By Seth Daniel
It wasn’t but a few hours after the fences came down on the upper portion of John Harvard Mall last Tuesday, Oct 4, that kids made a B-Line to the new playground with their bicycles, and adults relaxed stretched out on the new grassy area adjacent to the swings.
A little lower in the park, adults with dogs on leashes trickled in with newspapers or novels and sat down on the repurposed granite benches to enjoy the Fall afternoon in a quieter portion of the Mall.
And naturally, the pedestrians from nearby businesses or tourists heading to the Monument, also strolled through and marveled at the excitement and activity in the old thoroughfare.
Each day since that opening, more and more people have flocked to the historic park that was once dark, dangerous and run-down.
“This is the new park, and they did a great job on it,” said one parent on Thursday, Oct. 6. “People are coming from all over the neighborhood to use it again.”
That’s just what the Friends of the John Harvard Mall had hoped would happen when they pushed for a full rehabilitation that came to fruition last Fall. Though the construction lasted a little longer than expected, and ran in to a few difficulties during the work, all of that is in the past and the Friends said they are delighted with the results.
To that end, they will celebrate the grand opening of the Mall on Sunday, Oct. 16, from 4-6 p.m.
“The City really did a beautiful job in refurbishing the park,” said Deb Sordillo of the Friends. “There is something here for everyone and that was really the goal.”
Don Giambastiani of the Friends pointed out new lighting in the ground that highlights the historic plaques on the sides of the Mall, as well as the re-purposed granite benches that were moved from the sides of the Mall and interspersed at various spots within the Upper Mall. He also noted that the tress in the Lower Mall and Upper Mall were expertly pruned to allow more light in.
“That really opened things up and allowed more light to get in and people to be able to see in,” he noted.
The Lower Mall opened earlier this summer and is outfitted with a very important handicap access ramp, allowing folks with disabilities to be able to travel from the Lower Mall to the Upper Mall for the first time in history.
Friends member Rosemarie Kverek said it will be important going forward for dog owners to respect the lawn and the leash law.
“Dog owners must have their dogs on a leash,” she said. “That’s very important. There are signs posted and they aren’t to be in the children’s play area or on the grass at any time.”
The new playground no longer features a slide, but parents using the new playground on Thursday were quite alright with that. Most were excited about the new rubberized surface, which broke many a fall on Thursday afternoon, and the interesting hilly terrain – which was just right for adventures with a Tonka truck or afternoon tea with Barbie.
Or more likely, running up and running down over and over again.
Friends President Jill Morelli marveled at the use of the new Mall.
“You never used to see this kind of activity here,” she said. “It’s only been a few days since the park opened and people have really been drawn to it.”
She said it was important to thank all of the private donations that came in from individuals, neighbors and organizations to support the City’s renovation efforts. A plaque designed by Giambastiani memorializes those folks at the entrance of the Upper Mall.
That said, Morelli said they still have some important work to do that includes re-pointing the brickwork on the surrounding walls.
“We’re hoping for a Phase 2 of this project,” she said. “We would really like to work with the City to get that done.”