OP-ED: A Proposal Templeton Pkwy. Property With Historic Church

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A Google Earth image of the former Belmont Baptist Church, proposed by the author to turn into art studios and gallery space.

By Joseph Levendusky
Watertown Resident

A Modest Proposal for 126-134 Templeton Parkway

One of my neighbors, who grew up on Templeton Parkway, has told me stories of a decrepit old mansion that stood on a large plot of land that extended from Belmont Street up to Woodleigh and over to the corner of Templeton and Belmont. There resided an old lady living out her final years. Out of curiosity, my neighbor and his friends would try to sneak into the mansion and would be chased away by the lady’s household help.

That lady was Rosamond Coolidge of the fabled Coolidge family who played an important role in the history of Watertown. She was a descendent of Joseph Coolidge, town treasurer and the only Watertown resident to die at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. She was a relative of Calvin Coolidge.

The old house at 206 Belmont Street was known as the Coolidge Estate and was home to several generations of the Coolidge family. The greensward at corner of Belmont and Templeton and the rock wall along Belmont Street are all that remain.

Rosamond Coolidge was an artist. Primarily she painted portraits, most notably one of Robert Frost that hangs in the Robert Frost Library at Curry College in Milton. In Watertown, her portrait of Dr. Julian A. Mead, town Selectman and Library Trustee, may be seen in the local history room of the Watertown Free Public Library. Her portrait of Sir Richard Saltonstall graces the First Parish Church.

Watertown has a rich artistic heritage. In addition to numerous contemporary practicing artists, Watertown has been home to historic artistic figures such as Coolidge, Harriet Hosmer and Anne Whitney. A renowned sculptor in her time, Whitney created the statue of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner that resides in Harvard Square. The Watertown Free Public Library has a superb collection of local artists, including all three of the women mentioned above.

Part of the estate, and the historic Baptist Church next door have recently been the subject of a local development debate. The City Council recently denied a zoning overlay that would have resulted five townhouses obliterating the open space. Herein lies an opportunity.

In the spirit of honoring our artistic heritage, past and present, I propose that the City of Watertown purchase the property at 126-134 Templeton Parkway. The Baptist Church could be rehabbed into artist studio space and a town gallery. Such a use would require a minimum of renovation. Perhaps it could be named the Harriet Hosmer Studios. Artists could create work and children could take art classes. Open Studios could be held there.

Next to the church, on the site of the present parking lot, the town could build a few very modest, affordable live-work dwellings for artists. They might be called the Anne Whitney Studios. This would be a first step toward ensuring that, despite soaring real estate prices, artists will always have a presence in Watertown.

Finally, the green space at the corner would be preserved and refurbished as Rosamond Coolidge Park. A historic marker would succinctly tell the story of Rosamond, the estate and the Coolidge family in Watertown. The stone wall and the legacy tree at the corner of Templeton and Belmont would be kept.

The park would provide a serene oasis at a busy intersection in the dense East End and allow residents to relax, linger and socialize. I envision a fountain, sculpture and plantings that might inspire a watercolor or two. Hopefully my neighbor would be allowed to spend some quality time without being chased away.

21 thoughts on “OP-ED: A Proposal Templeton Pkwy. Property With Historic Church

  1. The Belmont Church is hardly historic. It’s a rather functional, not particularly distinguished building dating back to the late 19th century. And, it has been in a state of deterioration for years since the small congregation that utilizes it is hardly in a position to maintain it as it requires. I believe they rely on volunteers from their congregation to attend to upkeep of both the interior and exterior of the church. My guess is that a redevelopment of the building would be very expensive and potentially filled with headaches. That said, I am not sure that your proposal is even viable since the re-zoning effort was turned down resulting in the property remaining essentially residential in scope.

    I remember the Coolidge estate (now a townhouse community) as a kid and it had come to resemble something out of a horror movie if memory recalls correctly.

    These suggestions of Watertown buying this and that sound wonderful on paper but one has to remember that ongoing funds are required for staff, maintenance and periodic improvement of town owned properties. Building it is one thing, long term management of it is another.

  2. This is a great idea and gives the City of Watertown the opportunity to preserve open space, save the magnificent tree on the lot and create affordable housing. In full transparency I own the property immediately across the street. The obstacle is going to be that the current developer either owns the property or has a purchase and sale in place to buy it. (That was never made clear during the public hearings.) The City of Watertown does have the option to take the property by eminent domain. However, our City has shown no appetite for using this legal tool to squire property. Yes, it is a long and expensive process, but if there was ever a good time to use it this might be it. And perhaps CPA funds could be used to fund purchase of Open Space? The lot will cost millions as will re-development of the old Church and cost to build affordable housing. There’s not much left for the City to buy and preserve. I hope the City Council and Manager consider this idea for the benefit of all residents of Watertown.

  3. This is a worthy and intriguing proposal. To be actively considered, the price of the land would need to be known and if it were to be purchased, a time frame needs to be worked out for each stage of the project.

  4. Ambitious, but worthy of serious consideration. Perhaps the CPA tax fund could help
    to cover paced costs. Or, could Watertown use just “some” of the 10 million given to the
    Town by the State.

  5. Enough. Leave some of our heritage and old building alone. You are distorting our town. Yes town. You might have changed our policies to be a city but we are still a neighborhood town. Unless you destroy that too

    • Watertown has been a city for over 40 years. It’s the legal structure of municipal government. It has literally nothing to do with the character of the community!

  6. I grew up attending the Belmont St. Baptist Church. Our youth group often raked Mrs. Coolidge’s property. My father served as a minister of the church for a few years. My mother and cousins were baptized in the church. I used to lecture on Watertown’s History for adult ed and was considered to be one of the town’s historians, hence I care a great deal about the history of Watertown. I would love to see the church building and open land turned into an historic site. Please note, that many, MANY, art classes and workshops were held at the church throughout the years. As an artist, and historian, I strongly believe that we need to protect our Town’s history and the arts. The proposed purchase and use of the land and building makes sense. Audrey Jones Childs. https://www.audreyjoneschildsartworld.com/contact

  7. This is perhaps the best Idea of use of public funds I have hear yet in all my 37 years in Watertown. Lets make it happen.
    Thanks you sir for your ideas and good writing on the subject.

  8. Joe, You think creatively and write persuasively. Let’s preserve the open space; create a venue for art classes and combined gallery plus performance spaces; and, my favorite, live/work spaces for artists at affordable rents. These can take up a modest footprint on the property, need only a room for a studio and strong HVAC systems as their only notable changes from regular housing.
    Let’s make this happen using all the resources at Watertown’s disposal, honor Watertown’s women artists at the same time, and provide our current residents with new, useful, and future oriented spaces to enjoy.

  9. This property appears to have been sold to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church congregation. On Saturday they had a huge festivity consecrating this church into their faith. Did anyone see the notice of the sale by the developer that purchased the land and building over a year ago?

  10. Wow, Fred, I did not see that sale! Charlie, could you possibly report a timeline on the ownership of this property? Last we heard, about a year ago, the developer was planning to build 5 townhouses on that open field. A field which due to its never having been built on is tremendously good quality soil. Did the Ethiopian Orthodox Church purchase include the field?

    This valuable green space should be kept green, not built on. It represents a tremendous and very rare natural resource in our city. It would be such a benefit to Watertown if the City could purchase that green space for preservation as a passive-use park, or as a space for community gardens.

  11. Thanks Charlie. Going to be a weird setup over there what with a church and then homes in such close proximity. Surprised that the church does not want the green space for various congregation activities during the spring through fall.

  12. Thanks for your research, Charlie. I’m glad the church is serving a new church community.

    It’s sad news that the associated neighborhood green space with extraordinarily healthy soil, miraculously preserved until now, didn’t somehow get an 11th-hour rescue.

    Am wondering why the possibility that the developers would subdivide the property and sell the church didn’t come up in public City discussions last year. “Beantown LLC” doesn’t sound like a historic preservation society.

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