Reminiscences about our neighborhood

I suppose many neighborhoods in Brookline have dealt with encroachment of one kind or another, though few, I believe, have worked together so diligently to preserve and enhance our quality of life. Before I moved to Pill Hill, there was the demolition of the Farm, replaced by the Brook House, and the creation of large subsidized housing developments at both ends of High Street. Now there is talk of encouraging a medical laboratory development across the street from the Brook House that will match or dwarf it in height. We should stay alert to the potential impact on our neighborhood. Many in our neighborhood were concerned about the Hearthstone Plaza and Brookline Place developments and, later, the attempts to destroy Station Street (through expansion of Brookline Place), one of the most picturesque commercial streets in Brookline.

When I moved to Walnut Street in 1976, children in my neighborhood went to school at old Lincoln on Rt. 9, and the hazardous 19th c. Town Barn survived in the Point neighborhood. Before Riverdale in Olmsted Park was removed and returned to parkland due to the commitment of a few heroic neighbors, we had boom boxes, oil changes, sex deals, drug deals, etc. next to Leverett Pond on the Brookline/Roxbury border. I am proud to say I chaired the Preservation Master Planning Committee that led to the revitalization of Olmsted Park. (Later we had drug deals at Carvel at the entrance to our neighborhood. Now we have a better neighbor in Dunkin’ Donuts.)

In the early days of my residency in the neighborhood, neighbors worked hard to assure a successful transition for the old Hospital for Women on Pond Avenue. The preservation effort resulted in high end residential condos that preserved the beautiful late 19th c./early 20th c. facade and the grounds. Did you know that that hospital is where Dr. Rock invented “the pill” and the first radiation therapy for breast cancer occurred? That hospital was part of the impetus for the development of much of the neighborhood, the reason there are so many attractive architect-designed houses dating from the late 19th century. Of course, we have several houses of great merit that date from the early 19th c. and even the 18th c. We became a National Register Area shortly after I moved here, and later the Pill Hill Local Historic District was established.

We now have beautiful new Lincoln, thanks to the leadership of Jeffrey Allen, Kitty Ames and many others. We have a restored Olmsted Park, though after 12 years there is still work to be done, including implementing the Environmental Master Plan for the Emerald Necklace. (The tireless and accomplished efforts of neighbors Hugh and Arlene Mattison and Betsy Shure Gross assure the improvements will continue as long as they live.) Olmsted Park near Leverett Pond is now filled with children, mothers with prams, joggers, dog walkers, bicyclists, even cross country skiers and, unfortunately, geese! We have the mixed income development, Kendall Crescent, where the tainted Town Barn stood. Many of us hated to see Barney and Carey (our local lumberyard) go, but all welcomed the Brookline Music School into its permanent, and historic, home in our neighborhood. And due to good fortune we have Kurkman’s, a defining amenity in the Point and Pill Hill neighborhoods.

We still have areas of discomfort. Walnut Street has been allowed to become redundant to Rt. 9 (which it abuts — behind my c. 1850 house is Midas Muffler) so that traffic includes trucks, commuters idling from the High Street light as far as the eye can see up Walnut Street to the west. This continues to be true after traffic calming which the neighborhood fought valiantly to achieve. Traffic calming resulted in two speed humps that do slow traffic down, but we also got over 100 signs and lines and ugly bumpouts lining our historic street, so the price was high. And I am told by experts that most of the “improvements” are anachronisms, the old paradigm, not consistent with forward-looking traffic calming models. Be careful what you ask for! I must say that I began to be suspicious that we were not going to be happy with what was proposed, and said so — and we are not happy. (The Preservation Commission should have input into streetscape changes on historic streets; of course, Walnut is the oldest street in Brookline.) We need to continue to seek further improvements on Walnut Street, including near new Lincoln.

The High Street Hill Association, I believe the oldest neighborhood association in Town, is the glue that holds my end of the precinct together. We host a winter musicale (introduced when I was President of the HSHA), a spring potluck and annual meeting, a June picnic on the Upland Green, an October barn dance in Sandy Gadsby’s barn, and on Xmas Eve, candlelight caroling on the Green. There is more, but you get the flavor of the energy it has taken to preserve our corner of Brookline, our sense of community. Most of the change in our neighborhood in recent years has been positive — because we are an attentive and thoughtful neighborhood. We are indeed fortunate to live in such an extraordinary and historic community. Let’s continue to work together to hold onto the best of the past while we integrate change in the most neighborhood friendly ways we can.

Frances Shedd-Fisher
March 2003