PEM Expansion — Shade Trees Are Not Really The Issue

Community perceives a lack of respect from the Peabody Essex Museum as construction plans are released.


There are days when I am surprised at how easily people's emotions can be stirred — in this case it is the future, or lack thereof, for two small Honey Locust trees, seven Red Oak trees and the location of a construction crane on the pedestrian mall.

As a young Derby Street kid I remember walking across the old Empire's parking lot as I crossed from Charter Street to Essex Street. I could have been going to Almy's or on my way to mow the lawn at my grandfather's house in North Salem.

As I approached what was once Liberty Street, I would stop and watch as a large hole was excavated for the foundation for the first expansion of what we knew then as the Peabody Museum. Later downtown, journeys that summer were interrupted to watch steel beams go up. The arrival and placement of the huge stone facade panels kept me fascinated.

Whatever controversy came with that project escaped me. My interests as a 12-year-old were elsewhere.

Some years later when the museum expanded again, there were multiple issues that resonated with locals. Mention Liberty Street, the Armory facade, the Church Street parking lot, the Marine Arts Gallery or the Essex Institute to a Salem native and you are sure to get an earful. Memories are long and in many cases grudges are still held.

There is also a perception that it is the that is driving the current plans to "improve" the pedestrian mall. I am one who believes that is true.

The recent Public Shade Tree Removal Hearing where the fate of seven trees that line the southern side of the pedestrian mall between New Liberty Street and East India Marine Hall was discussed has stirred those old memories and freshened a few of those grudges.

The PEM has ambitious and expensive plans. They have become a world-class destination museum. 

What they have not become is an institution that demonstrates a feel and understanding for the community in which they do business. Ask the typical Salem resident what the PEM does to support the schools, children's organizations and businesses in town and you will get a blank stare. This doesn't mean they do nothing; it means that they are not visible enough.

Seven trees have the potential to either derail their public relations campaign or keep it on track. It would be nice to hear the PEM tell us exactly what their plans are, how they arrived at those plans, and what will be done to replace those trees or to pay for their loss.

How about plans for those mall businesses that put push carts in that area? Are their plans to assist them for the duration of the construction?

In the same vein, where is the replica of the Paul Revere Bell at Armory Park? It disappeared this week.

This issue isn't really about trees or bells. It is about respect for the community through due public process and direct communication with those who are affected. The trees are nice, but they can be replaced. 

PEM hired the very well-known and respected Claudia Chuber to help them overcome their own local public relation shortcomings. It is past time for some true public outreach.

You have a nice air-conditioned auditorium, PEM. Maybe it's time for the public to have a chance to speak directly with those who are doing the planning.

roger August 14, 2012 at 11:32 AM
developers don't care about trees, they don't even care about people, they only care about developing. obviously pem doesn't care. to them it's all about the bottom lline..money and greed... the last time pem expanded salem lost a street and they completely changed the way we get around downtown. like all other developements, the trees will soon be gone and forgotten but it's good to know that someone has the guts to make it into a public forum...thanks bill legault
DBL August 14, 2012 at 01:18 PM
The party line is "it brings people into Salem who spend money". The underlying message is the people who live here and pay taxes are supposed to suck it up. We are always expected to sacrifice our quality of life with the promise that it will make Salem a better place to live. I have yet to see it........
James R. Willis Jr. August 14, 2012 at 02:05 PM
The PEM doesn't care about the people.of Salem. They already have the unconditional support of the Salem Partnership, SNews, and the city's political establishment, so why bother?
Jack Carver August 14, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The trees dont stand a chance, They ruin the look of the PEM entrance. Probably the same consultant that recommended removing the Armory for the same reason, In my book that old burned out Armory still had more class then the Peabody Museum ever will. Look at the 2nd picture and you decide if it was structurally unsound. http://www.salemweb.com/cgi-bin/discus/discus.cgi?pg=next&topic=13750&page=41763
chester suchecki August 14, 2012 at 04:00 PM
since the pem has such deep pockets for expansion its time they start paying the city some substantial tribute for hosting their existence. we all know that the pem is deeply politicaly connected to the city and state. the residents have to foot the bill for the streets that border the pem properties not just downtown but all over town. salem plows sands, and sweeps the streets for the museum for a meer pittance in tribute every year. its time to pay up pem.
Nelson Dionne August 14, 2012 at 04:27 PM
As likely as not, what get's planted in the Essex St Mall will be determined by a Landscape Architect and/or Registered Arborist. Different amounts of sunlight, canopy space, salt tolerance, etc. may require changes in the tree variety's. . A project of this size has likely already factored trees & landscaping into the finished project. There are far more choices in this matter than one might be aware of.
Don Nadeau August 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I moved "over the bridge" into Salem partly to take advantage of free admission to PEM. Something I have not lived up to. Hopefully this forum will lay out what PEM does and should do. I am thrilled it keeps my ancestral family papers safe. I heard they plan to raise the garden a floor for a restaurant across from the new one.
Danielle August 14, 2012 at 06:33 PM
The non working fountain would be a great place to put that stupid crane.
chester suchecki August 14, 2012 at 08:17 PM
whats wrong with the trees that are there? they are mature hearty healthy trees that get watered by every dog from coast to coast. leave them be and get rid of the cobble stones so everybody including the handicaped can walk or roll on the street comfortablly.
chester suchecki August 14, 2012 at 08:21 PM
as another thought there are companies out there that move mature trees with minimal damage to the tree. this is an alternative that should be looked into intead of cutting down and wasting beautiful mature trees.
Americus Bell August 14, 2012 at 09:21 PM
@Don Nadeau, if your family papers are at the Phillips Library, I hope you've already paid your respects. You may never see them again. Aside from the travesties listed in this column, that many of us will *never* get over - a little background on the library. In 2004, this wretched elitist museum rolled back the hours of the PL. I didn't find the original article in the SEN, but here's a good whack at it, and the policy. New Phillips Library policies still a matter of concern [to put it mildly - AB] http://www.ecnnews.com/cgi-bin/s/brimons.pl?slug-slettdv The PL houses the witch trial records, but heaven forbid those ever see the light of day again, literally, is my guess. Currently, check the PL/PEM web site: "Hours & Information - Closed for renovations" http://pem.org/library/information Really??? Bill did an excellent, and IMO, well understated précis on what has gone before. And guess what? NOTHING has changed. Salem citizens are second class citizens, and that bunch doesn’t give rat’s azz. They will do what they want, when they want, and how they want, and no one will have the will or the cajones to say no. SOSDD. Or, SOSDY(ear). Just watch. Ms. Chuber has her work cut out for her.
Keep Salem Trashy! August 14, 2012 at 10:50 PM
I had no idea this opinion was so widely shared. The museam should have a community liaison that actually bothers to answer questions, pick up the phone or return an email and generally interects with the community. Their ground level communication is non-existent and it does needlessly stir up resentment.
Cindy Johnson August 15, 2012 at 01:20 AM
I'm not well-versed on the renovation project, but my opinion is that PEM does contribute to schools and children's organizations. Both schools my children attended had many field trips to PEM, which included a variety of engaging, guided activities--not just museum admittance. I've also observed throngs of kids from the Salem Y and Boys and Girls Clubs go there on field trips. There have also been programs where school children can contribute art. PEM feels like family. My kids even give hugs to some of the security guards who know them well. That's what I call good public relations.
Denise Kent August 15, 2012 at 10:28 AM
It's not about trees, so why all the tree comments? The concern is over the PEM's lack of communication and perceived (actual?) diregard for residents, and how their continued expansion and failure to keep promises have left many citizens suspicious and jaded. I enjoy the PEM, but I also miss the irginal, crowded, quiky collection, and long to see those treasures returned to a permanent display. I also worry that Essex Street is becoming "PEM Street", as the museum acquires building after building. So, no, it's not about trees- it's about trees, traffic (pedestrian mall survival), and the changing character of our downtown, which may affect our quality of life. It's about transparency, respect for community, and fulfillment of promises.
Stanley Eisen August 15, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Jacquie Valatka August 15, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Why would anyone bash one of the best things Salem has to offer? Our kids have visited with their school classes & they have hung their own artwork through collaborative events like "Art Can Make a Difference" with the SEF. Children are inspired & have developed a love of history, art & museums by the hands on approach. We have participated in countless world-class int’l festivals and exhibitions for free by being Salem residents. The PEM feels like family to me, when my dad was ill it was the last place he got to enjoy art & on my daughter’s 6th birthday she asked to go to the PEM. We have seen local shops & restaurants open & flourish since the PEM's first major expansion. Now the PEM is expanding again and will reinforce Salem’s reputation as a world-class destination. Come on Salem - let us treasure one of the city’s gems.
john August 15, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Because they dont pay taxes.
Salem is my home August 17, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Sheesh! I'm SO "with" Jacquie Valatka. The PEM is one of the best museums in the world -- and I have had the good fortune to travel widely and go to MANY museums. And it seems to me that the PEM gives a LOT back to the community, starting with free admission (I don't see the MFA or the Science Museum giving DAILY free admission to Boston residents, do you?) It holds a lot of terrific programs all of us can attend just by walking in; the magnificent Moshe Safdie building is a tremendous anchor on a mostly pedestrian pedestrian mall (that's an intentional repetition), and yes, it does bring a lot of people to a our city who wouldn't (as I wouldn't) come for all the Witch Kitsch. Yes, the PEM may have hastened the demise of some businesses (my favorite, Signatures, is one), but I hope it DOES start doing a better job of addresing all these public relations issues. Wake up folks, the world is changing -- all the businesses Mr. Legault mentioned in his article are gone, gone, gone and wouldn't be here whether the PEM was there or not. Let's leave the "history" behind and value such a wonderful asset!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something