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Saving face: Lion’s head preserved from Somerville building ahead of Green Line construction





It’s a sign of good things to come — especially for commuters.

A concrete sculpture of a lion’s head that graced a historic building in Somerville for nearly a century was successfully removed from its perch this week to make way for new development — including construction of the MBTA’s Green Line extension.

The lion’s head was taken down Tuesday from the Homans Building, a large brick structure built in 1929 by Reid, Murdoch & Co., a one-time wholesale grocer out of Chicago.

The Gilman Square facility is scheduled for demolition in the coming weeks, according to an MBTA spokesman. An electrical substation and other Green Line extension-related infrastructure, as well as new developments, will eventually take its place. The Green Line’s new Gilman Square Station will also be located nearby. Until then, the space will serve as a staging area for the project.

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But before the building comes down, efforts were made to keep at least one small part of the city’s history intact.

Crews were tasked with preserving the intricately carved face of the lion that lived above the building’s facade.

The work to extract the lion was monitored by the Somerville Historic Commission, officials said.

Somerville city planner Sarah White said ideally, the lion’s head will be incorporated into Gilman Square when the re-imagined neighborhood around the new T station is complete.

“This is the symbol of Reid and Murdoch, this wholesale grocer that moved into the area” nearly 100 years ago, she said. “It’s representative of the square.”

The city will welcome input from the community about the appropriate place to showcase the lion as plans emerge.

Because there were concerns that the lion could crumble, workers from Skylight Studios in Woburn took a silicone mold of the face and its surroundings as a precautionary measure last week. Casts of the mold could also be made and displayed around the neighborhood, White said.

The video production company Above Summit shared a time-lapse video Wednesday of the sculpture’s removal.

In the clip, workers are seen carefully removing bricks from around the lion’s head, trying their hardest not to disturb it or let it fall. Eventually, they secure the head with a yellow harness and safely lower it to the ground.

In a tweet, Mayor Joe Curtatone said the lion’s head “is currently in storage in a safe and secure location. I have been informed that we are feeding it healthy foods.”

Officials (finally, after three prior ceremonies) broke ground on the Green Line extension in June. The project, which will eventually extend the light rail system 4.7 miles through Somerville and Medford, had been hampered by delays for years.

Luis Manuel Ramirez, general manager of the MBTA, said in a statement that from the start of the Green Line extension’s planning process, the transit agency has remained committed to working closely with the communities they will serve.

“This week’s preservation work reflects the MBTA’s desire to maintain strong partnerships with our [Green Line Extension] neighbors and stakeholders,” he said.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.




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