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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Marriott Musings

Dennis Fox

August 14, 2003

When the Webster Street hotel backers overcame all opposition a few years ago, I had two primary concerns: the transfer to private control of town-owned land in Coolidge Corner, Brookline's shopping, eating, and strolling center, and the possibility that hotel management and town Selectmen wouldn't keep promises they made to garner approval. It's too late to regain the land, but not to insist that Courtyard by Marriott deliver what's due.

As part of my extensive research for this first-hand report, last Thursday afternoon I sat on one of those concrete benches Marriott erected at the intersection of Webster and Beacon to fulfill its commitment to improve the neighborhood. After my hot and humid walk, it felt pretty good.

Gazing up with more detachment than I usually achieve when I sneeringly pass the spot a dozen times a week, I decided that the building blends in well enough. As hotels go, this one is reasonably modest and, except for the bright driveway, relatively inconspicuous.

Around the time I noticed I was constantly shifting position trying to get comfortable, two women walked by tsk-tsking at the intersection. They mirrored comments made in several letters to this paper: The style-over-substance concrete benches are less relaxing than the seats they replaced, and the new traffic island jutting into Beacon Street -- forcing hotel guests to turn right -- is a traffic-hazard eyesore.

Leaning my spine against stark flat hardness, I watched cars and bikes swerve to avoid the obstacle. Town Transportation Engineer Peter Ditto said in last week's TAB that this problem should ease with repainted traffic lanes, though the curb may need yellow and black stripes to increase visibility -- just the thing to enliven the view from the concrete.

Other barriers jut into Webster Street to slow traffic on the under-construction "community street." In the meantime, as Ditto acknowledged and I later observed, cars still park where they shouldn't because the town hasn't yet installed signs. A few cars zoomed by, ignoring the traffic-calming devices.

I'm not sure what a community street is, but the brick pattern where Webster meets Harvard will look very artsy from any hovering helicopters.

Back on my bench, I sat watching cars turn left from Beacon onto Centre Street, following a sign with P for parking and a left arrow. Many then squeezed into the large overcrowded lot across from the Farmers Market. No sign pointed right, toward Webster.

I moved to a wooden bench closer to the hotel. In ten minutes, just a few cars turned into the unmarked driveway of the underground parking garage. Because the hotel eliminated a busy town lot, Marriott lets the public park for the same rate as town meters. Yet the town's failure to erect street signs ensures that drivers maneuver endlessly around Centre Street instead. I later saw a hand-written temporary notice at the Centre Street entrance with an arrow pointing to the Marriott, but it was too small, too low, and too late to matter.

Descending into the parking garage, I counted 40 empty spots. Further down the street, a small 13-spot town lot had 14 cars.

Next I walked into the hotel's garden. The Webster Street entrance has no sign (surprise!), but I vaguely remember that the deal required keeping it open. I sat on a bench (wooden!) listening to birds chirp and air conditioners hum. The untouched grass could be a sterile but pleasant-enough place to eat lunch and let toddlers run around, far enough from street noise and hard sharp concrete edges.

I ended my investigation in the busy air-conditioned lobby. Grabbing a complimentary cup of coffee, I meandered past happy visitors. A family sat on comfortable chairs, examining maps. A woman spoke Hebrew into a cell phone, confirming her arrival. A couple waited for a taxi. The desk clerk was crisply efficient.

Like it or not, Brookline's hotel is here, so let's make the most of what used to be town property. Use that garage! And then sit in the garden on an inviting wooden bench with a cup of free coffee and ponder what to do about concrete furniture, dangerous traffic islands, and the prospects of institutionalizing continuing community input. And: Enjoy!

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