Last week, the BPDA sent a bunch of questions to Millennium Partners about its planned $1.3-billion Winthrop Square tower that ultimately came down to asking what the developer would do to keep the building from going up as the city's blandest skyscraper (the Globe has more).
But at the bottom of the list of questions was a request that the company consider fixing one of the odder things in Boston - that a statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns sits at the center of a square named for John Winthrop.
The authority asked Millennium Partners to consider moving the statue back to the Back Bay Fens, where it was originally built and dedicated in a 1920 ceremony led by Gov. Calvin Coolidge himself.
That the statue now sits in a square named for somebody best known for his role in starting Massachusetts, who died in 1649 - 110 years before the birth of a poet best known for a poem whose first few lines get slurred every New Year's, is your basic story of how things got done in Kevin White's Boston. As Sam Allis recounted in a 2010 column, a developer who rehabbed 1 Winthrop Square back in the 1970s wanted to decorate the square with a statue of John Winthrop, so he asked a Back Bay church that had one to let him use theirs. Of course, they said no, and the guy didn't care enough to commission a new statue of Winthrop.
Fortunately for him, he was pals with the head of the city art commission, who figured, what the hell, nobody cares about the Burns statue in the Fens, so he suggested that. And so Burns and his faithful dog have been confusing the few tourists Winthrop Square gets since 1975.
When the BPDA asked for public comments on the Millennium Partners proposal, the Fenway Civic Association saw its chance to get back the statue it says was "purloined" from the Fens back in the day, and filed a formal request that the statue be moved back to its original home:
The Robert Burns statue was created by sculptor Henry Hudson O'Reilly and originally situated in proximity to sculptor Daniel Chester French's monument to John Boyle O'Reilly in the Back Bay Fens. The juxtaposition of the two works was a deliberate way to honor Scottish and Irish literary figures in a pastoral setting reminiscent of the locales within the body of their literary works. Further, the Burns statue possesses continued relevance in the Fenway neighborhood, with Peterborough, Kilmarnock and Queensberry streets in the abutting West Fenway named after locations in Burns's works. Given its significance and ties to the neighborhood, it was unfortunate that this statue was removed from the Fenway, without notice or public process, for the benefit of a private developer.
Contemporary report on the statue's unveiling, including a lengthy poem.
Photo of the statue when it was still in the Fens.
List of BPDA questions and comments by other city departments on the proposed tower (31M PDF).
Comments from the public on the proposed tower (35M PDF).