Norman B. Leventhal Park: Boston, Massachusetts
There's no shortage of public spaces in Boston, but the city's first park to be privately financed is the Norman B. Leventhal Park located above an underground parking garage in the serpentine financial district. Where there once was a four-level, above-ground parking structure, there is today a popular and well-maintained space open year-round.
Bounded by Milk Street to the north, Pearl Street to the northeast, Franklin Street to the southeast and Congress Street to the southwest.
A decade in the making and costing $80 million, the idea for the park grew out of discussions in November 1981 between then-Mayor Kevin White and Norman Leventhal about redeveloping the site. Six months later, in April 1982, another meeting with the mayor formally introduced the concept of a park and underground garage.
To implement plans for the $80 million proposal, a private-public partnership was formed between the Friends of Post Office Square, established in 1983, several corporate supporters, the City of Boston, and Leventhal. Acquiring the land for the new park involved a four-year legal battle, which resolved when the leaseholder of the above-ground parking structure accepted a $6 million buyout in 1987.
The 1.7-acre park features a great lawn, promenade, fountains, and more than 125 plant species. The four auto ramps leading to the parking garage are hidden by layers of grasses, bushes, flowers, trees, and iron fencing. Other details, materials and decorative patterns of the park were developed in keeping with the surrounding architecture.
Carefully maintained by the Friends of Post Office Square throughout the year with revenue generated by the parking operation, spring, summer, and early fall months see the most activity when an estimated 1,500 people use the park each week day during its hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Late spring and summer is also when the park offers mid-day performances by local musicians and outdoor exercise classes.
Since opening in 1991, the park has received more than two dozen awards for its excellent design, the example it sets for a privately owned and maintained public space, and the contributions it has made to the community.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Location of a four-story parking garage operated through 40-year lease with city (1954-1988)
- Neighbors of Post Office Square (predecessor of Friends of Post Office Square) organized; 20 investors contribute $120,000 in seed money (1982)
- Friends of Post Office Square formed under chairman Norman Leventhal with Bob Weinberg hired as president (1983)
- Lease buy-out negotiated with parking garage owner for $6 million (1985-1987)
- Park design process started; development agreement signed with the city (1987) and Halvorson Company of Boston selected landscape designer and prime contractor (1988)
- Underground parking garage completed, opens to public (1990)
- Park opens to public, 1991; completed in 1992
- "Immanent Circumstance," a glass and bronze walk-through sculptural fountain in the middle of the North Plaza, designed by Howard Ben Tré. When operating, a "water dome" is created
- Glass and bronze urn, also designed by Ben Tré, anchors seating area at park's south end; filling and overflowing water creates calmer ambiance in contrast to the more active south plaza
- A 143-foot-long garden trellis on park's east side defines pedestrian walkway along Great Lawn; open dome in center supported by granite columns; designed by Halvorson Design Partnership
- A subtle, computer controlled lighting scheme, designed by Ross Miller, edges the trellis; displays different colors that change seasonally and to celebrate local events
- Two airy, iron, copper, and glass pavilions house escalator entrance to parking garage and Sip Café; both designed by the garage architect, Ellenzweig Associates of Cambridge
- The Great Lawn is raised above the walkways by a granite curb, providing a relaxed retreat
- Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum permanently loaned the park six unusual specimen trees, including a Hybrid Red Oak, an Eastern Arborvitae, and two Giant Western Arborvitae
Park Management & Activities
- Park is privately operated and maintained by Friends of Post Square Office
- Green seat cushions can be borrowed midday, Monday through Friday during the summer, from a cart located at Great Lawn's south end
- Library on the Lawn: books can be borrowed midday, Monday through Friday, from a book cart on the honor system
- Free Wi-Fi available throughout park