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History time: Southwest Corridor Park

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  December 3, 2012 11:43 AM

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(Richard Heath / April 1980)

The photograph above and the one below the story were taken in April of 1980 showing the removal of the Forest Hills railroad causeway at South Street and St. Ann Street near Asticou Road. The Walk Hill Street bridge in the background had yet to come down. Present day New Washington Street runs through this section today with the station and bus way on the left.

Part of an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history.

The Southwest Corridor Project began in 1978 when $750 million from the Highway Trust Fund was moved to the Urban Mass Transit Administration to reclaim 120 acres of land owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

As early as the 1968 Jamaica Plain Report, residents had called for a depressed highway. Out of this logically evolved the concept of a depressed transit line, but with the revolutionary idea of covering portions with a tree-lined park. From this consensus came the plan of a rapid-transit commuter-rail corridor running from Dartmouth Street to Forest Hills. Sections would be covered with a parkland deck of walkways, trees, gardens, lawns and recreation areas. The park would total 52 acres. According to Governor Francis Sargent, “the possibilities in the Southwest Corridor surpass the imagination.”

The depressed Orange Line duplicated every station in Jamaica Plain on the old B+P RR, with the exception of Heath Street, which was moved and changed to Jackson Square. In Jamaica Plain those stations would be Stony Brook (in place of Boylston Station), Green Street (in place of Jamaica Plain Station) and Forest Hills

Construction began at Forest Hills on November 12, 1983 when the massive Forest Hills viaduct was demolished by a controlled explosion which loosened the great granite piers and arches for easier removal. Groundbreaking for the $38 million station was held on June 1, 1984. The signature clock tower, now after a quarter century a Forest Hills landmark, cost $120,000 and was made by the Electric Time Company of Natick. It was intended to duplicate the clock towers on 19th-century railroad terminals, such as the one at Park Square for the Boston and Providence Railroad. The four faces are fifteen feet in diameter and the hands are six feet and five feet long.

Orange Line elevated service was uninterrupted throughout the years of work at Forest Hills, because the station and roadwork were designed in two sections. The rapid transit/commuter rail headhouse and upper busway were built first over the old B+P RR right-of-way. When they were completed and opened for service, the 1909 terminal and connecting elevated track were razed, and the lower Hyde Park Avenue busway built.

The gravel from the embankment between Ruggles Street and Forest Hills was trucked to many landfills, but some of it was also reused at the Arnold Arboretum. In 1978, when the initial plan for the new Forest Hills premiered, the Arnold Arboretum anticipated that more visitors would come from the new Orange Line terminal. It accordingly planned for a new entrance through Bussey Brook meadow that would connect the station with a possible new visitors’ center.

The opening day ceremony for Forest Hills Terminal was held on May 2, 1987 and the whole new Orange Line was opened. Over 700 community residents, Southwest Corridor Coalition advocates (this writer and his wife included), Congressman Joe Moakley, Governor Michael Dukakis, Mayor Raymond Flynn, MBTA general manager James F. O’Leary, the architect Charles Redmon and others jammed the lobby of the terminal to congratulate each other on a job well done. When Governor Dukakis cut the orange ribbon, everyone rushed for the stairs to take the trains into the other new stations.

The final cost of the project was $743 million, and at the time it was the largest public works project in the state’s history. It was the largest construction project ever seen in Jamaica Plain. Forest Hills was accustomed to great change, but the vast topographic transformation between 1983 and 1989 changed the face of Forest Hills completely.

By the end of 1990 Forest Hills had been transfigured. It had been redesigned as essentially two 60-foot-wide parallel roads, separated by a 1000-foot-long train-and-bus terminal. Two connecting roads, Ukraine Way and New Washington Street, created a new Forest Hills Square, in which all modes of transit were centered: bus, train, commuter rail, taxi and automobile. All commerce and residential use are on one side only.

Forest Hills had never been more organized and rationalized in two centuries. It was open, it was bright, it was green and shady, and almost sleek.

To read more about the history of Forest Hills, click here.

To see more photos, click here.

This column is a submission from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

To read more about the rich history of Jamaica Plain, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website at:

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(Richard Heath / April 1980)

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