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Charlestown’s Toni Pollak Retires After Record-Setting Service to City of Boston

Boston Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak (center) was the guest of honor at her retirement celebration hosted by the Boston Park Advocates at the Fairmount Copley Plaza. Photo: Roger Farrington
Boston Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak (center) was the guest of honor at her retirement celebration hosted by the Boston Park Advocates at the Fairmount Copley Plaza. Photo: Roger Farrington

Charlestown resident Antonia M. Pollak officially retired on February 28 after more than 11 years as Boston’s longest-serving Parks Commissioner, the second woman to ever fill the post.

“Toni Pollak’s accomplishments are evident in all of our City parks as well as the programs and events that will continue well after her retirement from the Boston Parks and Recreation Department,” noted Mayor Martin J. Walsh.  “On behalf of all of our city’s residents and visitors, I thank her not only for her service as Parks Commissioner but for her dedication and hard work since joining the City of Boston in 1995.”

Ms. Pollak was appointed Parks Commissioner by former Mayor Thomas M. Menino in April of 2004 after serving as Acting Commissioner for the Parks Department following the untimely passing of her esteemed predecessor and Boston’s first female Parks Commissioner, Justine M. Liff, in the fall of 2002.

During her tenure, Ms. Pollak oversaw $110 million in capital investment in over 148 parks and improved playgrounds, athletic facilities, natural areas, and historic landscapes in all of Boston’s neighborhoods.  In addition, she was responsible for guiding and permitting programming in City parks that included such highlights as ParkARTS events and workshops, Shakespeare on the Common, Wednesday night concerts on City Hall Plaza, holiday celebrations including the annual Boston Common Tree Lighting, and the Mayor’s Garden Contest and Neighborhood Coffee Hours. 

Ms. Pollak oversaw 2,200 acres of open space in Boston and 225 employees in the Maintenance, Design and Construction, Cemeteries, Urban Wilds, Historic Burying Grounds, Park Rangers, Finance, Permitting, Personnel, and Marketing divisions. The open space locations under her jurisdiction were comprised of parks, playgrounds, tot lots, squares, cemeteries, urban wilds, and traffic islands, as well as the city’s street trees.

A graduate of Boston University with additional studies at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Ms. Pollak first joined City Hall as a member of the Menino Project staff in 1995.  There she developed public policy for a broad range of citywide issues including preservation, environment, development initiatives, and tourism in tandem with cultural and educational institutions throughout the city. 

Appointed to the Public Facilities Commission in 1997, Ms. Pollak was named Director of the City’s Environment Department in 1999 where she administered City of Boston historic preservation, conservation, air pollution control, archeology, and wetlands regulations, programs, staffing, and budgets.  In addition, she was in charge of oversight regarding environmental issues surrounding the Central Artery Project, served as the City’s National Trust liaison, and was appointed by Mayor Menino to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 2000.

Her experience working with all levels and areas of government was critical to the success of several major capital projects undertaken during Ms. Pollak’s years as Parks Commissioner. 

These collaborative projects included: reclamation of Boston Harbor’s Spectacle Island from a landfill into a major hub in the Harbor Islands park system featuring a pier, marina, visitors center, thousands of trees and shrubs amid acres of meadowlands, and five miles of ADA accessible stone dust paths;  the $90 million Muddy River Flood Risk Management and Environmental Restoration partnership between the City of Boston, the Town of Brookline, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that, when completed, will include the daylighting of portions of the river that had been diverted underground and dredging of the ponds and river from Olmsted Park in Jamaica Plain to the Back Bay Fens; conversion of the vacant Men’s Comfort Station on Boston Common into the Earl of Sandwich restaurant; restoration of Brewer Plaza on Boston Common by the Friends of the Public Garden; the transformation of the Stony Brook Gatehouse in the Back Bay Fens into a visitor’s center in collaboration with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission; and the 2003 opening of the East Boston Greenway featuring paths for pedestrians, bicyclists, and in-line skaters, areas for passive enjoyment of the park, and a genuine railroad caboose placed as a nod to the park’s past as a Conrail right-of-way.

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