Security bollards being installed in front of State House

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, thigh-high bollards and giant planters sprouted outside government buildings across the country to deter terrorists and keep car bombers at bay.

Now, some 21 years later, the Massachusetts State House is going the same route, although the bollards – vertical posts secured in concrete – are being installed not to protect the historic building itself but the people who regularly hold protests, rallies, and press conferences on its front doorstep.

The State House is one of the most iconic buildings in Boston, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and identified as both a national and a Massachusetts historic landmark.

The bollards being installed near the sidewalk along Beacon Street represent a fairly dramatic change to the view of the State House. 

Bollards are typically used to prevent vehicular access to a building, but that’s not needed at the State House, which sits atop a hill, elevated well above Beacon Street and set off by fencing and stone walls. The terrain would make it nearly impossible for vehicles to take a run at the building.

A state official, who asked not to be identified, explained that the bollards are not designed to protect the State House itself.

“The installation of these barriers is designed to protect people who gather at the base of the State House front steps (for example, for a rally or press conference) from vehicles traveling on Beacon Street that could potentially jump the curb,” the official said in an email. “This is part of a larger series of upgrades to the exterior of the building. Similar barriers are already in place along Mt. Vernon and Bowdoin streets.”

The official described the barriers as “precautionary.”

The official said no summary of the work currently being done at the State House was available, but noted a heavy focus on dealing with water infiltration at many locations by removing and replacing pavers, stairs, balustrades, walls, sidewalks, and other features. As part of the work on the so-called West Wing Plaza, a statue of former president John F. Kennedy has been moved down much closer to Beacon Street.

It appears a large chunk of the work, including the bollards, is focused on enhancing security at the State House. The Massachusetts Historical Commission in March 2020 reviewed what it called the State House Security Improvement Project. 

In a letter to the state officials overseeing the project, Brona Simon, the executive director of the commission, said a proposed redesign of the handicapped accessible entrance on the Ashburton side of the building, including the removal of two staircases and the conversion of a window into a door opening, would have an “adverse effect” on the State House. Simon recommended eliminating or mitigating the changes.

Simon raised no objection to the bollards in front of the State House.




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