History

How did the park get its name?

A long-time resident of Durham Street, Titus Sparrow cared deeply for his neighborhood in the South End. He was a devoted tennis player, and began tennis programs for children at nearby Carter Field. Titus Sparrow helped to form the Sportsmen’s Tennis Club , which for decades has provided city children with the opportunity to learn the game at no cost. In 1956, he became the first African-American umpire of the United States Tennis Association. He officiated at the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Longwood Tennis Club in Brookline. He planned to give free tennis lessons on the court in the new park. At a time when city officials paid little attention to poor minority areas, he encouraged his neighbors to be politically active and take responsibility for their community. He died before the park was completed in 1976. Because of his commitment to his community, the park, which includes a tennis court, was named in his honor.

What is the history of Titus Sparrow Park?

The Park is located on 1.5 acres of land in the South End which in 1960 contained one half-row of houses on West Newton Street and another on West Rutland Square; they were brick bow fronts similar to those still standing. The other half of the lot, behind the brick wall, was empty. It formerly had contained the Evangeline Booth Memorial Hospital for Women and, later, a Salvation Army home for pregnant and unmarried women. The lot was bordered by the Union United Methodist Church on one side, and by five railroad tracks carrying intercity rail service between Washington, New York and Boston on the other. The heavy traffic during the heyday of rail travel often left black soot on the clothes hung out to dry behind the houses in the neighborhood.

In the 1960′s, and for some decades before, houses in the two-block strips between Columbus Avenue and St. Botolph Street, from Dartmouth Street to Massachusetts Avenue, had been primarily owned by African-Americans, many of whom were members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. They possessed job security rare for African-Americans in those days. This history is described on plaques in Back Bay Station.

During the 1960′s, the homeowners of West Rutland Square were repeatedly threatened by urban renewal projects that were to “improve” the major entrances to the South End, one of which was West Newton Street. “Improve” meant using federal money to tear down buildings and waiting for allocation of local development funds to rebuild.

The Urban Renewal Plan included, among other items, the construction of a four-lane highway. This four-lane road, called the South End Bypass, was to be the offramp from the large I-95 South interchange in Roxbury. It was expected to bring 40,000 cars a day onto West Newton and Dartmouth Streets.

In the winter of 1967 – 68, residents of West Rutland Square watched as houses across the street were torn down. However, no new building occurred and for the next eight years the lot remained vacant. Occasionally, it was used for illegal dumping of construction debris. Interim uses of the lot included parking for the Prudential building, a basketball court, and gardens. For three summers it contained a portable pool where local children swam. In 1974, it became clear no money would be allocated to the site for housing.

The three-year battle against the South End Bypass ended in 1972 when Governor Francis Sargent canceled construction plans for highways into and through Boston. Subsequently, federal highway funding paid for the relocation of the Orange Line MBTA from Washington Street to the railroad tracks; rebuilding and covering the Amtrak lines, and building the Southwest Corridor Park to unify the South End and St. Botolph neighborhoods.

All four surrounding neighborhoods (Claremont, Cosmopolitan, St. Botolph, and Pilot Block) and the Union United Methodist Church were involved in the original design of Titus Sparrow Park. Their goal was to create mixed uses for all ages and levels of energy, but not to overbuild. The park would be restful while also including spaces for activity, such as the sledding hill in winter and the basketball and tennis courts in warmer weather. Cross paths were designed to bring everyone into the park, and to create a vibrant mix of ages and backgrounds. The park was opened and dedicated to Titus Sparrow in June 1976.

In 2004-2005, after nearly 30 years of intensive use, the Boston Parks Department gave Titus Sparrow Park a major rehabilitation. The basic design stayed the same, with new play equipment, addition of a performance area and new grass, plantings, benches, and court surfaces.

Since reopening in 2005, the park is more heavily used than ever by all ages all over it — sledding, rolling, sun-bathing, sitting, skiing, football and baseball games, and splendid children’s programs and evening concerts in the summer. We believe Titus Sparrow Park to be the best used and most beautiful park in Boston.

Excerpt from the “Fairy Tale Fence”

Excerpt from the “Fairy Tale Fence”

By Marie Laure Frere

January 2010

{…Though Randolph Fuller down plays his Mayflower Society membership, his connection to Boston and the continued positive influence he exudes on our city is undeniable. Widely recognized as a prolific opera impresario, Mr. Fuller has founded and supported several prominent Boston-based opera companies; he has funded opera productions and recordings, and has promoted the careers of a number of important local opera singers. Mayor Menino issued a Proclamation designating October 28, 2007 “Randolph J. Fuller Day” to acknowledge Mr. Fuller’s lifelong achievements and support for opera in Boston.

In 2008, Mr. Fuller approached the Parks Department regarding the condition of the Titus Sparrow Park fencing along West Newton Street. “Frankly, I just got tired of walking by the fence the way it was and decided to do something about it,” states Fuller.

Thanks to his inspiration and funding, a plan was set in motion to replace the fence. “Mr. Fuller’s call was such a wonderful surprise. A decorative fence was well beyond our budget. This is such a lively and attractive park and the fence replacement is the finishing touch. The Parks Department and the neighborhood are so very grateful to Mr. Fuller for his generosity and willingness to enhance the area, “says Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak. In a marvelous continuation of his philanthropy, Randolph Fuller has forever enhanced Titus Sparrow Park and, once again, contributed to the richness of our city.

One of the greatest surprises came when Randolph Fuller extended his generous donation to include the rusted chain link fencing around the Union United Methodist Church. According to an address at the Annual Conference in 2005 by Reverend Martin McLee, the Union United Methodist church’s history dates back to 1796 when a group of believers started meeting for study and worship. The UUMC had many locations before it finally ended its journey in 1949 to its current location. “The Union church family is absolutely thrilled by the new beautiful fencing that graces our church and the park. Union has always had the best interests of the South End at heart, and now our visage blends with the heart of the South End,” exclaims Reverend LaTrelle Miller Easterling.

The non-profit group, Friends of Titus Sparrow Park, took the lead in executing the privately funded fence project, with the support of Ken Crasco, Chief Landscape Architect of the Boston Parks Department. Together with Halvorson Design Partnership, a study began of existing fences in the neighborhood. “When we first started working on the fence design, we studied, photographed and measured thirty different fence designs that exist around churches, parks, civic spaces and residences of the South End some dating back to the mid-nineteenth century,” says Cynthia W. Smith, Principal for Halvorson. The intent was to create a fence, adds Smith, “that was historically sensitive and had a calming relationship with the park and its surroundings.”

With careful consideration to historic accuracy as well as overall aesthetics, the fence approval process involved many different voices. The Friends of Titus Sparrow Park formed a fence committee that met regularly with Crasco and Halvorson to work out the design of the fence before it was presented to the South End Landmarks Commission in December 2008. Remarks Alexi Grenadier Conine, President of The Friends of Titus Sparrow Park, “I have been impressed by the collaboration between Mr. Fuller, the City of Boston, the Friends of Titus Sparrow Park, Union United Methodist Church, Halvorson, and DeAngelis. The fence was fabricated and installed within just one year after the design was approved at a public meeting. Everyone has been open-minded and positive, so it has been a pleasure.”

The final fence, described by Cynthia W. Smith, stands four feet tall and incorporates the design shape of the quatrefoil, a reference to the stained glass window elements from the Union United Methodist Church. The floral design at the center of the quatrefoil is taken from the flower found on an existing fence located within Titus Sparrow Park. The round fluted end and line posts are adapted from a fence post that surrounds Boston’s historic Market Street Burial Ground. While we were able to use the original molds for the fence posts, custom post tops and fence finial designs incorporating pineapple and floral tulip designs were incorporated.

Responsible for the creation of the fence is architectural metalwork firm, DeAngelis Iron Works. In its third generation of family ownership, DeAngelis specializes in the fabrication, restoration and installation of historic ironworks. Having previously restored Boston Public Garden’s fences and gates for its 1975 bi-centennial celebration, DeAngelis was a natural fit for the job. The intricacies of all the individual fence components together with great attention to detail. “To create the three-dimensional aspect of the flower in the center of the quatrefoil, we seamlessly welded the individual pieces together. Even the tops of the fences were welded to the posts in such a manner that they appear to be one solid cast,” says Harry Dodakian of DeAngelis.

To honor Randolph Fuller and to celebrate Titus Sparrow Park’s new fence, a dedication ceremony including a very special concert will be held this spring, after the landscaping phase of the project has been completed.