linked to an interactive map. With ease you could graphically see how any part of Brookline changed in the last ten years with respect to many variables– age, race, relationship or size of household.

Tom is no longer actively involved with HSHA but as we launch our new version of our website we want to thank him for all he has done for this neighborhood. His efforts have helped us build connections with our neighbors and pride for the special place we live. He has graciously allowed us to copy the content that he assembled and we will have links to his special Brookline projects that are now on his own site.

Going Forward
Over the last few years our website has essentially remained frozen and lately it has become apparent that, without Tom, we haven’t been able to make necessary improvements. But now with the help of Acron Street neighbor Brian Grossman and some of the HSHA board members, we are making the plunge.

You will find a new look, added content and a much-needed discussion board on which we can network with each other on a variety of topics. It is very much a work in progress though and we expect that everything will be a bit rough as we teach ourselves how to update content and monitor postings. Please let us know where corrections need to be made and tell us how we can improve. As with every other event or activity in the HSHA we expect this to be another example of neighbors helping neighbors.

– Rob Daves