Restoring a Beloved Boston Landmark
The George Robert White Memorial, nicknamed “The Angel” by local residents, is a cherished Back Bay landmark. By the beginning of the millennium, however, the memorial was in disrepair: its fountain had stopped working and was overshadowed by overgrown shrubs and trees.
In fall 2016, ZEN Associates was retained by the Friends of the Public Garden to restore the historic fountain and refresh the surrounding landscape. Their selection was based on our restoration and water design experience as well as our expertise working on historical restoration projects such as the United Nations Peace Bell Garden and Bell, the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden, and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens,
“The Angel” is nestled in the northwest corner of the Boston Public Garden, the bronze statue was constructed by renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French, who was commissioned to create the memorial in honor of George Robert White, a Boston philanthropist. The Angel–its full name is “The Angel of the Waters”–and its accompanying granite and stone fountain, were completed in 1924. A favorite space for quiet contemplation, the engaging memorial charms neighbors and visitors alike.
Ensuring Historical Accuracy
Respecting the memorial’s age and delicacy, our team, worked closely with the Friends of the Public Garden, the City of Boston, project engineers Weston and Sampson, and preservationists from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to ensure all restoration was historically accurate, didn’t compromise the original structure, and complied with local regulations.
Work included restoring the 12×20-foot fountain basin, lined with nearly century-old beach stones, which had started to degrade. We created sample boxes of stone, matching the colors and sizes of the original beach stone, for other restoration team members to approve.
We also replaced the fountain’s antiquated plumbing system, which runs through two French-designed bronze cornucopias perched on either side of the Angel. To preserve the 90-year-old masonry, we dug a trench under the fountain to remove old plumbing, then installed a precast concrete vault containing all mechanical functions and buried it underground. The new water filtration system meets current state plumbing codes and recirculates water through the fountain.
Landscape plans called for removing large evergreens and small shrubs, including a cherry tree which overshadowed the memorial. New, native plants–traditional rhododendrons, hydrangea, clethra, roses, witch hazel and a horse chestnut tree –were installed, providing color and dimension without detracting from the landmark. New benches were added as well, making the memorial accessible to visitors of all abilities.
Water now flows through the memorial fountain and the Angel once again occupies a serene space that’s easily visible and accessible to all.