The "Mane" Attraction
By Jacquelyn Goddard
It’s fairly difficult to miss seeing a lion, but it appears that several of these beasts were overlooked for quite some time before they were re-purposed and thrown into a Boston park to play with children. Did I mention they are made of granite?
A water spray feature built by Harvard University now contains large, granite lion heads—items discarded and long forgotten until they were discovered during soil excavation work in Boston’s Allston neighborhood by university employees. Officials retrieved the statues and stored them while research was being done on their origin. The former occupant of the site was a demolition contractor, and it is believed the lion heads were transported there long ago along with other building materials. The university’s research suggested the statues may have come from the cornice line of a large commercial building, of a size not commonly found in Allston.
Following discussions among university and city officials, residents, and the park’s designers, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, it was decided that this unique find could become a treasured element in Allston’s new park. Something unearthed by chance could now become the focal point of a water feature.
Breathing New Life
As work began on the 1.74-acre park, design plans were drawn to include the three granite blocks. Since each statue depicts the head of a lion with an open mouth, holes were drilled and pipes were installed so a water mist could spray from the lions’ mouths. The statues were mounted around the edges of a plaza at a height appropriate for young children. They can now easily reach the “power” button for the water feature and then race to the front of the lions to enjoy a water mist. Located behind the Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, children often frequent the park to cool off when they attend story-time and borrow books.
“The statues take sustainable practices to a new and delightful level,” says Mayor Thomas Menino. “Rather than discard the statues after finding them during excavation work, some creative minds got together and saw an opportunity. They looked at what they found with new eyes and saw it not as debris and fill for land, but as something artistic, which could be incorporated into the park design. As a result, the new park has something unique, which cannot be found anywhere else.”
The lion-head water feature is one of many park elements built in keeping with sustainable practices. The park, named after local resident Raymond Vincent Mellone, also contains a rain garden, native plants and trees, and a system to collect surface runoff for groundwater recharge.
In addition to the fountain, the park features a wide range of seasonal plants and trees, a large green space with a hill, winding paths, seating, and open lawns and gathering spaces for reading and educational programming. It also has a rain garden, where water is collected into a stream to feed plant systems thriving on wet roots.
Jacquelyn Goddard is the Director of External Affairs and Communications for the city of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department in Massachusetts. Reach her at Jacque.Goddard@cityofboston.gov .