The Beautification Committee, founded and led by Frank Costantino for over 15 years, and its current Sponsorship Program, is in the midst of repurposing the plants, plaques and benches in French Square. On a mission to move the thriving plant material in the park before French Square gets uprooted during the new development project in its center, Costantino is committed to conserving the features that were so delicately placed in during its formation in the mid-’80s. The Beautification Committee was first proposed in 1983 and officially formed in 1984, as an answer to MAPC’s plans to divide French Square in half.
“We used a creative idea, created plans, involved the community, found and used refurbished items, and essentially developed French Square with the help of many volunteers, and it has become the fiber of Winthrop,” said Costantino, who has seen many of the original Beautification members pass on since the committee was formed. “And now with the current utility plans, French Square is slated to become a temporary parking lot for at least a couple of years, eliminating an attractive open space in center.”
The majority of town center businesses spill out into French Square, where it has long been a major focal point for shoppers and business owners. Originally conceived as, and often referred to as the “town’s living room,” French Square has served as a gathering point for residents and has proved to be a key spot during annual events such as the Holiday Tree Lighting and the Halloween Haunt.
Costantino, an architect and designer by training, and a professional architectural illustrator, came up with the initial design for French Square, which was approved by the town’s Selectmen (Robert De Leo was chair at the time) in 1984; and it has been an aesthetically pleasing place to gather since its completion and dedication in 1987. Located directly at the bottom of streets that are at much higher elevation, the plan for the low-lying French Square was well-thought out, making it a significant mark on the map of Winthrop. Each element of French Square contains a piece of Winthrop’s history, from the iron rails from the Narrow Gauge RR track surrounding the large plaque in the square (as well as embedded in Hagman Road), to the many bronze pathway plaques that are heartfelt remembrances of noteworthy residents. The benches and plaques were contributed by both corporate and civic donors and the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, all of which speaks to the wide community involvement in the project.
“We want to at least save the thriving plant material that has been paid for by different sponsors and companies,” said Costantino, who has faithfully tended to the original gardens over many years and coordinated the project’s design from start to finish. “We have to respect the fact that this space is also a memorial to WWII veteran, Harold French.”
As plans for French Square were developing, the Beautification Committee initially volunteered their time to use plants and flowers to also transform many street islands around town, including the Highlands and the Crest Avenue Park edge, Beacon Circle, Terrace Gardens, Hermon Street, Pleasant Street several other places, now sponsored by members of the Chamber.
As the center development project gets underway, French Square will be ripped up by next April. This fall, Costantino is hoping to find volunteers to help dig up the viable and attractive perennial plants in the Square, and relocate them to the Walden Street area, near the EB Newton building, and other areas in and around town center. The nine cedar-wood benches need to be cleaned and removed, along with over a dozen small, bronze plaques, and as many of the original found cobblestones. More info will be forthcoming for interested residents to help out.