In nearly two decades in office, Mayor Thomas M. Menino has kept one address: a tidy 1½-
story cape with green shutters on Chesterfield Street in Readville. It has a distinctly low-key suburban feel and features a gas fireplace the Meninos installed in the den for a touch of luxury.
Now Menino finds himself living in an opulent, Greek Revival mansion on one of the most desirable streets in Boston, atop Beacon Hill. The walls hold original portraits of famous faces from centuries past. The dining room, capable of receiving 60 for supper, has a display of Chinese porcelain on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts.
For Menino, home is temporarily the Parkman House, a city-owned mansion where the mayor is recovering after an eight-week hospital stay for an acute infection and a fractured vertebra. Five times larger than Camp Chesterfield, as Menino calls his house, the mansion glistens with marble floors, mantels adorned with ornate carvings, and a soaring elliptical staircase that rises four stories.
But there is one sure sign in this 9,000-square-foot manse that the mayor from Readville has not gone Beacon Hill.
“That chair there,” Menino said, pointing to a well-worn maroon recliner. “It’s from my house.”
This past week, Menino waited for his lunch in his new den: a renovated stable with exposed brick walls. Angela, his wife of 46-years, used a microwave to heat up chicken-and-rice soup in a cardboard take-out container.
Doctors convinced him that Parkman House would be a good place to regain his strength, Menino said, because it has an elevator, and he has struggled with stairs since his illness. The mansion’s hallways stretch 100 feet, perfect straightaways to practice walking at a time of year when sidewalks can turn slippery. But he remains conscious that living in such gilt-edged digs might seem like he was taking advantage.
“Originally, I wasn’t in favor of this idea,” Menino said between spoonfuls of soup. “I don’t want anybody to think I’m living on the public dole. That’s why we send out for food, go shopping for food. . . . We do our own washing, our own cleaning. None of that is city-driven, at all.
“If I’m going to be here,” Menino said, “I’m going to pay for it.”
His convalescence marks another chapter for a 188-year-old property with an extraordinary history. Parkman House has hosted presidents and visiting heads of state; it has seen excess, neglect, and scandal. The property can claim a tie to a signer of the Declaration of Independence and has a link to a sensational murder that left a son alone in the house for much of a lifetime, staring longingly out the window at squirrels frolicking across the street in Boston Common.
The building at 33 Beacon St. is only a half-mile walk from City Hall, allowing Menino’s aides to make quick trips to see the boss. His home in Readville is a 45-minute drive from Government Center. During previous illnesses, aides spent their workdays mired on Truman Highway, driving back and forth.
Since taking office in 1993, Menino has used Parkman House, he said, but “not as much as other mayors.”
When he left Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Dec. 23 and moved into the mansion, Menino said it was the first time he had ever spent the night there.
One of Menino’s predecessors hosted such lavish parties at Parkman House he earned the moniker “Mayor DeLuxe.” Another former mayor had records from the mansion subpoenaed by a grand jury, the Globe reported at the time.
Menino has used the property for high-stakes labor talks with striking unions, business negotiations with executives who did not want to be spotted at City Hall, and meetings with Red Sox brass to discuss a new stadium to replace Fenway Park. On at least one occasion, Menino’s family used the space to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Parkman House was built on land originally owned by Governor John Hancock. Completed in 1825, the house was sold in 1853 to a widow and her two children who took refuge from unwanted attention.
They were the family of Dr. George Parkman, a scion of one of Boston’s wealthiest clans. Parkman’s body was chopped into pieces in 1849 and hidden at Harvard Medical College by a chemistry professor. Parkman had been pressuring the professor to repay a debt, and some later blamed the doctor for bringing on his own death.
Parkman’s wife and children lived in the mansion for the next half century. After the wife and daughter died, the doctor’s son, George F. Parkman, lived there as a recluse, standing in the parlor on the second floor, staring out at Boston Common.
“He would always see squirrels playing,” said Cecily Foster, a former city employee who was involved in renovation of the mansion in 1973 and 1997. “That became his entertainment, watching the squirrels. That’s who he related to, I guess.”
George F. Parkman commissioned an ornate chandelier with squirrels cast in bronze that still hangs in the second-floor parlor, said Foster, who served as Mayor Kevin White’s personal assistant and as Menino’s director of special events and tourism.
Parkman died in 1908 and bequeathed the mansion to the city, along with a $5 million trust for upkeep and improvement of nearby parks, a sum that would be the equivalent of almost $125 million today. The Parks Department used the mansion as its headquarters until White renovated the property in 1973.
Parkman House currently has an annual budget of $310,000 that includes two part-time employees and a catering allowance for receptions and meals for mayoral meetings.
On the walls hang portraits from a collection of 19 works on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society. Menino’s new roommates include a 1680 oil painting of the grandson of John Winthrop, the celebrated governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and an 1898 work depicting the mother of poet E.E. Cummings.
From the Museum of Fine Arts, there are five pieces of furniture and about 30 bowls, plates, vases, and other pieces of Chinese export porcelain on longtime loan.
Amid the art and antiques, Menino said his routine is similar to life on Chesterfield Street in Readville, a section of Hyde Park. He wakes before dawn, getting out of bed at 4:30 or 5 a.m. “At home, I can find things to do” early, Menino said. “Here, I can’t find things to do.”
A nurse comes early to check on him. One day this week, he had a simple breakfast of organic cereal. His staff from City Hall start arriving at 8 or 9 a.m. A security detail, two plainclothes Boston police officers, keeps watch in the hallways. On the first floor, Menino holds press conferences, cramming reporters into a sitting room with red damask wall coverings.
On Wednesday, Menino hosted his weekly Cabinet meeting in the formal dining room, a handsome yellow-hued room with a 14-foot ceiling and a marble fireplace. Two-dozen top staff members were served coffee, muffins, and scones, which Menino said he paid for.
Most mornings, Menino does a round of physical therapy at Parkman House. At 4 p.m., he heads to Spaulding for a more intense 90-minute session.
“My [physical therapy] is my priority,” Menino said, as he grabbed a handful of dehydrated carrots, green beans, and other veggie chips from Whole Foods. “All these people are writing stories about the mayor slowing down. This mayor’s not slowing down. I’ll still be as active as I was before this incident.”
The new regimen has already had an impact on Menino, who said he does not feel as sluggish as he used to in the afternoons before he fell ill. He remains cautious about doing too much too soon, as in 2010 when he returned to work following an elbow infection.
“I’ve got to make sure I do it right this time,” Menino said. “There’s no second chances in this one. I’ve got to do it right the first time, spend time with the people that help you. Because you know, we’ve got a lot to do. There’s a lot of things we have to do in our city.”
Despite the art and antiques, the renovated stable with brick walls is the most casual room in the luxe domicile. Not far from the maroon recliner, Menino has a large flat-screen television for football games. His longtime secretary sat at a table with a laptop.
“This is my headquarters,” said Menino, still clad in shorts and Kelly green T-shirt after morning physical therapy.