BY MARCY SHORTUSE - People have been using the Gilchrist Avenue median for parking for years, and it seems to many that it has become a necessity for church services, pancake breakfasts and bridge club meetings. But the original idea behind Gilchrist Avenue was to present a gateway to the beautiful village of Boca Grande, and through meticulous landscaping that is what it once was.
Now, several residents on that street, as well as others on the island, would like to refresh the idea and bring back the old Gilchrist. Bill Regnery and Bob Fletcher are two of them, and they have been hard at work with a group of people and a landscaper to try to bring that idea to fruition. Their plan includes parallel parking along the median instead of diagonal, unmarked parking, and a plea to the community to start parking in the downtown area when they come for Sunday morning church services.
Fletcher has even gone so far as to research the history of the landscaping of Gilchrist Avenue.
“I view what’s happened as a betrayal of trust to the donors of the land and to Mrs. Crowninshield in the destruction of its beautification,” he said. “People say things change, that there weren’t any cars on the island then. I point out to them that there are a lot more restaurants and businesses around Central Park today, too, but just because things have changed in 100 years it’s not time to put a parking lot there.”
According to his research, in 1911 Carl Rust Parker of the Olmsted Brothers (who landscaped Central Park in New York) was sent to Boca Grande to do his magic on the street. While few to no pictures are available of his work there, it is known that bougainvillea were the dominant plant.
After his original work, Louise duPont Crowninshield took up the task of maintaining the street. She and other women from the island, including Momma Dear, used to haul water for the plants in an old woody station wagon.
The boulevard was maintained through the 1930s and ‘40s. At some point, though, interest in the project wore off, the plants slowly died away and the median started to look as bare and frazzled as it does today.
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