Article on Longwood Mall
The Brookline GreenSpace Alliance (BGSA) asked me to write an article about Longwood Mall for the 2023 Spring/Summer issue of Place, their bi-annual publication.
Please save the date for July 26 at 7pm, when we will meet on Longwood Mall for a BGSA event. We'll have more details about the event in Late June, early July.
Preserving Longwood Mall: An Urban Oasis in Brookline
Here long before any of us were born and hopefully remaining long after we are all gone, Longwood Mall stands as one of Brookline’s most treasured landmarks. Located less than half a mile from Coolidge Corner, this 2.5 acre linear park serves as an urban oasis that both beautifies the neighborhood and unifies our community.
In the 1840s, David Sears brought European Beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) back from England and planted them on the land that would eventually become Longwood Mall. This picturesque grove is considered by many to be the oldest collection of European Beech trees in North America. In 1902, the family of David Sears generously deeded Longwood Mall and three other parcels of land to Brookline, ensuring their preservation as public parks.
Eighty years later in 1982, Longwood Mall was not in good condition. Cuts to the forestry budget had resulted in the trees being neglected for over two decades, leaving them in desperate need of pruning and cultivation. Led by Ellen Golde, a group of dedicated Brookline citizens raised $20,000 (equivalent to $62,000 in 2023!) to revitalize the trees and establish an annual maintenance program. This initiative marked the birth of the Friends of Longwood Mall, who later received a Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award in 1984. Since then, Ellen has been working closely with the Brookline Parks Department to ensure that the trees survive and thrive.
Fast forward forty more years, and Longwood Mall is facing a new threat. A new tree disease, Beech Leaf Disease (BLD), has been decimating Beech trees from Ohio to Maine in recent years. Last year, BLD tragically took the life of a historic Beech tree on Freeman St. (by the former St. Aidan’s church). Fortunately, none of Longwood Mall’s trees have shown symptoms of BLD yet, but community intervention may be the key to preventing an outbreak.
Thankfully, scientists and arborists recently have made significant progress in understanding BLD and have developed a new treatment. Last year, Friends of Longwood Mall raised money from the neighborhood to administer this treatment to the trees. Additionally, we received an $8500 grant to treat the trees from the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, as part of the Park Initiative Program. Although it is too early to know how effective the treatments have been, there is reason for optimism. Unfortunately, the Parks Department did need to remove two of the park’s trees in February. These trees were not infected by BLD but were suffering from other maladies and had become a safety hazard for visitors and the other trees. These removals are not done lightly and only done after a thorough assessment by the Tree Warden in consultation with other experts. In the spring, Friends of Longwood Mall will raise money to plant new trees. It is sad to see the old trees removed and each tree is a living thing that we will strive to protect, but sometimes it can be helpful to take a longer-term perspective. We can think of Longwood Mall as an interconnected whole, where all the trees will eventually die (European Beeches typically live for around 200 years), but new trees will be planted and cared for. With this approach, we can hope to preserve Longwood Mall indefinitely, so that many future generations of Brookline residents can enjoy the park as we have.
How did The "Rose Garden" Park become a playground?
At the annual Brookline GreenSpace Alliance meeting in May, Ken Liss from the Brookline Historical Society gave a fascinating presentation about the history of playgrounds in Brookline.
I had a question about the Sears deed from 1902, which gave four parcels of land Longwood Mall, Winthrop Square, Knyvet Square and Mason Square to the Town of Brookline. "This conveyance is made upon the express agreement and stipulations that the parcels of land hereinfore described shall be laid out by the proper authorities of the Town of Brookline s public parks..., and shall never be used for the purpose of a playground, as distinguished from a public park." But Winthrop Square, also know to many of us as the "Rose Garden Park", is now a playground, so I was wondering how that happened, given the terms of the 1902 deed.
Ken didn't know off the top of his head, but I followed up with him the next day and he was able to get to the bottom of the issue. Originally, Winthrop Square was only the southern portion of the park we know today. The ball field to the north of the playground equipment was acquired later in 1909. The playground equipment was added sometime between 1950-1952. The addition of the playground equipment was possibly a technical violation of the stipulations in the 1902 Sears deed, but that playground has been a valuable part of the community for many years. When my children were younger, we would go to that park quite often. The three distinct sections (a playground, an athletic field, and a Rose Garden) make it a very unique and versatile spot in Brookline.
1907 and 1913 Atlases
On February 21 and 22 of 2023, two of the trees were removed from the Longwood Mall. Tom Brady, Brookline's Arborist and Tree Warden, had this to say about the removals:
"These removal actions are never undertaken without great thought and consideration. In this case these two trees have been assessed by a total of six certified arborists both from within our department and representatives from three separate tree care firms. All of the arborists were consistent in the recommendation for removal and replacement at this time.
We are grateful for the decades long partnership with the neighborhood in our collective stewardship of the Mall. I would note we have begun the process of securing Beech trees to replace those being removed to ensure the new plantings can be completed this Spring season."
Friends of Longwood Mall will be raising money in the spring to help finance the new plantings. It is sad to see the old trees go, but we will plant new ones and the cycle continues on.
"Nature is a teacher of life, and the cycle of death and rebirth is one of its greatest lessons. It reminds us that change is inevitable and that we must learn to adapt and evolve to survive." - Steve Irwin
BLD Treatment for the Trees
In the Fall of 2022, the trees of Longwood Mall were treated for Beech Leaf Disease (and for Beech Canker disease. Treatments were funded through cooperative efforts of the neighborhood and the town. Additionally, the trees were pruned and the entire mall was aerated to help improve access to water and nutrients. Aeration also helps reduce soil compaction, which inhibits the growth of root systems. Avoiding soil compaction is why ball playing is not allowed on the mall (in case you were ever wondering about that).
To learn more about Beech Leaf Disease please go here.
Brookline GreenSpace Alliance
Friends of Longwood Mall formally joined the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance (BGSA) as a park organization in the Summer of 2022. We applied for a Park Initiative Program Grant and were awarded a grant for $8,500 for BLD treatments of the trees on Longwood Mall. These grants are available to Brookline park organizations thanks to funding obtained by our State Representative Tommy Vitolo.
The BGSA does great work to protect and enhance Brookline's green spaces. Please consider joining the organization!
Grant Award Ceremony at Hall's Pond, Fall 2022
From left to right: Rob Schoen, Bob Schram, Arlene Mattison, Tommy Vitolo, John Shreffler
In August 2022, Boston 25 News did a story about Beech Leaf Disease, featuring Longwood Mall, Brookline Parks Director Alexandra Vecchio, and Tree Warden Thomas Brady. Watch the full video at the following link.
In 2012, Boston Globe Magazine did a story on the 20 best streets in the Boston Metro area. At the top of the list was Beech Road in Brookline. While Longwood Mall is not directly mentioned, it's clear that the trees were a major factor in their assessment of the street.