When the last structure built as a residence on Jamaica Pond was razed in 2007, the promontory on which it stood was reverted to open space. It was this open space, high on the banks of the water with its panoramic view of what was then the countryside beyond Boston, that beckoned James Perkins to build his summer home here in 1802. The house and its later incarnations, built in 1848 and 1870, were called Pinebank, in reference to the many conifers among which it was nestled. Pinebank’s beauty was known far and wide; the third mansion was featured in the 1879 book “The Homes of America,” in the 1898 guide “Walks and Rides in the Country Round About Boston” and was displayed on a late-19th century postcard. This once-glorious homestead lost that distinction when the property was taken for the creation of a public park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The structure tried to endure as the first home for the Boston Children’s Museum, as headquarters for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, as an arts center, until finally, the city mothballed and abandoned it.
Thus Pinebank began its physical decline, yet the mansion maintained its special presence in the park, even though tucked away on its promontory fewer people were aware of its existence, let alone its origins and life story. Although in ruins, it continued to exhibit its Victorian Gothic aesthetic value, holding court as one of the first buildings in America to make use of terra cotta tiles in its exterior design. It engendered a sense of both the mysterious and the familiar: The park setting made one wonder why this lone building was here, and yet this environment was the perfect place for it. When the ruins became too much of an embarrassment for the city to bear, it demolished Pinebank.
Now called Pinebank Promontory, the site has been returned to its original form as open space. Or has it? Where the house once stood now lies its footprint, traced with granite blocks implanted in the ground. Something important is missing from the landscape, yet something is still here. The space embodies the presence of a place. It is a special point on the landscape. It is no ordinary open field. Park goers slow down and linger here, perhaps to read the interpretive sign posted there (which actually raises more questions than it answers), or in a meditative pause on their walks. The city also schedules occasional concerts in the summer on what was the lawn of Pinebank.
Pinebank continues to stand on the promontory, embedded in a space-time continuum.