Ringgold Park wasn’t always the beautiful oasis it is today. In 2011, as the result of almost a decade of advocacy, community outreach and fundraising by the Friends of Ringgold Park (FORP), the City of Boston completed construction of an interactive yet decorative fountain in the Park’s center, surrounded by granite benches, and flanked by irrigated beds of flowering plants. This fountain replaced a circular area of spotty grass, weeds and compacted dirt, which took abuse from all sorts of uses and users (see photo below). At that time, the City also installed low hoop fencing around the perimeter plantings, to protect the plants and the privately-funded irrigation system that the FORP installed in 2007. In 2013-14, the City of Boston renovated the two children’s play areas, completely refreshing the park’s elements and creating the park you see today. FORP and the City of Boston held a total of seven community meetings to discuss the renovation of the center circle, and three community meetings to discuss the playground renovation. The resulting design has something for everybody to enjoy. Click here for more “before” photos of Ringgold Park prior to the renovation
The Early History of Ringgold Park
Unlike the South End’s Union Park, or Blackstone and Franklin Squares designed by Charles Bulfinch in the mid 19th century, Ringgold Park was not originally conceived as an urban green space. Instead, the park came to be after the loss of the Franklin School by fire on July 19, 1960. Built in 1859, the impressive four-story brick school on Ringgold Street stood on the site for over one hundred years and filled the block between Waltham and Hanson streets. In the several years following the fire, the school’s quarter-acre site lay fallow until neighborhood residents began to advocate for a new public park. On May 25th, 1968 the park was formally dedicated, thereby charting a more than fifty-year course as the vital recreation space we see in the Eight Streets Neighborhood today.
Ringgold Park, 1972
Photo courtesy South End Historical Society
Originally known as “Eight Streets Park”, the space was dominated in its earliest years by a full basketball court, depressed thirty inches below the current half-court. Old-timers from the 70s and 80s might remember this as the “Underground,” or “The Boston Rucker”, which, for a time, attracted some of the best basketball players in the Boston area. Despite the court’s success, the park was, by all accounts, uninviting and unsafe. It lacked maintenance and stewardship first and foremost, but also had poor lighting, a ten-foot high chain-link fence surrounding rusting, unsafe playground equipment, high concrete walls surrounding the Ringgold Street entrance and a barren area strewn with the remnants of several picnic tables. In August 1994, the shooting of a 15 year-old youth in the park served as the catalyst for change. While the young boy survived, this incident fostered a committed, community effort to solicit from the City of Boston the funds necessary for a redesign of the park and this eventually led to the organization of the Friends of Ringgold Park (FORP). Through these efforts, the park was renovated in 1996, creating two tot lots and a not-so-depressed half basketball court. The community had requested a fountain for the center circle of the park, but short of funds, the City installed a circle of grass instead, which quickly deteriorated due to soil compaction and acidification from dog urine.
During this time of change, a group of concerned neighbors worked diligently for the benefit of the community by forming the Ringgold Park Survey Committee. This committee collected information from adjacent neighborhood groups to decide what should be included in the new design. Once the park was programmed, these same neighbors then formed the Ringgold Park Design Committee to work closely with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Their efforts guided the design process and presented actual designs by some of the neighbors who included architects and landscape architects. After their instrumental involvement in future direction of the park and implementation, these committed neighbors formed the Friends of Ringgold Park. They guided the future of the park by holding monthly meetings, organizing fundraisers, running clean ups, and establishing the first of many Halloween and Easter celebrations.
The Community Plays a Part
In 2004, the Friends of Ringgold Park went from a group of dedicated neighbors to a registered nonprofit organization with the goal of continuing improvements to the park and shepherding its necessary maintenance. In pursuit of this goal, the Friends have been extremely busy. A successful fundraising event in May 2006, along with privately-raised funds through a short lived City of Boston grant program called the Small Changes Program, enabled the Friends to install an irrigation system and new landscaping in the beds around the edges of the park in 2008. After holding an informal community meeting in 2007 to brainstorm ideas for the center circle area, FORP received a Design Development Grant from the Brown Fund (a City of Boston endowed fund) to retain landscape architects, who ran a series of community meetings to develop the fountain plaza design that was ultimately installed in 2012.
The design that was developed in these community meetings met the City’s strict requirements, and also met the demands of community members, who wanted a fountain that was both interactive and decorative. Because of the expense associated with manufacturing a custom design, the architects developed a plan in which the benches surrounding the fountain could be upgraded to granite benches, provided FORP could raise sufficient funds. The City allowed FORP to sell engraved pavers to the public, as well as sponsorships of the stone benches and drums surrounding the fountain. The funds generated by these sales contributed to the construction of the plaza.