OUR HISTORY

The Friends is one of the oldest public-private partnerships in the nation. By the late 1960s many people were deeply concerned about the conditions of Boston’s parks, perhaps the worst point in their history. A group gathered in the spring of 1970 to address the deplorable conditions of the Public Garden, which suffered from insufficient funding from the City, low expectations by residents, neglect, and vandalism. The Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay decided that a separate organization was needed to protect and restore the Garden. Henry Lee was chosen as the volunteer president and served with distinction for forty-one years. He remains a guiding force in the organization.

THE BATTLE AGAINST PARK PLAZA

The Friends focused initially on the Garden, but attention soon turned to the Boston Common and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. They also suffered from crime, vandalism, and misuse and were ravaged by the effects of Dutch elm disease, killing 40 trees a year. The battle against the Park Plaza Urban Renewal Plan, however, posed the biggest threat to the parks, and consumed the Friends throughout the 1970s. The plan for six million square feet of development in five to six towers 450’-650’ high along Boylston Street would have created untenable levels of shade and wind on the Garden and Common. The successful fight against the plan gave the Friends broad visibility and brought widespread attention to the condition of the parks.

ADVOCACY AND PARTNERSHIP

Ever since that victory, the Friends has expanded its capacity to care for the parks with funding and expertise, always working closely with the Parks Department. At the same time, when necessary, we have spoken out against misuse or overuse, and have continued to be a strong voice in protecting these parks against encroachment, particularly from damaging shadows caused by new development.

TIMELINE

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  • The Organization was Founded

     

    Thirty people gather at the home of Henry Lee on Beacon Hill and found an organization to look for solutions for the deteriorating condition of the Boston Public Garden.

  • Membership Grows to 500

     

    The Friends officially organize and its membership grows to 500 with dues at $2 per person. Park Plaza, a massive skyscraper development proposed along Boylston Street, emerges as a major threat to the parks, the neighborhood, and the Friends.

  • Membership Grows to 1000

     

    Membership tops 1000 and the Friends forms a Common Committee.

  • Shadow Bill Advocated

     

    After Park Plaza is defeated, the Friends begins to advocate for a “shadow bill” that would limit the height of buildings that throw shadows on the Common and Garden. The bill is finally signed 15 years later.

  • Shaw Memorial Restoration

     

    The Friends marks its 10th anniversary by spearheading a citywide effort to restore the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial.

  • Make Way for Ducklings Installed

     

    The Friends installs the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture by Nancy Schon. Loved by children, these ducklings become an icon for visitors and residents alike.

  • The Rose Brigade

     

    The Rose Brigade, a volunteer initiative of the Friends, forms to care for the roses in the Public Garden.

  • Boston Common Management Plan

     

    The Parks Department, working with the Friends, completes the Boston Common Management Plan, a blueprint for care of the parks.

  • 93,689 Skaters at the Frog Pond Rink

     

    The first season of skating at the Frog Pond rink draws 93,689 skaters.

  • Launch of the First Capital Fund Drive

     

    The Friends launches its first capital fund drive, seeking S6.5 million toward endowments for tree care, sculpture maintenance, the Frog Pond, and support for future administrations of the organization.

  • First Paid Executive Director Hired

     

    The Friends improves its organizational structure and functioning by hiring its first paid executive director and adding several committees.

  • 40th Anniversary

     

    The Friends marks its 40th year of support of Boston’s historic parks with a year-long celebration with plans to continue its partnership to help maintain, preserve and enhance these urban treasures.

  • Brewer Fountain Restored

     

    The Friends and the City of Boston partner for a $4.5 million restoration of Brewer Fountain, activating the space as “Boston’s outdoor living room.”

  • White Memorial Restoration

     

    The Friends and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department complete a $700,000 restoration of the George Robert White Memorial.

  • 50th Anniversary

     

    The Friends celebrates their 50th anniversary, announcing transformative projects in each of the three parks.