As a plan to renew a historic 15-acre public park in Cambridge takes shape, whose voices are guiding the direction of the project?

Celeste LeCompte
Feb 24, 2015 · 5 min read

Magazine Beach is a 15-acre park in Cambridge, Mass. Sandwiched between the Charles River and Memorial Drive, in the shadow of the Boston University bridge, the park is home to a public pool, a nationally renowned boat club, pick-up soccer fields, a fitness area, the historic Powder Magazine building, and more. It was also once a popular public beach, where locals swam in the Charles.

When locals noticed that the historic Powder Magazine building was falling into dangerous disrepair a few years ago, they began a campaign to revitalize the park — fixing up existing buildings, improving the public pool, repairing broken benches, and improving the landscape plan.

The group, led by the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, has solicited input from others in the neighborhood and attracted the support of state representatives and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. In conjunction with the Cambridge Historical Commission, and the Cambridge Arts Council, the committee put together an expansive exhibit on Magazine Beach at the Cambridge City Hall Annex’s “Gallery 344" that asks visitors to share their memories and hopes for the park.

On an icy Monday night, a few dozen people gathered for a reception — excuse me, a “community potluck and dessert café” — at the exhibit. A bluegrass band played all night as people mingled and looked at the displays.

Cathie Zusy is the chair of the Magazine Beach Committee of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association and the leading champion of the site’s renovations. “One does not say no to Cathie,” said one attendee, chuckling. Another agreed cheerfully: “You’d better do whatever Cathie tells you!” She’s recruited State Rep. Jay Livingstone’s support for their work.
#whocares #magazinebeach #wcamb

Interest from individuals and organizations helps state and local agencies like the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) allocate scarce attention and resources to Magazine Beach, says Rep. Jay Livingstone. DCR has matched $181,500 in funds raised for Magazine Beach. #magazinebeach #whocares#wcamb

So, who cares about the Magazine Beach park process, and who has a say in what will happen as the development plans take shape over the next year?

Several members of the Riverside Boat Club were in attendance.

Amanda Milad, chair of the Community Committee at the Riverside Boathouse, explains why their members care about Magazine Beach. #magazinebeach#whocares #wcamb

Kate Sullivan, a member of the Riverside Boat Club in Cambridge, visits Magazine Beach at least 6 times per week during the season. #magazinebeach #whocares#wcamb

Dale Wickenheiser has been coaching rowers on the Charles for 15 years. Formerly the head rowing coach at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, he now coaches at MIT Rowing and Buckingham Browne and Nichols. Changes to the waterfront access will affect his rowers. #whocares #magazinebeach #wcamb

U.S. national rower and Riverside Boat Club member Peter Morelli has been in Cambridge since 20002, and he came here to row with RBC. He says he hopes to see Magazine Beach become more of a community center. #whocares #magazinebeach #wcamb

Members of the rowing community often had specific comments about their hopes — and concerns — for the site.

Peter Morelli is looking forward to completion of the Powder Magazine building . #icecream #whocares #magazinebeach #wcamb

Kate Sullivan, a rower with the Cambridge Boat Club, says she hopes parking and safety issues can be addressed. Proposals for the park would reduce parking and favor skinny roadways with parking over large surface lots. Magazine Beach has lots of active users before sunrise and before the T runs, making parking a key concern for many RBC members.#whocares #magazinebeach #wcamb

Dale Wickenheiser, a longtime local rowing coach, is excited to see Magazine Beach become a major destination. But he has concerns about the Memorial Drive traffic impacts. Increased car traffic, limited parking within the renovated park, and an already hairy traffic situation make him worried that these issues need to be better addressed by the planners.#whocares #magazinebeach #wcamb

Most of the attendees knew one another, but a handful of young people had come because they’d heard about the event through an email newsletter from the Charles River Conservancy.

Megan isn’t a Cambridge resident, but she lives in a neighboring town and has gotten involved with the Charles River Conservancy. She and a few friends came out to learn more about the Magazine Beach project. #magazinebeach #wcamb #whocares

The Charles River Conservancy’s emails were one of the main ways people heard about the night’s event — and about the plans for Magazine Beach, in general.

SJ Port heads up development and communications for the Charles River Conservancy. Her emails brought out most of the night’s attendees. #whocares#magazinebeach #wcamb

MIT postdocs Kristina and Markus attend church near Magazine Beach and occasionally meet friends for a walk there. #magazinebeach #whocares #wcamb

Gilead Tadmor, a Cambridge resident, wants to see swimming restored to Magazine Beach, although he hasn’t spent much time there in the past. #magazinebeach #whocares #wcamb

Once the site of a popular swimming beach, the site is being eyeballed for two Olympic events by the Boston 2024 committee, which could help finance renovations for its use.

Theresa Doherty, Project Coordinator for the Charles River Conservancy, is managing the group’s efforts to make Magazine Beach a swimming spot in the future. Boston’s Olympic bid could be one source of funds for environmental remediation work that needs to be done before a walk-in beach is safe for swimmers. Today, the Charles River has an A- water quality rating, but a century of industrial use left a toxic legacy in the sediment of the riverbed. Clean-up efforts would require significant funding. #whocares#magazinebeach #wcamb

Peter Ambler, a retired architect and member of the Cambridge Historical Society, leads boat and walking tours around the area. He described the history of changes on the Charles River since it was crowded with commercial river traffic, shipping coal and goods, a century ago. #magazinebeach #whocares #wcamb

Renata von Tscharner, Founder and Director of the Charles River Conservancy, sees the Magazine Beach renovation as part of a larger vision for the Charles River waterfront. She would love to see success here help build momentum for other projects along the river — especially a large patch of land in Allston, directly across the river, which is ripe for changes after current highway improvement projects are completed.#magazinebeach #whocares #wcamb

Only one of the night’s attendees wasn’t in favor of the project.

Bob La Tremouille, of Friends of the White Geese, is passionate opponent of any changes at Magazine Beach. He says any of the development efforts will disturb the population there now, and he wants to protect them. Bob shows up to every event, including volunteer events organized by the Charles River Conservancy to collect litter, and voices his opposition. He’s also active online, commenting regularly on blog posts by and about all of the involved groups. #magazinebeach #whocares #wcamb

Who else cares about Magazine Beach?


Do you care about Magazine Beach? Share your thoughts with the hashtag #wcamb on Instagram.

Celeste LeCompte

Written by

Director of Business Development, ProPublica.

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