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Vision and Reality: The Story of the Clifton Improvement Association and Beach Bluff Park

By Lynn Nadeau

The CIA was founded in 1934 by a group of summer residents with a vision that included making Preston Beach available to all who lived in the immediate neighborhood. In 1945, five families donated five buildable lots to this neighborhood association. That land has been used for parking for Preston Beach ever since. 

During the war years, there were lifeguards on the beach who instructed the youngsters from 10am until noon. Summer people and neighborhood people mingled and befriended each other on the beach. There were regular meetings of the CIA which resulted in the building of the Eveleth School. 

During the 70's and 80's, the CIA became moribund but was revived in the 90's with meetings and projects including the building of the little shed on the lot. 

Allie Blodgett remembers the day  when I telephoned her husband, Donald, whose family had owned the land abutting the sea and Preston Beach, introduced myself and suggested that the vacant beach lot would make a nice park. Donald’s immediate response was, “I’ve been waiting 25 years for this call.”

After that phone call in 1991, lawyers Doug Nadeau, Paul Levenson and Steve Small worked with Donald to create Beach Bluff Park which sits on the Swampscott border. The process was lengthy; it involved the Swampscott Conservation Commission, the state, and the federal government. But it worked; the CIA received nonprofit status and the land was transferred. These two generous gifts of land demonstrate the community spirit, volunteer involvement and dedication that have characterized the CIA.

Since then, Beach Bluff Park has become a quiet oasis, used and loved by neighbors, commuters, and passers-by. Admirers of sea and sky enter the Swampscott park on a walkway of planks and wander the paths or settle comfortably on one of the benches. The parking lot across the street, in Marblehead, has a useful shed and water source. Lauren Lautner, landscape designer, has voluntarily organized the plantings of trees and bushes, grasses and flowers in both areas.

These properties have symbolized the CIA’s community spirit, volunteer involvement, and dedication.

Then in April, 2007, a wild nor'easter wrecked the wall that had protected the park from the sea. Benches and walkways were swept across Atlantic Avenue. The native bushes and plants were flooded by sea water. It was a disaster!

Immediately, another benefactor with a vision stepped in. Alexander and Nora Falk, who had purchased the house next door two weeks earlier, contacted me. “We see the CIA wall and our wall as one project.” Alexander announced. “If you like, as we plan our wall, we will ask our architects and engineers to also plan yours.” Since then the Falks have generously donated their time, their resources, and their financial support to see the walls protecting both properties completed. The two seawalls were completed in late spring of 2009.

The Sun Circle, a stunning basalt sculpture created by architect and sculptor Bruce Greenwald, serves as a gathering place for small ceremonies. The Sun Circle marks the rising and setting sun on the horizon throughout the year for the edification of visitors.

Through memberships, donations and gifts, the CIA is raises monies for all park operations including the maintaining the floodwall and the Sun Circle. The community has contributed generously to further the visions of those who have donated the land and those who donated their energies and resources to create an area for everyone to use and enjoy.