The trees on Westminster Street are a mixture of honey locusts and kwanzan cherries. They were planted in 1989 when the all-pedestrian Westminster Mall was demolished. In the wild, most honey locusts have sharp, six-inch thorns and messy seed pods. This variety, Gleditsia triacanthos ‘inermis’, has been specially bred to have neither. They live to up to 130 years old, and according to Doug, the City Forester, are “one of the toughest urban trees around.”
Peter works from home as a graphic designer, and takes breaks to photograph birds from the roof of his apartment building. He then puts his pictures online, and sometimes exhibits them. “If you’re walking past Kennedy Plaza and you see the pigeons are going nuts, maybe the red-tailed hawk is there. It’s funny, it is a downtown area, but the other day there was an owl in front of Starbucks. I’ve also seen a kestrel right outside my window, and an osprey by Waterplace Park. But the falcons are just beautiful. I can’t believe I get to see them every day.”
The evergreen shrub outside AAA is a Japanese yew whose Latin name is Taxus cuspidata. Originally from East Asia, examples have been found in Russia that were over a thousand years old. Behind it are planters, donated to the city two years ago by The Arcade. They’re empty right now, but every spring, they are filled with flowers such as petunias, begonias and impatiens by the Downtown Improvement District, who also maintain the seasonal hanging baskets on the lampposts.
Matilda the bulldog comes to Westminster Street a couple of times a month, along with her owners, Rich and Sheryl, from their home on the East Side. “She’s really a city dog,” says Sheryl. “Most stores downtown let her in, which is part of the reason we bring her here.” Matilda is seven years old, and used to belong to a family with six girls. “They dressed her up all the time,” says Rich. “We tried one time to dress her as a French poodle. She didn’t like that at all.”
Between 1960 and 1994, Woolworth’s occupied the space where Elsa Arms, Homestyle, and Eno are today. Its pet department began in the basement, before moving to the ground floor in the late 1980s, to be closer to the toy department. Don was store manager then. “We had hamsters, guinea pigs, goldfish – not that much.” Today, he runs a pet store in East Providence called Dr Doolittle’s.
Charlie likes to watch life on Westminster Street, from a window perch on the sixth floor of the William H. Low Building. A kitten of seven months, he was born a few blocks away in the Providence Animal Rescue League shelter. “They called him ‘Leather Face’, from the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” say his owners, Andrew and Lyra. “Because of his little moustache, we renamed him ‘Charlie.’”
The dogs who sniff them may not know it, but the cast-iron tree grates and some of the trash cans on the street have a canine connection. They were made twenty years ago by Urban Accessories in Tacoma, WA, and were named “OT”, after the company owner’s husky, Otie. Although no longer alive, Otie’s image still graces their catalogs today.
The peregrine falcon is the fastest creature on the planet, reaching speeds of more than 200mph in its hunting dive. Two of them live in a special box on the Bank of America building, and can often be seen flying around Westminster Street. The female has been here for ten years, and she’s now with what is thought to be her third mate. Last year, they had four chicks together – all of whom flew elsewhere as soon as they were big enough.