April and the Blogging A to Z Challenge are now over. Thanks for joining me on a journey through 26 things about my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston, MA. I hope it was illuminating, although it barely scratches the surface. I could make another A to Z list with completely different topics (except Q, I have no idea to do with Q).
If you started reading this blog for the A to Z Challenge, I hope you stick around. My About page lists the typical topics you will see covered in this blog as well as other ways to connect with me.
Franklin Park Zoo is part of the large Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park on the border between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. It’s a popular destination for local families. Although it’s not a particularly great zoo compared to others I visited, it does have some strong points. One is the African Lion exhibit, once home to the late & lamented Christopher whose roars echoed through the city, and now home to the brothers Dinari and Kamaia. The premier exhibit is the Tropical Forest which is home to a troop of gorillas including the baby Azize born last May. The Franklin Farm contains a petting zoo, and we’re eagerly awaiting the opening of the new children’s zoo Nature’s Neighborhoods.
Dinari and Kamaia on their birthday.
Baby Nigerian Dwarf Goat Chewbacca rests on her mom.
Condor takes flight.
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Jamaica Plainers like to knit and stitch. And when they’re not making clothing, tea cosies, and afghan blankets, they sometimes “yarn bomb” – a colorful way of bringing a little cheer to the neighborhood. With yarn.
Sadly, yarn bombing seems to be a seasonal activity so I haven’t found too many examples out in the wild this April.
JP Knit & Stitch routinely yarn bomb a post outside the store, but it never seems to be there when I have my camera. Here’s a photo on Instagram.
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X marks the spot, and today’s JP A to Z post marks things that used to be in JP but are now long gone. I’m sure longtime JP residents can list many things that used to be in JP (please list in the comments!) but I’m just going to focus on a few major ones.
Boston Children’s Museum
I visited Boston for the first time as a child in 1980 and a highlight of that vacation was going to the Boston Children’s Museum at Fort Point Channel. I’ve been back many times taking my kids. It’s a terrific museum and I’m sure its current location makes it easy from families all over Boston and out-of-town to get there, but how cool is it that the museum actually got its start in Jamaica Plain? And how convenient would it be if it were still there?
The Children’s Museum opened in Pinebank Mansion overlooking Jamaica Pond in 1913 (the mansion was demolished in 2007). In 1936 the museum opened in a new location on Burroughs Street where it remained until moving to Fort Point in 1979. That location is still there betraying very little of its hands-on museum past.
Green Line Arborway Branch
The Green Line E Branch or Arborway Branch once ran along S. Huntington Street to Centre Street to South Street to Forest Hills Station. In 1985, service on this line was “temporarily” suspended, but it has not been restored in 31 years despites lawsuits and debates (and the fact the slow, overcrowded 39 bus is not an adequate replacement). A few years back the tracks on the street were paved over and the trolley shelters at Forest Hills were removed as part of construction for Casey Arborway.
There are still signs of the trolley if you know where to look.
From 1909 to 1987, elevated rapid transit trains rumbled over Washington Street in Jamaica Plain (roughly parallel to where the Orange Line now runs in the Southwest Corridor) making stops at Egleston Square, Green Street, and Forest Hills. It was a popular route and its existence certainly changed Jamaica Plain making it place where working people could live and commute into the city. On the downside, it was noisy and blocked out sunlight on Washington Street, so many people were probably relieved when it came down. Still, it would’ve been kind of cool if it had been renovated and maintained as an elevated walking/biking path akin to the High Line in New York.
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The winters in Jamaica Plain can be very harsh, so each spring the neighborhood explodes in springtime joy at the Wake Up the Earth Festival. The event, sponsored by Spontaneous Celebrations, begins with festive DIY parades that converge on the Southwest Corridor Park near Stony Brook station for a full day of music, dance, storytelling, food, arts, and a whole lot of fun.
The festival originated from the protests that stopped the construction of I-95 through the heart of Boston in the 1960s & 70s leading to the construction of the Southwest Corridor linear park instead. Today instead of 40,000 cars a day, the Southwest Corridor moves people on trains (Amtrak, commuter rail, & Orange Line), bikes, feet, scooters, and skateboards, and one day of the year a wicked awesome party.
If the A to Z challenge extended into May, I could “live blog” the Wake Up the Earth Festival on May 7, but in the meantime you’ll have to check out some photos from the previous 7 years.
Today’s JP A to Z is a bit of a mystery. Ukraine Way is possibly the shortest through street in the city of Boston connecting Hyde Park Avenue to Washington Street just southwest of Forest Hills Station. No one has a Ukraine Way address, because there are no buildings on Ukraine Way where people can live or work. In fact most of the street is elevated over the railroad tracks.
The mystery begins with a neighborhood map in the Forest Hills Station that indicates that Ukraine Way is an extension of Walk Hill Street (which would be confusing since it doesn’t actually connect with Walk Hill Street). That map probably dates to 1987 when the new Forest Hills Station opened. Sometime after 1987 the street was renamed after the European nation. I searched a database of Boston newspapers and the earliest reference to Ukraine Way is 1997, but no mention of when or why it got that name.
Of course, the most likely explanation is that the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church sits on a hill overlooking Forest Hills Station. The street was probably renamed to honor the local Ukrainian-American community, as well eliminate any confusion over Walk Hill Street.
A couple of years ago, during the height of the Crimean Crisis, I noticed that someone had decorated the street sign on Ukraine Way with two flags: one for Ukraine and one for the European Union. In this way the little street in Jamaica Plain made a big geopolitical statement. The flags are gone now, but I took a blurry photo from my phone.
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The three-decker (sometimes called triple-decker) is a type of apartment building that is prominent in eastern Massachusetts but rarely found elsewhere. It’s a simple design in which each of the three floors is a single apartment. These were built primarily from 1870s to the 1920s as an economical way of housing lots of immigrant workers, but having more light and fresh air than row houses.
I’ve lived on the top floor of a three-decker for 18 years now, first in Somerville, now in JP. Because the floorplan is virtually identical, I find myself having memories of things happening in this house and then realizing that they happened in the previous house. Most three-deckers are pretty simple, unadorned wood-frame structures. But on Brookside Street in Jamaica Plain there are a series of three-deckers with decorative elements of Victorian architecture styles known as The Seven Sisters (sadly, one of them burnt down so only Six Sisters survive).
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On an otherwise quiet back street near Stony Brook station stands this festive building. It was built in the 1870s as the clubhouse for the Boylston Schul-Verein, one of the many ethnic social clubs common in Jamaica Plain in the 19th century. Today it is home to Spontaneous Celebrations, a contemporary community group that brings people together for many social and activist activities. I’ve spent many hours in the building for choir practice and dance parties, and it always seems booked for rehearsals, art projects, concerts, parties, and meetings.
Spontaneous Celebrations’ signature event is The Wake Up the Earth Festival, but you’ll have to wait for my April 27th post to read about it here.
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Every year hundreds of children aged 7 to 15 come out to play baseball and softball on dozens of teams in the eight divisions of the Regan Youth League. The season kicks off with a parade, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the street, and ceremonies at Daisy Field.
If you’re out and about on the morning of Saturday, April 23rd come out and cheer for the players and coaches. Below are some photos from a few years back.
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