When the Garden began its serious decline is difficult to say. As the city of Boston entered a time of drift and stagnation, the Garden and other parks suffered from neglect. Through the 1950s and ‘60s, a downward cycle reflected in urban parks across the country after World War II, the process accelerated until the once proud jewel of the city was almost beyond saving, its bridge unsafe, its fountains inoperable, its fencing gone or falling down, many trees diseased, its staff reduced, and its equipment so broken or obsolete that nearby residents offered rakes and hoses for maintenance.
It was those conditions that led to the formation in 1970 of the Friends of the Public Garden, another in the long line of civic groups that have rallied to the Garden’s defense. The fledgling group immediately faced a challenge even more daunting than the Garden’s deplorable state—the Park Plaza Urban Renewal Plan proposed in 1971. Friends joined with other civic groups to defeat the plan, which would have brought six million square feet of mixed-use skyscrapers to Boylston Street, up to 650-feet high, casting damaging shadows over the Garden and Common. It was those conditions that led to the formation in 1970 of the Friends of the Public Garden.
The pitched battle against Park Plaza brought about a unexpected and positive outcome for a young and small organization: enormous attention to the Garden and Common and to their deplorable state. Vital capital improvements were carried out in the Garden, most importantly the restoration in 1978 of the perimeter fencing and gates, which enclosed the Garden for the first time in sixty years. Improvements to the vegetation, sculpture, fountains, and other infrastructure followed. Over the years, through the partnership between the Friends and the city, the Garden was once again restored to its former glory.