Events, Photos

Fido Fest

A warm summer night on Spy Pond Field. A pink sunset. Popcorn. Bubbles. Lots and lots of dogs. And lots and lots of dog videos on the big screen. It can only be Fido Fest.

Arlington Community Media, Inc (ACMi), Arlington’s public access television station, and dog-focused social group and nonprofit organization Arlington Dog Owners Group (A-DOG) have now orchestrated three years of this dog-themed film festival. ACMi and A-DOG founded Fido Fest as a paean to dogs and their loving owners.

An ACMi volunteer wears a dog mascot head.
A-DOG organizers Jen (L) and Kathleen (R) sit in front of the guess-how-many-dog-treats game at the A-DOG booth.

The event is sponsored by A-DOG, by pet-sitting/dog-walking business BlueSky Dogs, and by real estate agent Judy Weinberg at Leading Edge Real Estate. The Capitol Theater provides bags of “pupcorn”. Anyone can submit a video of their dog, from an amateur home video to a polished narrative short film.

Local band Stanley and the Undercovers played 50s and 60s rock standards, including, of course, “Hound Dog.”

While waiting for the main events, Fido Fest attendees played with bubbles, hula hoops, and an oversized Jenga game.

As the sun began to set, people brought their dogs up to participate in the dog pageant, competing in categories like Smallest Dog, Most Wags, and Dog-Owner Lookalike. Every dog who entered won.

As darkness fell, the main show began: the films. Everyone settled into beach chairs or sat on the ground to watch dog-themed content ranging from home videos to short documentaries and humorous Vine-style clips. The audience laughed, sighed, and barked. And at the end of the night they went home with their friends and families, on two legs, four wheels, or four paws.

Note: This article was updated 6:30pm August 4, 2019, to add that Judy Weinberg also sponsors the event.

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Events, Photos, Places

Independence Day at Robbins Farm Park

Arlington does not do its own Independence Day fireworks, though sometimes it will bust out a few for Town Night after Town Day in September. But every year on July 4th, Boston launches a large fireworks display over the Esplanade. And every July 4th, Arlingtonians gather at Robbins Farm Park to watch them.

Robbins Farm, about seven miles away from the Esplanade, is located high on the east side of the tallest hill in Arlington Heights (the Park Circle Water Tower is at the hill’s peak). When the air is clear, most of the city of Boston is visible from the park. Locals call it Skyline Park. And Skyline offers a surprising view of anything happening above Boston and Cambridge, from a pink sunrise to a fireworks show.

In the past, Arlington has hosted a formal event at Robbins Farm on Independence Day, with an inflatable screen to show televised coverage of the annual Boston Pops concert and subsequent pyrotechnics. However, the grass on the park’s recently refurbished sports fields has been too fragile to support the event’s heavy foot traffic for a few years, and the town has fenced those areas off. A large audience showed up to watch anyway, avoiding the fenced areas to set out blankets and beach chairs. An ice cream truck offered refreshments against the hot, humid night.

Children ran through the slippery grass as their parents called cautions after them. Distance dampened the fireworks’ explosions to muffled pops. It was a pleasant, quiet alternative to the crowded chaos of going to see the fireworks on the Esplanade itself.

As fun as the fireworks may have been, an uncritical celebration of America felt more inappropriate than ever in 2019. This country is doing horrible things to the people who migrate here for safety. Arlington is far from America’s southern border, but ICE is detaining community members in the Boston area too. The Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network is working to free people being held in the South Bay Detention Center and support their families. You can read more about their efforts, donate to them, or volunteer to help through their website.

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History, People, Photos, Places

Menotomy Rocks Park

content warning: this post contains non-graphic discussion of suicide

Trees rustle in the wind. The highway sighs in the distance. Small waves lap at the shore of Hill’s Pond. In the early evening on a Monday, Menotomy Rocks Park is full of dog walkers, a few kids and parents, speed-walkers and slow-walkers, occasional joggers, and one kid bouncing around on a pogo stick.

Menotomy Rocks Park is a 35.5-acre park located off Jason Street between Arlington Center and Route 2. Arlington’s largest public park, Menotomy Rocks has a playground, two fields, several unpaved trails, a stream, and a pond called Hill’s Pond.

The park has existed since 1896, according to the Menotomy Trail website, and the town established the Friends of Menotomy Rocks Park committee in 1993 to manage the park and the land it’s on. Back then, people called it The Devil’s Den. The name comes from a legend about the devil walking toward Spy Pond with boulders in his apron; the apron strings tore and the boulders spilled onto the land by Hill’s Pond.

The true story of how the boulders got there is less demonic. The Laurentide ice sheet, which formed during North America’s last ice age about 75,000 years ago, gradually melted away over thousands of years, leaving behind the rocks that Arlingtonians would eventually call Menotomy Rocks.

The Laurentide ice sheet is responsible for the existence of Hill’s Pond as well; as the glaciers retreated, pieces broke off and became buried in sediment. As they melted, they left behind depressions called kettle holes. Some of those kettle holes, including the one in Menotomy Rocks, filled with water and became lakes and ponds. Spy Pond in Arlington, Fresh Pond in Cambridge, and Walden Pond in Concord are also kettle ponds.

Hill’s Pond also has some more recent history. On April 16, 2012, police following the cell phone signal of a missing girl discovered her body floating in the pond. The girl, a 16-year-old named Shaira Ali, had committed suicide. Shaira’s friends held a candlelight vigil for her at Hill’s Pond on April 17. Those who knew her say she was kind, gentle, and artistic. In 2016, her parents donated $100,000 to the Arlington Center for the Arts, where Shaira attended summer camp and later became a camp counselor. The ACA named its new gallery and performance space after her. The town remembers her as Hill’s Pond remembers the glacier from which it came. She is part of this place forever.

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Events, Places

Feast of the East

This past weekend, Capitol Square threw its 21st annual Feast of the East, an outdoor event to celebrate East Arlington’s community and local businesses. The event takes place along Mass Ave in East Arlington. Mass Ave, Arlington’s main street, stays open during the event; police block off parking lanes for businesses to set up booths in.

The Fox Library kicks off the event with its Fox Festival Parade, after which local brass bands play outside for the rest of the afternoon. Restaurants offer street food from cultures all around the world, and “Kid Zones” around the event have entertainment ranging from clowns to sand art for Arlington’s younger residents.

It’s a great way to spend an early summer day in Arlington.

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Top down view of cartons of strawberries
Events, People

Arlington Farmers’ Market

This Wednesday at 2, the Russell Commons Municipal Lot transformed from Arlington Center’s largest parking lot to a row of booths stocked with goods from fresh tomatoes to refreshing iced tea. The Arlington Farmers’ Market had opened for the season.

In addition to the usual crop of produce, this year’s vendors are offering cheese, handmade pasta, wine and cider, meat, bread, and premade food from local restaurants.

A vendor list is available on the market’s website, and the market is open every Wednesday from 2pm to 6:30pm from mid-June through late October.

Patsy Kraemer, local event organizer, keeps the market running. She took over from Oakes Plimpton, who first opened the market in 1997 and whose other contributions to Arlington and its surroundings include writings about Arlington’s history, a communal garden, and the Boston Area Gleaners.

Patsy Kraemer stands next to hanging pots of flowers at the Dick’s Market Garden booth

On opening day, Kraemer and Plimpton sat in the shade on folding lawn chairs, under a wooden sign labeled “Patsy’s Corner,” chatting amiably and watching as customers filtered in and out of the lot. The market may look different than it did 22 years ago, but the love for local agriculture and sustainable food that drove Plimpton to create it is still going strong.

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Events, Photos

Porchfest

Porchfest is an annual music festival that takes place yearly in June, put on by the Arlington Center for the Arts and community volunteers. Local musicians and homeowners sign up to participate, and the organizers match them up so everyone has a porch to play on.

An audience gathers in front of O.T.A’s performance at Menotomy Beer & Wine.

According to Porchfest’s website, last year more than 170 bands performed at the festival. The musicians work in a variety of genres and the festival gradually travels from West to East Arlington over the course of 8 hours. Performance and visual artists showcase their work as well.

Singer-songwriter Laleler plays guitar and sings in East Arlington.

Locals attended the festival in in huge numbers, most walking or biking between porches, many accompanied by their kids and dogs. A few had come from the Pride parade in Boston, which took place earlier the same day, and were sporting rainbow accessories and flags representing sundry LGBTQ+ identities.

In Arlington Center, the Jefferson-Cutter House hosted a beer garden on its lawn, with beer from Aeronaut Brewery, food from local restaurants, and an info booth staffed by ACA volunteers.

(If anyone can identify this band, please comment! They were playing in the beer garden and are not listed on the Porchfest website.)

Right across the street in Uncle Sam Park was Arlington Public Arts’ annual “Chairful Where You Sit” art show, in which the organization raises funds by selling abandoned chairs that artists have rescued, refurbished, and embellished.

Porchfest ended this year with a dance party at Arlington Global Service Station, a gas station collaboratively decorated by its owner Abe Salhi and local artist Johnny Lapham. Street band School of Honk and funk/R&B group Bittersweet Band provided the music.

Porchfests began in Ithaca, NY, and now take place across the country. PorchFest.info has a schedule of New-England-based porchfests. The next is on June 15 on the Boston Fenway.

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Events, Places

Arlington Greek Festival

Every year, Arlington’s St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church puts on a festival to celebrate Greek culture: its food, music and dance, religion, and fashion.

Mata Xios Boutique

St. Athanasius’ has been around for 55 years. It was originally located at 735 Mass Ave, which is now the Highrock Covenant Church. The St. Athanasius parish expanded significantly over time as more Greek immigrants and Greek-Americans moved to Arlington; in 2004, the parish moved to 4 Appleton Street, the former home of the St. James the Apostle Roman Catholic Church. A few years later, St. Athanasius’ began throwing its annual festival, using the new location’s sizable parking lot as an event venue.

The church sets up a 60-foot white tent, underneath which are stations selling everything from spanakopita and gyros to loukoumades and baklava, booths selling imported Greek clothing, crafts, jewelry, home goods, and religious items like crosses and nazar pendants.

The festival lasts for four days and features performances by local Greek musicians and dance troops. Some vendors have been coming to the festival for years. Art of the Lands has had a booth at every Arlington Greek Festival for the past decade.

Past the tent on the lawn of Ottoson Middle School, a rental service blows up bouncy castles and inflatable slides.

Other attractions for kids include dance activities and a place to make layered sand art.

Photos from the 2016 Greek Festival by the same photographer can be seen on Flickr here.

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History, Photos, Places

Crusher Lot

Crusher Lot, Junior High West Woods, Ottoson Woods. The Shoe. The Rocks. This place, the wooded area between Ottoson Middle School and Gray Street in Arlington Heights, has a lot of names.

According to WickedLocal Arlington, the name Crusher Lot comes from the area’s original purpose: a small quarry where the town used a steam-powered stone crusher to make gravel for paving roads.

“Junior High West Woods” and “Ottoson Woods” both refer to schools that have stood by those woods: Junior High West through about the year 2000, and Ottoson Middle School now. Students cut through the lot, usually using the paved path that runs down the western side, to get from Gray Street to school.

Students have their own names for different parts of the lot: “Stairway to Heaven” for the stairs that lead up to the paved path, and “The Rocks” or “The Shoe” for the horseshoe-shaped retaining wall at the top of the stairs.

Members of the Facebook group “Proud to be from Arlington” who attended Junior High West remembered the woods and The Shoe as a relatively secluded place to hang out away from adults, somewhere the cool kids went to drink, smoke, neck, and set small fires.

“You were invited to the shoe by the cool kids. You’d never just show up there,” says group member Kim DeAngelo.

Update August 25, 2020: Some photos from this post are featured on the website Friends of the Crusher Lot. They have a great post about the history of Crusher Lot by historian Edward Gordon here if you want to learn more about the lot.

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History, Photos, Places

Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway is a paved multi-use path that runs from the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge through Arlington and Lexington to Bedford. Both ends of the bike path connect to other paths, bike and otherwise — four at the Cambridge end and two in Bedford.

The bike path is a rail-to-trail path, which is to say that it’s built on the route left behind by disused train tracks. The MBTA closed the Lexington Branch commuter rail route in 1981, proposing an underground extension of the Red Line through Arlington to Route 128 , topped with a linear park and rail trail. Arlington residents voted against the Red Line extension, citing a fear of congestion and of outsiders entering the community. As a result, the state never built the Red Line extension. But in 1992, it built the Minuteman Bikeway. Some footage from the bikeway’s construction, dedication, and early life can be seen in this Arlington Public News video about the bikeway’s 25th anniversary.

The bikeway was popular from its inception, and traffic has only grown since then. It’s especially busy during the morning and evening rush hours. Arlingtonians and members of surrounding communities use it to walk their dogs, ride their own bikes or shared ones like the new Lime Bikes, jog, stroll on foot or in wheelchairs, rollerblade, and skateboard.

Arlington Public Art installed five temporary art projects on it as part of the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture’s bid to get the area between Arlington Center and Capitol Square recognized as a cultural district.

In 2017, the town revamped Arlington Center‘s main intersection and added new features like a push-button crosswalk to make crossing through the Center safer for bikeway users. Cyclists generally say riding on the path is more pleasant and feels safer than using a bike lane on a road meant for cars, especially in comparison to the busy Mass Ave.

Brian Ristuccia, an Arlington resident and member of the Boston Bike Party Facebook group who’s been riding the bikeway almost every day for the past three years, says “It’s been a pleasant west-to-east trip completely bypassing peak commute automobile traffic congestion, noise, and pollution.”

Avoiding cars doesn’t promise total safety, however. A March 24 collision between two cyclists on the bikeway in Lexington resulted in the death of 71-year-old Cary G Coovert, according to the Boston Globe and raised concerns about bikeway congestion and users’ awareness of the ‘rules of the road’. Accidents involving only cyclists rarely kill anyone; a cyclist-car accident is much more likely to cause a death.

Despite the specter of the recent accident and complaints about police hassling people who use the path after 9pm, the bikeway remains well-loved, and traffic is picking up as the weather gets warmer.

Ristuccia, who uses the bikeway on weekdays to drop his daughter off at preschool and commute to his office, says “We ride year round rain, shine, or snow…Beautiful green trees in summer, colorful foliage in fall, and snow that stays pretty and white in winter.”

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Events, People, Photos, Places

The Little Fox Shop

11 years ago, Susan Dorson and Amy Weitzman opened a nonprofit resale shop in the Edith M. Fox branch of the Arlington Library. They collected donations of toys, kids’ and maternity clothes, and childcare items like high chairs and strollers, furnished the store with any cheap or free furniture and clothing racks they could get their hands on, and recruited volunteers to help run the store.

Faith, a Little Fox Shop volunteer, organizes clothes to put out in the store.

When The Little Fox Shop first opened, it was only open one day a week, but Dorson, Weitzman, and later Stephanie Murphy (a store manager who joined about 7 years ago) were able to gradually increase the store’s operating hours until it was open 5 days a week. The Little Fox Shop raises funding for the Fox Library. According to its website, the store’s revenue has enabled the library to host more events, decorate, buy new fixtures, books, and video games, and stay open two more days a week.

Last year, the store was more popular than ever, Dorson says. The community loved it. And it came as a surprise to the store’s patrons and managers when it closed unexpectedly that August. WickedLocal Arlington reports that the Friends of the Fox board, who were in charge of dispersing funds raised to the town and approving major funding expenditures for the shop, fired Dorson and Murphy after a series of disagreements about Dorson and Murphy’s request for a raise and for the board to consider them payroll employees instead of volunteers with a stipend. Dorson says she was hurt the board was unwilling to negotiate with them; the store is very important to her and she, the store’s employees and volunteers, and the community were all disappointed to see it shut down.

Arlington’s government opened a Request for Proposal for applicants to open a resale shop in the space the shop had been. Dorson and Murphy teamed up with Weitzman to apply to reopen The Little Fox Shop. They won.

Dorson and volunteer Sandy discuss where to put a donation the shop received.

“The community support has been tremendous,” Dorson said. “People seem really excited for us to open up again.” After two hectic weeks of collecting mountains of donated goods, cleaning, and organizing, Dorson, Murphy, and their staff reopened the store on May 1st.

A parent shops for clothes during the grand re-opening.

The library threw a grand re-opening event on May 11. Dozens of parents and kids showed up to drop off even more donations, browse the newly set-up shelves, and eat donut holes. The store was noisy and crowded — at one point, a line stretched from the checkout counter to halfway through the store — but the managers and volunteers kept everything moving and organized with smiles on their faces.

Volunteer Victoria rings up a customer.

“[Running the store has been] kinda like raising a child,” Dorson says. Her kids were three and five when the store first opened. This year, her older son is a junior in high school and starting to think about college. And now that the Little Fox Shop has re-opened, she and Murphy have one more child’s future to think about again.

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