Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone

Springtime came in 2005. Today, a once ambitious “Gateway East” project has an odor of stale cabbage. The idle, pie-in-the-sky program aimed to turn traffic-ridden Route 9, near the Brookline border with a poverty-stricken Mission Hill area of Boston, into a so-called “gateway.”

Nearly forgotten dreams called for the foot of Washington St. to become a “boulevard.” A launch plan compared it with Commonwealth Ave. in the Back Bay and with Brattle St. in Cambridge. Imagine. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 3]

Route9BrooklineGasStation

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Actually, the area looks like a highway. It sounds like a highway, and it smells like a highway. It is a 6-lane state highway. The businesses actually located on the foot of Washington St.–then and now–consist of a Gulf station and a vacant restaurant, formerly Skipjack’s.

Even the name of the project begged a question: to what might the industrial foot of Washington St. be a gateway? To a gas station? To a Boston ghetto? Not to a fish restaurant. Skipjack’s sagged with the dot-com boom, and the once lively Brookline site closed, soon followed by nearby, former Village Fish.

Scarce goods: Ingredients for success went missing from the start and were never found: the “why” and the “what.” The launch plan merely outlined an area–centered on the segment of Route 9 along the foot of Washington St. It connects with a dilapidated stretch of Huntington Ave. in Boston, past the Riverway.

In April of 2005, a citizen committee was assembled by a former town administrator, Richard Kelliher, and a former all-male Board of Selectmen–Robert Allen, Jr., Joseph Geller, Gilbert Hoy, Michael Merrill and Michael Sher. According to Brookline’s municipal Web site, the committee is still on the books, but it has no spot on the Agendas and Minutes page, covering meetings during 2010 through 2014.

If wishes were horses: The committee set up for the project always looked somewhat like an advertisement, because the launch plan vested all actions in government employees: Jeff Levine and Catherine Cagle in the Planning Department–no longer with the town–plus administrators and staff in Public Works. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 15]

Lacking a “why” and a “what,” the launch plan focused on “how”–that is, on meeting after meeting:
• Initial meeting
• Follow-up meeting
• Interdepartmental meeting
• Meetings with regional stakeholders
• Public meetings
• Committee meetings
• and more meetings
[Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 14]

Time rolls on: With miracles in short supply, a practical Engineering division of Public Works eventually reverted the project to core elements: repaving a quarter mile of Route 9 and intersections, adding a touch of landscaping, building concrete traffic islands and modernizing signals and controls with pedestrian buttons, vehicle detection and emergency pre-emption. It’s a road plan, with no bicycles currently in view.

As prepared by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown and submitted to the state highway department January 18, 2012, project 605110 is strictly highway-issue. Travel lanes are mostly 11 feet, sidewalks are 6 feet, There is granite curbing and a little brick edging. An “existing pedestrian bridge” is called out, to be “removed by others.” Site-edge improvements in the Pearl St. vicinity are called out, to be “redevelopment by others.” Other than a couple of benches perhaps, there is no “boulevard” currently in view.

Declare victory: Owing nothing to “gateway” dreams, Planning staff soldiered on with practical aims too, and fortune was with them. Children’s Hospital had bought out the 1990s Pearl St. development put up by Harvard Pilgrim and was interested in building offices next door.

Brookline had sought developers since the 1960s, but the area to the north of the foot of Washington St. did not gel. Hearthstone Plaza went up in the early 1970s, then 1 Brookline Place in the middle 1990s, leaving a gap between, in Brookline’s former industrial zone. Learning of Children’s interest, the Board of Selectmen set up a Brookline Place Advisory Committee in October, 2013, and this time pieces began to fall into place.

After the Brookline Place committee negotiated a scale of development and helped enact zoning at this year’s annual town meeting, the Planning Board recruited committee members for a design advisory team, following Brookline’s zoning process for design review. The team started work with the developers in August.

Developers for 2 Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital have been making steady progress. Several objectives sought with the now-antiquated “gateway” plan will be achieved by the combination of the office development at 2 Brookline Place and the highway plan for Route 9:
• Completion of the 1960s Marsh Project with 2 Brookline Place
• Removal of a hazardous Route 9 pedestrian overpass, closed since 1978
• Improvements to the Pearl St. public infrastructure
• A public pathway across the new Brookline Place development
• Improved traffic management for Route 9 and its intersections
• A demand-cycled pedestrian crossing on Route 9 near Pearl St.
Beautification, bicycles and a “boulevard” will have to wait.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 17, 2014


Craig Bolon, Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash, Brookline Beacon, June 6, 2014

Robert Duffy, Jeff Levine, Catherine Cagle and Donald Giard, Creating Gateway East, Goody Clancy, April, 2005

Gateway East Committee, Brookline Gateway East Final Plan, Von Grossman, October, 2006

Massachusetts Highway Division, Project 605110, Intersection improvement project for Washington St. (Route 9) and Walnut St. in the town of Brookline, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, January, 2012 (13 MB)

Planning Board: offices and parking at Brookline Place, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Brookline Place project: three concept plans, Brookline Beacon, September 16, 2014

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