, Salem, MA

November 28, 2012

Changes OK'd for pedestrian mall

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — The Essex Street pedestrian mall will get a bit of a makeover this spring.

The Salem Redevelopment Authority approved a batch of improvements to the mall last night, including refurbishing the fountain at the Washington Street end of the corridor.

Work, which includes replacing some of the street’s cobblestones and seven diseased trees, will begin in early spring.

The improvements approved last night are a second phase of an ongoing project to make the mall more inviting, accessible and aesthetically pleasing to pedestrians.

The first phase of mall improvements, which included work on cobblestones and removal of landscaping beds, was completed in August and September.

A design team from Utile Inc., the Boston-based firm hired by the city, presented their redesign proposal last night and answered questions from the board.

Robert Mitnik, chairman of the redevelopment authority, complimented Utile’s design during the board’s brief discussion of the project. The board voted 4-0 to approve the plans; member Russell Vickers was absent.

A wooden kiosk, utility box and mailboxes will be removed and relocated from the Washington Street end of the mall. Several lampposts will be relocated, and two planters near Pamplemousse will be removed and replaced with brick.

Two of the cobblestone areas that are in the worst shape — in front of Bernard’s Jewelers and Rockafellas restaurant — will be replaced with brick.

Replacing some, but not all, of the mall’s cobblestones is “a balanced approach to maintain the historical character while making it easier for pedestrians,” said Lynn Duncan, director of Salem’s Department of Planning and Community Development.

The fountain will also receive a slate of improvements, including a general cleanup, new lighting and brick work.

The fountain, across Washington Street from the “Bewitched” statue, is on the site of Salem’s first water source and was immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his short story “A Rill From the Town Pump.”

The project will also change the footprint of the fountain from a large square to a rectangle. Once finished, it will have a single wall around the basin, where water collects, to replace its current multilayer, stairlike boundary.

River Street resident Andrew Carr urged the designers to keep the fountain’s basin a square shape.

“The basin is integral to the idea of that fountain,” Carr said.

The city’s Design Review Board had previously looked over the second phase of improvements to the mall and had recommended their approval.

The mall, which stretches 950 feet from Washington Street to the Peabody Essex Museum, is closed to vehicle traffic, except for delivery trucks.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.