Better known as “The Esplanade”, this state-owned park in the Back Bay is probably best known today for hosting the city’s annual July 4th celebration with the Boston Pops. However, this 17-mile stretch of parkland that snakes alongside the Charle River offers so much more and is one of my favorite parks.
The birth of “The Esplanade”
The park was created in 1910 when the Charles River Dam Bridge was created and was called the Boston Embankment. In the late 20s and early 30s this parkland saw major expansion, widening the narrow strip of land and extending the park. This incluced adding the first of what would be several lagoons, boat landings, playgrounds and more including a temporary bandshell. In the summer of 1929 Arthur Fiedler performed for the first time with the Boston Pops.
Sailing and other popular activities at the Hatch Shell
Approximately 30 years after the park was opened the Hatch Memorial Shell was constructed in 1941. This was possible because of a generous posthumous donation from Maria Hatch in memory of her brother. Boating and sailing on the Charles River started in the 1930s and due to its popularity in 1946 Community Boating was created as the country’s first public boating program. Where for a modest fee, thousands of people each year can learn to sail on the Charles River.
Storrow Drive and the Esplanade expansion
The next major change to the Esplanade began in 1949. The construction of Storrow Drive significantly reduced the size of the park. To make up for the lost land additional islands with crisscrossing paths were created. In the 1960s the park was linked to adjoining parkland and bike paths were added. These paths remain popular for biking and running and this free Esplanade map is used by many to calculate distances between bridges.
Gay cruising along the Esplanade
For decades Beacon Hill was the neighborhood of choice for Boston’s gay community. Its proximity to the seedy Scollay Square which is no more and access to public land like the Boston Common and Esplanade provided men an opportunity to meet under the cover of night to cruise for sex. By the 1980s most of Boston’s gay community had moved out of Beacon Hill and the park became less popular for casual sex.
The Esplanade park remains a favorite for Bostonians and tourists alike. The park is regularly used for concerts, outdoor movies, hosting exercise classes and large gatherings for charities. Each day thousands run, bike and walk along the parks’ paths and many come to relax, reflect and enjoy time with friends or someone special.