The lanterns on the Old North Church were lit Wednesday morning as part of a groundbreaking ceremony for the Paul Revere Mall, which is slated for renovation.
The Paul Revere Mall, known to locals as “The Prado,” is believed to be one of the most photographed sites along the Freedom Trail. The view of the mall from Hanover Street, with the Paul Revere statue in the foreground and the Old North Church steeple in the background, has long been featured on postcards.
The $2.9 million renovation will spruce up the popular tree-lined plaza that connects Hanover Street to the Old North Church in the North End.
Christopher Cook, the commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, said the project aims to restore “one of the signature open spaces in the city of Boston.”
“It’s an extraordinary space,” he said. “It’s beautifully well designed.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony and said he noticed about three years ago that the mall needed work and wanted to make this a priority. The site improvements will include new brick paving, lighting, tree pruning, and restoration of the fountain and masonry.
The North End “is a great place,” Walsh said. “We’re investing in this park because it needs it and it deserves it.”
Walsh said the improvements will make “The Prado” safer, more comfortable, and more accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
“This was in dire need of a major renovation,” Walsh said. “This should have been done a long time ago.”
“The Prado” has been an integral part of the North End since it was created during the great Depression. According to articles from Globe archives, the idea for the scenic promenade was spearheaded by Mayor James Michael Curley, and it was modeled after a famous prado, or field, in Havana, Cuba.
Several tenement buildings were razed to create the public space (former Boston City Council president Christopher A. Iannella and his parents were among those evicted from the apartments that once stood there). The Prado was officially dedicated by Curley in November 1933.
The mall was designed by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, and funding for the project came from the George Robert White Fund. The last time the mall was renovated was 1990.
Suzanne Taylor, executive director of the Freedom Trail Foundation, described the renovation as a worthwhile and exciting project because the mall is an important neighborhood park for residents and visitors from out of town.
“It provides us with a shady, quiet, contemplative respite from our busy streets,” she said. “It is a unique view to the iconic Old North Church, and it provides historical information about our founding fathers and the neighborhood in the 18th century. . . . With over 4 million people visiting the Freedom Trail annually, and residents using this great park from one end of the year to the other, the city’s effort to improve this gem is truly invaluable to everyone.”
The Rev. Stephen T. Ayres, the vicar of the Old North Church, blessed the shovels at the groundbreaking ceremony and noted that the lanterns in the church were lit specifically for the occasion.
“We’re so happy that today we have lit our two lanterns so that we can declare to the community and the nation, ‘The contractors are coming! The contractors are coming!’ ” Ayres quipped.
After thanking the mayor and other officials, Ayres led a prayer inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
“Listen my children, and you shall hear of the renovated mall of Paul Revere,” Ayres said. “One if by land and two if by sea, and we under the statue will be rededicating ourselves to liberty. Bless the workers who restore this mall, so that we will ensure that freedom is for all, and that our civic values may never fall.”
The improvements to the Paul Revere Mall are scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2019. Most of the funding for the project ($1.9 million) came from Walsh’s capital plan, and $1 million will be provided by the George Robert White Fund, officials said.