THE PLANNING OF THE WASHINGTON PARK
URBAN RENEWAL AREA
Between 1963 and 1975, the Boston Redevelopment Authority carved a 502 acre new community out of the ancient boundaries of Roxbury and called it Washington Park.§
It was a product of government intervention in housing that began with the Wagner -Steagal Housing Act of 1937 and it would be the last attempt by government to directly produce housing. After 1975, income base housing production would be built by community development corporations working in partnership with government and quasi government agencies.
The triangular shaped new community was as comprehensive as any urban renewal district in the region; indeed of the ten General Neighborhood Renewal Plans created by the BRA in 1961, Washington Park was the most self contained Urban Renewal District in the city. It included new police and fire stations, a courthouse, two public libraries, a shopping mall, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, a public recreation center that included gymnasium , pool and covered ice rink and outdoor basketball courts, a health center, elementary school and five garden style housing developments totaling almost 2000 apartments or townhouses all fully occupied today. At its completion in 1975, $70.4 million had been invested to build the new community of which $31. 3 million came from the federal government. The BRA estimated in 1978 that 2,600 families had been relocated due to the taking of thousands of homes and the leveling of 150 acres of land –over 1/4 of the site - to create the new community.
Washington Park was designed in part by four of the most prestigious architects of the day: Carl Koch, The Architects Collaborative, Hugh Stubbins and Kallman McKinnell and Wood. ( The latter two are still in practice designing significant buildings at the turn of the 21st century) . The Trotter Elementary School was designed in 1966-1967 by Drummey, Rosanne and Anderson, which designed two major public schools 36 years later, the Columbia Road and Mildred Avenue middle schools, both opened in 2003.
The most unique feature of Washington Park was that three of the housing developments were built and briefly owned and managed by churches: St Marks Church ( Marksdale Gardens ) Charles Street AME ( Charlame Homes ) and St Joseph’s Church ( St Joseph’s Co- ops).
St Marks and Charles Street AME were venerable black churches that symbolized the support and participation of the Black Elite ( in ‘ appropriate phrase) in Roxbury’s urban renewal. Unlike St Joseph’s Church , which had been a fixture in Roxbury since 1846, Charles Street and St Mark’s also symbolized the demographic changes that had been taking place in Upper Roxbury – from Townsend Street to Franklin Park – in the previous three decades. Eliot Congregational Church had planned on becoming the fourth faith- based housing developer at a site on Washington Street and Melnea Cass Blvd. but decided against the plan by 1972. 12th Baptist Church had also considered developing housing but settled instead for a parking lot on the cleared site of the famed Warren Chambers apartments at Warren, St. James and Regents Streets.
On January 14, 1963, over 1,200 Roxbury residents packed the auditorium of the former Boston Technical High School on Townsend Street and cheered BRA director Edward Logue when he presented the Final Comprehensive Plan for Washington Park to a meeting of the Boston City Council.§§ On April 23, 1963 formal approval was announced at Boston College by the Federal Urban Renewal Administrator William L Slayton (1918-1999).Two weeks later on May 10, 1963 Robert C Weaver the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency Administrator participated in the groundbreaking for Academy Homes ) on Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street. §§§
The enabling legislation that made Washington Park possible was Title I of the Omnibus Housing Act of 1949§§§§,as amended in 1954 and 1961. President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act into law after years of debate on July 5, 1949.
The 1949 Housing Act was an enlarged public housing bill proposed by a bipartisan collaboration to solve the growing problem of inadequate and substandard postwar housing made more urgent by the great need to house returning veterans and their new families. Private investment simply was not going into housing for the low and moderate income wage earner. Yet the private real estate industry was vociferously opposed to an expanded public housing bill as an amendment to the 1937 legislation that made possible Orchard Park, Heath Street and Lenox Street developments. In order to placate the National Association of Real Estate Board and the US Chamber of Commerce, whose opposition together with others had held up a new housing bill for 3 years, sponsors included Title I that authorized the federal government to enter into agreements for urban redevelopment with private enterprise and local government. ( The National Real Estate Board blasted the 1937 Housing Act for nearly 20 years as “undiluted socialism”).
The Housing and Home Finance Agency was authorized to assist local public agencies to assemble, clear and prepare sites either for sale or lease at fair market value for uses specified in the approved redevelopment plan. These uses could be for luxury housing to attract and keep taxpaying residents in the city, low income housing to alleviate blight or for new commercial and industrial centers to spur economic development.
The 1937 Housing Act demonstrated that for the first time in American history that it was the policy of the United States government to provide housing for its people; the 1949 Act declared that the national objective was also the redevelopment of urban blight.
James M Curley- then in his Last Hurrah as Boston’s mayor – authorized the City of Boston Planning Board§ in the summer of 1949 to draft a program of slum clearance for the next congress. Boston was eligible for a 40 –year loan in a ratio of 2 federal dollars for each city dollar in the designated development area. The city dollar could be in kind in the cash value of the land, demolition and/or site preparations. It was directed to designate development areas and prepare preliminary plans for rebuilding the sites after demolition and site preparation.
The City Planning Board designated 43 residential areas as redevelopment zones that included Lower Roxbury in the vicinity of Dudley Square, almost all of the South End, the West End, the centers of Charlestown and East Boston. A general Plan for Boston was submitted to Mayor John B. Hynes on Sept 20, 1952 and in October the Urban Redevelopment Division of the Boston Housing Authority proposed a Roxbury slum clearance project from Shawmut Avenue to Hampden Street. ( Roxbury Citizen. Oct.2, 1952. “Much talked about slum clearance project”). But this was soon substituted for the 48 acre West End and the 14 acre New York Streets section of the South End ( Washington-Herald and Albany Streets), The Federal Housing Administration approved these first two urban renewal districts for Boston and presented the city with a check for $1.5 million at a ceremony at the Sheraton Boston Hotel in April, 1956.
On August 2, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Housing Act of 1954 that broadened the provisions of Title I of the Housing Act of 1949 to include urban renewal : the rehabilitation of housing, including federally guaranteed bank loans; and construction of new housing to replace blight including grants to revise and update city building codes.
For Boston to be eligible for housing funds under the revised Title I it had to submit a Workable Program. The first Workable Program was the Washington Park Urban Renewal Area submitted to The Housing and Home Finance Agency in June of 1962. That Washington Park was included at all was the result of sustained community advocacy that urban renewal would come to Roxbury.
Many of the leaders of Roxbury in the 1950’s – both black and white (which in 1960 was a 70- 30 split with blacks being in the majority) - shared the concept of a Roxbury as a prosperous middle class community beset by increasing social problems.§ Beginning in 1949 with Freedom House and in 1954 with the creation of the Roxbury Community Council, residents of Roxbury started to organize around the effort to preserve their community and their way of life. This was given great momentum in 1958 when the Hynes administration began to promote Washington Park as an urban renewal district. These long time residents saw urban renewal as outlined by the Eisenhower administration as nothing less than the engine to halt the spread of blight and resolve the problems associated with blight- induced poverty.
Since the 17th century, Washington Park was just a nameless residential area south of the business district crowned by a wooded wold called Honeysuckle Hill.
The triangle of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Area began at the business district (but did not include it ),kept within broadways of Washington and Warren streets and swept up to Seaver Street overlooking Franklin Park. Within that triangle were two socio economic communities. One called Middle Roxbury lay between Dudley Square and Townsend Street where the houses were older, smaller, and densely grouped on narrow streets. These were the homes of the working poor, the blue collar wage earners of the Lower Roxbury factories or the Guild Street MBTA yard. The average income was at or below the poverty line
( $3000 in 1960) and these families found the low rents and easily accessible walk up flats affordable. Past Townsend street southward to Franklin Park was Upper Roxbury ( historically called Roxbury Highlands) of high shouldered homes and well appointed apartment houses on dignified tree lined streets that were homes for the professional and middle classes. Humboldt Avenue was their boulevard. Upper income blacks had been moving to Roxbury Highlands since the 1930’s and it was of tremendous importance for the future of the urban renewal planning that this Black Elite welcomed the planned rebuilding of their community. The largely blue color community of Charlestown successfully fought urban renewal; Roxbury couldn’t wait for it.
Eighty percent of the white families of Upper Roxbury was Jewish and they lived in a solid residential community dominated by two impressive synagogues, Beth Hamridrash Hagodol on Crawford Street built in 1914 and Congregational Mishkan Tefila completed in 1924 on Seaver Street. Indeed, Jews moved into and built up much of the housing in Upper Roxbury in the decade between the completion of these two buildings ( that were as much community centers as houses of worship ). The grand apartment blocks that characterize this area on Seaver and Maple Streets and Elm Hill Avenue to this day were all developed and designed by Jews. But after 1950, this solid middle class community was moving out and in 1958 Temple Mishkan Tefila followed its congregation to a new house in Newton.
This demographic change in so short a period of time was alarming to both the black and white the middle classes. One quarter of the housing stock was inadequate and absentee landlords were all too common and many just used their property as income streams housing low income Southern migrants escaping in large part the Civil Rights upheavals. Fires were happening too frequently and then banks refused mortgages an insurance companies refused to underwrite home policies. White families could leave; it was not that simple for blacks who faced housing discrimination in other parts of Boston and in the white suburbs. They could not just pick up and resume their middle class lifestyle elsewhere. Roxbury was their home and their future. Urban renewal was seen as the last chance to restore Roxbury to its place as a fine respectable residential community.
Two leaders stood up to defend Roxbury and their way of life named Otto and Muriel Snowden and they founded Freedom House as a direct response to the many pockets of blight that was becoming increasingly evident around Roxbury from dirty streets and neglected housing to crime and vandalism. Muriel Snowden, born in 1916 in Orange, NY and a 1938 graduate of Radcliffe, would be the most articulate spokesperson for the new Roxbury until the day she died in Sept. 1988. Otto Snowden was an army colonels’ son who despite being a pacifist served in the army in WWII just so he wouldn’t disappoint him. Born in Phoebus, Va, he moved to Boston in the 1920’s after his father retired. Otto graduated from Howard University in 1933.
Freedom House was founded in February of 1949 and incorporated on January 25, 1950. The boundaries of the new civic association corresponded exactly to the urban renewal lines a decade later. The goals were two: conserving and improving the Upper Roxbury neighborhood and providing greater contact and understanding within the community. Freedom House began in a small office over the Humboldt Theater at 151 Humboldt Avenue and Waumbeck Street.
( Today the playground of the Trotter School).
In 1952 with a $15,000 down payment raised from Boston businesses and philanthropies, Freedom House moved into the former Hebrew Teachers College at 14 Crawford Street in Grove Hall. The Teachers College, which had recently removed to Brookline, was built in 1923 as an addition to an existing Baptist Church. When the church burned in March, 1960, Associated Architects and Engineers designed a 2 1/2 story brick addition for freedom House completed in May, 1961. ( The former Hebrew Teachers College with its basement auditorium and the 1961 office and classroom wing are still in active use in 2005 as this is written.)
Throughout the 1950’s the Snowdens and their board drilled middle class homeowners to take over their own community and attack the urban deterioration rather than run away to the suburbs by means of neighborhood block associations under the umbrella of Freedom House. Twenty seven block associations had been formed by 1959. Freedom House was able to staff and coordinate these block associations with a 2 –year, $20,000 foundation grant that also enabled FH to establish contacts with Boston’s public agencies and create the networks that made Washington Park Urban Renewal possible. It was the Freedom House daily operations staff for the neighborhood groups that got out the crowd of supporters on April 15, 1959 for the first City Council hearing on the proposed urban renewal district for Roxbury.
Prior to 1957, the Boston Housing Authority ( established on October 1, 1935. MGL Chpt. 449 Acts of 1949) was the only pubic agency with the legal responsibility to carry out both public housing and redevelopment . In August of 1957, Mayor John B. Hynes established the Boston Redevelopment Authority with a four man board of directors as the agency empowered to implement urban renewal. It was approved by the State legislature on October 4, 1957 ( MGL Chpt. 150 Acts of 1957). In 1958 the City Planning Board approved a pilot urban renewal program for a 186 acre tract between Dudley and Townsend, Warren and Washington Streets. A planner named Lloyd Sinclair was transferred from the planning board to the nascent BRA and became the first project manger for what would become Boston’s first residential urban renewal area. Sinclair stayed with the project through 1961 bridging the mayoral administrations of John B. Hynes and John F. Collins.
Sinclair wrote the Washington Park preliminary report that he presented to the Hynes administration in January, 1959 and on March 2, the mayor submitted a planning application grant to the Federal Housing Administration for the Roxbury Renewal Project, the 186 acre tract lying between Dudley, Townsend, Warren and Washington Streets.§
In April, 1959, the Boston City Council held two public hearings on the new Washington Park plans at Roxbury memorial high School on Townsend Street attended by over 1000 residents who unanimously ratified the plans. The Federal Housing Administration approved the Plan on December 15, 1960.
Begun by Mayor Hynes, Washington Park Urban Renewal would be implemented and forever identified with Mayor John F. Collins (1919 – 1995)§§ elected in November, 1959.
Elected at age 40, the first Boston mayor born in the 20th century, the electorate saw in John Collins an active leader who could halt the city’s decline§§§ and lead the way to a New Boston ( Collins used this as a campaign slogan which was also the rallying call of Mayor John F Fitzgerald half a century earlier).
Mayor Collins moved swiftly to follow up the Hynes administration’s urban renewal plans for Government Center, the Prudential and Roxbury; indeed he staked his political career on the success of urban renewal§§§§; to coordinate it he hired Edward J Logue in March of 1960. In January of 1961 Logue was voted as director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Logue urged Collins to consolidate the planning board into the development authority and this was approved in Sept. 1960 ( MGL Chpt 121 a. Chpt 652 Acts of 1960). In the words of Walter McQuade writing in the June, 1964 issue of Fortune, Logue “ wanted to cook as well as serve.”
On September 24, 1960, Logue and Mayor Collins introduced their $90 million development program for Boston to the City Council. The Plan was a balance between slum clearance and renewal as well as a balance between downtown renewal area ( old Scollay Sqaure , the Back Bay ) and seven city neighborhoods from Allston Brighton to Roxbury.
The Black Elite of Roxbury were concerned that their community would be lost in this enormous and far reaching plan and the next day Freedom House sent Mayor Collins a telegram “ urging that full consideration be given to our community in light of [your] recent announcement of broad scale neighborhood improvement.” The Mayor promptly called the Snowdens to assure them that Roxbury would be given equal attention in the New Boston.
Once Logue became director of the enlarged BRA he quickly put Washington Park Urban Renewal ( WPUR) in high gear, The Plan had already been approved in July, 1960, but more than that was the fact that WPUR had a solid public constituency. Sensitive to the growing national controversy over urban renewal’s impact on black communities ( where it was not inaccurately called “Negro removal” ), and well aware of the terrible wrong of the West End, Logue needed public support and he moved to establish a partnership with the Snowdens and Freedom House to implement urban renewal for Roxbury. Muriel and Otto Snowden invited Logue to the dedication of the new Freedom House addition in February of 1961 where he was introduced to the black elite.
Muriel Snowden was convinced from the beginning that only Freedom House was the proper agency to negotiate with the BRA and for his part Logue never had any question that Freedom House was the right partner he needed to make WPUR work. In April, 1961, Freedom House was given a contract with the BRA to organize the community for urban renewal of Washington Park.§ Although there was suspicion that Freedom House had sold out to the BRA – and Mrs Snowden frankly recognized those suspicions - nevertheless the honest organizing approach taken by Freedom House helped bring about overwhelming support for Washington Park Urban Renewal. Moreover the strongly organized direction of Freedom House spared Roxbury the political infighting that happened during urban renewal in Charleston at the same time. Logue set up a schedule to have the renewal plans completed by the end of June and the project underway in October and to facilitate this timetable, Freedom House set up Citizens for Urban Renewal (CURE) on May 1, 1961.
In the fall of 1961 Lloyd Sinclair. BRA planner for Washington Park
(replaced by Robert Rowland early in 1962) announced that the boundaries of the urban renewal district for Roxbury would be extended to Seaver Street and now encompass 500 acres. This was because the area’s housing stock had declined since the first survey in 1958. A new survey of the original 186- acre site done in May of 1961 indicated that almost 50% of all buildings were so substandard they would have to be razed. This much intolerable to Logue and politically dangerous given the widespread public outcry against wholesale slum clearance across the nation; rehabilitation was the heart of the Washington Park urban renewal plan and to start off by bulldozing over half of its building stock would not be a good beginning. Logue wanted to make Washington Park Boston’s first residential rehabilitation project to take advantage of the new 1961 Housing act recently signed by President Kennedy that authorized federal mortgage insurance assistance and long term below market rate loans for new housing for the moderate income resident. So the target area was enlarged to soften the impact of the large scale clearance required in the lower half of the project area..
It was also good politics to include the neighborhood of the Black Elite in the renewal area. Freedom House had always wanted Upper Roxbury in the renewal district boundaries. Doubling the project boundaries enhanced the geographic and social integrity of the community and included all three of Roxbury’s main commercial districts as points of the triangle: Dudley Square, Grove Hall and Egleston Square. Seaver Street was the base to the renewal triangle.
On October 13, 1963, the BRA unveiled to CURE the first proposed plan for Washington Park urban renewal with a set of maps indicating the areas necessary to be cleared and those to be rehabilitated. CURE favored the plan that showed over 60% of the residents to be relocated. Renewal to CURE meant clearance and removal. There was no faith among the committee that homes slated for renewal could be rehabilitated. The present owners were low income without the credit rating needed to take out home improvement loans. In the view of CURE, these low income ‘ invaders” had to go. Washington Park was to be returned to the past as an integrated middle class community. “ This was the last chance for Roxbury.” ( Minutes March 13, 1961).§
This much clearance was unacceptable to Logue and he and CURE finally reached a compromise of 30% clearance which the committee reluctantly accepted on January 29, 1961.
A year later on March 13 1962, the BRA held the first of four public meetings at which the Washington Park urban renewal plan was described to and discussed by the community. The general plan by and large was exactly what was built within the next decade. The project area contained 502 acres almost 3/4’s of which was residential. It was proposed to clear 85 cares of approximately 985 homes and an additional 1500 commercial or non residential buildings, such as garages and old stables, The plan recommended that 248 acres of residential properties containing 1772 homes would be rehabilitated§§.
Bisecting the triangle nearly in half was the new Crosstown Boulevard that cut a four lane swath from a widened and straightened Warren Street to Washington Street. Humboldt Avenue would also be widened from its junction with the Crosstown to Seaver Street. The Crosstown (named in honor of Martin Luther King when it was completed in 1968) was originally conceived as a link in the I- 95 highway scheme as a feeder route from Columbia Road to an interchange at Heath Street.
Draped on these main public ways as well as Washington Street were five areas of clearance and rebuilding.
1.The largest area was the swath along Warren Street over to Walnut Avenue and Townsend Street that includes present day Warren Gardens, Washington Park Mall, Charlame Homes, Marksdale Gardens and the YMCA. 2.
2.At Dudley Square virtually the entire area below the base of St James Street to Dudley Street was razed for the new civic center destroying the Dudley Street Baptist Church, Rivoli Theater and the opera house. In their place was built the new Roxbury police station, public library, courthouse and Boys and Girls Club set in a split level plaza surrounded by a wide parking lot.
3. Almost the entire length of the east side of Washington Street from Dudley to Egleston Square was cleared for three housing developments - Washington Park I & II and St Joseph’s - and an enlarged public playground that included an indoor gymnasium and rink, swimming pool and basket ball courts and two baseball diamonds.
4. The rink, pool and basketball courts faced the Crosstown Blvd, all of which swallowed up Bainbridge, Mayfair and most of Bower streets as well as many homes.
5. In the center on the Crosstown and Townsend street was a shopping mall, Boy’s and Girls Club with a playground, a new St Mark’s Church and a third garden housing development.
Three schools were planned but only one was built on Humboldt Avenue at Waumbeck Street , the Trotter School. The other school sites on Circuit Street and Harold and Hutchings Streets became housing over twenty years after site clearance was completed.
An appendage to the triangle was the irregularly shaped 22 acre grounds of the Sisters of Notre Dame Academy high above Egleston Square and facing both Columbus Avenue and Washington Street. When the Sisters announced their intentions to remove to Hingham about 1961, the BRA included the estate into the boundaries of the renewal plan as the site for low income housing for those residents displaced from the Warren-Walnut Crosstown section. In this way new housing could be built without site clearance thereby keeping costs down and displaced residents would not have to leave the area unless they chose to. The first housing built in the renewal area was on 7.5 acres of the Notre Dame Academy campus called Academy Homes I.
Momentum was building on Washington Park’s renewal plans. On June 11, 1962, Edward Logue went before the city councils Urban Renewal Committee to announce Boston’s Workable Program for Community Improvement.§
Two weeks later on June 25, 1,100 people packed the BRA hearing room to listen to and submit their opinions on the Washington Park Workable Program and the Early Acquisition request. Public support was unanimous. After talking about it since 1954 most people wanted to get it underway. Renewal was a blessing for most residents of Roxbury, although for a few it was an opportunity to leave an undesirable place to live.
Mayor John Collins signed and forwarded the Early Land Acquisition Application to the US Housing and Home Finance Agency ( HHFA) requesting a loan of $5,098,326 under Section 202(a) of Title I of the Housing Act of 1949. The first three clearance sites were:
- Between Warren Street, from Regent to Monroe Streets, Walnut and Humboldt Avenue. 68 acres. 73 % of al buildings were beyond repair and would have to be razed. This area would be built over with Warren Gardens, Charlame Homes, most of Marksdale Gardens I. the new YMCA and the Crosstown Mall.
- Townsend Street, Humboldt and Harold Street. 7.2 acres, 61 % of all buildings would be razed. Built over for Marksdale Gardens II
- Deckard, Waumbeck and Humboldt Avenue. 10.7 acres. 75% of all buildings would be razed. This was built over with the Trotter School and playground.
The total acquisition costs based on BRA appraisals was $3.1 million and the cost of demolition, including site grading was estimated to be $1000 per building.
Between August, 1962 and the New Year of 1963, the BRA refined and added details to the plan and designated specific sites for housing, commercial buildings, schools, parks and the civic center.
There was no site for public housing. At the time 75% of the 1,700 families that needed to be relocated were income eligible for public housing, but there was no room for the black proletariat in the dreams of the black elite for the New Roxbury. Public housing was hotly debated and flatly opposed despite the fact that the gleaming new civic center would be built within sight of the drab brick walls of the Orchard Park Development. Orchard Park and all that it symbolized in the minds of the black elite was simply put outside the thick boundary line on the Washington Park Urban Renewal map. Except for two high rise towers for the elderly, the BRA completely excluded publicly subsidized housing in Washington Park.
At a public hearing on January 14, 1963 in the auditorium of Roxbury Memorial High School on Townsend Street , 1200 residents turned out to cheer BRA Director Logue predict “ a showplace neighborhood for Washington Park”
( Roxbury Citizen, Jan 17, 1963). Sixty eight days later the HHFA approved the Early Acquisition grant application.
The total cost of the Washington Park renewal plan was estimated to be $75 million. The city’s commitment was estimated at $25 million for site clearance, water and sewer and street reconstruction associated with the housing, civic center and new schools, The BRA would acquire the land, raze and clear the site, construct the infrastructure and then sell it to private developers. It was anticipated that private investment would be $30 million.
Section 112 of the Housing Act of 1961 provided for a 50% compensation on tax exempt land held by institutions. St Joseph’s Church land on Circuit and Regent Streets, the Sisters of Note Dame estate and Congregation Beth Hamidrash Hagodol at 105 Crawford Street ( the latter taken by the BRA for its site relocation office ) were all acquired for no less than 50% of the assessed value of the land and buildings.
Early in 1963 the BRA set up a relocation office in the rabbi’s chamber and class rooms of the old synagogue, which it formerly acquired on August 13, 1964.§ By that time, the old temple was bustling with an 82-person staff that was overseeing the building of Washington Park.
From December of 1962 through the end of the year of 1966, nearly 7000 people would be relocated, about 1/3rd of the population of Roxbury, both within and without the renewal boundaries. The greatest amount of clearance was the area north of Townsend Street wherein lived families living at the poverty line
( or $3000 a year in 1960). Almost no one was relocated in the area between Warren, Townsend, Humboldt and Seaver Street. That was Upper Roxbury – the home of the Black elite - and it was virtually untouched.
The urban renewal plan for Washington Park included a carefully prescribed set of design standards drawn up by a five man advisory team for each of the three building types in the renewal area: residential, commercial and institutional.
The five man team was selected by the BRA who met with redevelopment design staff monthly during and after the application process. These men were among the best practicing architects and planners of their day, three of whom designed signature downtown office buildings.
- HUGH STUBBINS ( b 1912). Architect. Team chairman. His most notable building is the Federal Reserve Bank on Atlantic Avenue 1976. Stubbins started out designing small, crisp- lined International Style homes in partnership with Royal Barry Wills beginning about 1936; one of which was in Needham.§
- JOSE LUIS SERT ( 1902- died in Barcelona in 1983). Architect. Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. His most famous building in the metropolitan area is the sprawling Undergraduate Science Center at Harvard University .1973.
- LAWRENCE ANDERSON. Architect. Dean of the MIT School of Architecture. He wrote the competition criteria for the New City Hall and the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank ( now Borders Books ) both of which were designed by Kallman, McKinnell and Wood.
- PIETRO BELLUSCHI. ( Born in Italy in 1899 – died in 1994). Architect. In partnership with the New York City high rise apartment house pioneer Emory Roth and Son, he designed One Boston Place. 1970.
- NELSON ALDRICH. Architcet. With his partners Campbell and Nulty, he designed the First National Bank of Boston. 1971.
The standards included height restrictions, set back limitations, density
and the percentage for parking. Height restrictions set for Academy Homes I , for example, was limited to 120 feet while St Joseph’s Co-op Housing could be no higher than 40 feet. The minimum set back form the public street was 30 feet such as at Marksdale Homes on Townsend Street.
All housing was to be designed in clusters around a shady terraced court or square in the garden apartment style that eliminated the street grid as much as possible. Although Washington Park avoided public housing in it’s scope, it imitated public housing planning in the use of regulated modular housing types set around tree filled courts with interior ways that broke the public street grid.
The most remarkable feature of Washington Park Urban Renewal Program was faith-based housing unequaled by any urban renewal district in Boston ( The South End had three housing developments built by churches; but the third – Rollins Square -was not completed until 2003).
Three of the six housing developments were built by churches: St Mark’s Congregational Church, Charles St AME Church and St Joseph’s Church.§ Two others –12the Baptist Church and Eliot Congregational Church, were tentatively designated for housing on two sites in 1965 and 1971 respectively but both dropped out of the projects. ( The BRA re-advertised the Eliot Church site for development in 2001 and is now Washington Commons town houses at Melnea Cass Blvd. and Elmore Street).
During the immigrant period, the church ( and the synagogue too) played a dominant role in easing the transition to American life and softening the hardships of poverty through familiar communal services, social clubs, settlement houses, welfare offices, industrial schools, homes for the aged and orphanages. For Irish Catholics and Blacks from the South or the Islands in Roxbury, each facing widespread discrimination, the church was essential to the quality of their lives for generations.
St Mark’s Congregational Church, 216 Townsend street, was the only church razed and rebuilt. The first St Marks’s was built about 1889 as a Quaker Meeting House that the black Congregational Society purchased in 1925. On Oct 12, 1928, it asked the Rev. Samuel L Laviscount of Detroit to become pastor.( He died in 1979 at age 90.)
On Sunday morning April 27,1941,Rev Laviscount laid the cornerstone for the new St Mark’s Social Center for Negro Boys and Girls on a lot next to the church and for the next 25 years it would serve as the center for the black middle class of Roxbury. The widening of Townsend Street and Humboldt Avenue required that the church and social center be razed. On August 21, 1968, the building permit for a new church was issued to Associated Architects and Engineers for a 2 1/2 story brick house of worship in simple English Gothic style facing Humboldt Avenue flanked by 98 units of cluster housing the church had just developed. Designed by Henry Boles, the church was dedicated on May 30, 1969. The St Mark’s Social center merged in Sept, 1967 with the newly formed Ecumenical Center located in a house at 25 Crawford Street, funded by the United Church of Christ and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. After 6 years of negotiation between the United Church of Christ, the BRA and HUD, the Ecumenical Center broke ground for a new $2 million multipurpose community center designed by Goody Clancy & Associates and developed by the United Church of Christ partly on the site of Beth Hamidrash Hagodol. The Center never fulfilled its purpose and the Crispus Attucks Childrens Center occupies the large building on its spacious lot today.
The second oldest black church in Roxbury was also one of Boston’s oldest black churches, the Charles Street AME Church established in 1833 moved into and took its name from the Charles Street Meeting House designed by Asher Benjamin in 1807 at the corner of Charles and Mt Vernon Streets on the water side of Beacon Hill. The congregation worshipped there from 1876 until 1938. The church followed it members to upper Roxbury and in 1939, acquired one of the city’s great church buildings, All Souls’ Unitarian designed by J Williams Beal in 1888 at the elbow of Warren and Elm Hill Avenue. On the second Sunday in April, 1939 the congregation set out on foot to walk the five miles to their new house of worship
( Boston Globe July 13, 2003 and Sept, 28, 1938.).
The church, the black church in particular, was also essential to the success of Washington Park Urban Renewal, One of the most important community meetings organized by Freedom House occurred in March of 1962 when 22 clergymen met with Freedom House and the BRA to be briefed on the plans for and the future of Washington Park. Prior to this date, the clergy had been left out of the planning process with the exception of St Mark’s Congregational Church where Otto Snowden had worked in the Social Center for Negro Boys and Girls when it opened in 1941.St Marks had been since 1925 the oldest black congregation in Roxbury and the center of black culture, politics and elite society. St Marks had been included in the CURE meetings from the beginning but the rest of the community clergy had not, an oversight Ed Logue addressed when he recommended a clergy briefing. There were two reasons for this:
- It built a reliable base of support for renewal- and with that displacement of homes and people.
- It opened the door to the church as a development partner.
The idea worked. Many church leaders attended the January, 1962 public hearing; one even brought his church choir to celebrate what he said was the coming of the New Jerusalem. Another declared that urban renewal would be the Garden of Eden for Roxbury. The remarks of several clergy turned into sermons and the hearing lasted until 1 am. Among those present were Rev. Walter C. Davis of Charles St AME, Rev Thomas Tierney of St Josephs Church, Rev Samuel Laviscount of St Marks and Rev Arnold Brown of Buelah Pilgrim Holiness Church.
In late September of 1963 architects’ plans were shown to Mayor Collins at City Hall ( then still on School Street) for $2.5 million of new, moderate income housing proposed to be built by St Marks Congregational Church and Charles St AME. Rev George Thomas of St Marks described his plan for Marksdale Gardens, designed by Henry Boles of Associated Architects and Engineers for 82 units of attached cluster housing on 3.5 acres.
Rev Walter C. Davis rolled out his plans for 92 units of housing on 4.6 acres called Charlame Terrace and designed by Rudolph Beders and Phineas Alpers ( Roxbury Citizen, October 4, 1963)>
These developments would be separated by the planned crosstown highway, Both Charlame and Marksdale would be enlarged in a second phase in 1966.
The Archdiocese of Boston built the last housing at Washington Park in the shadow of the venerable St Josephs Church on a 5 acre site nestled around the old brick building like a French parish village on Washington, Dale and Circuit Streets. Designed by Paul G. Feloney, as a 25 building cluster house garden subdivision of 125 homes. It was completed at the end of 1971.
§ “[ It] emerged as a distinct residential district at the stroke of the planners pen rather than through the logic of history or natural boundaries.” Langley C. Keyes, Rehabilitation Planning Game, MIT Press, 1969. Page 154. Washington Park originally was a 9 acre public open space preserved by the then city of Roxbury in 1867. The same planners pen doubled the park’s size a century later to 20 acres. §§ Boston Globe Jan. 15, 1963, page 1. See the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury Citizen of June 17, 1963 for the map of the area boundaries as presented to the Urban Renewal Agency.
§§§HHFA became the cabinet office of Housing and Urban Development in 1966 with Weaver as its first Director, the first black cabinet member. Weaver ( 1907 – 1997) began his career in government in the Roosevelt administration and served in the newly created US Housing Authority from 1937 to 1940. Weaver and Slayton Ways in Academy Homes I are named in honor of these two housing professionals.
§§§§ 63 Stat. 81st Congress, Chp 338 1949.
§ Proposed by Mayor John F Fitzgerald and authorized by the State Legislature in 1913.
( Chpt 41 MGL). It was Progressive Era legislation designed to rationalize and manage the dramatic and chaotic growth of Boston’s infrastructure. § At a City Council hearing in 1959 a BRA staffer declared that “Washington Park is one of the most rapidly declining areas of Boston and one which needs immediate and prompt attention.” Proceedings of the Boston City Council, March 2, 1959. § At the City Council hearing that approved the application, BRA Chairman Joseph W. Lynch said that “ Washington Park renewal area is the most logical starting point in the city’s ‘roll back the blight’ campaign. [ It is ] centrally located in one of the principal residential sections of the city.” Proceedings of the Boston City Council, March 2, 1959.
§§ The son of a chauffer, Collins was born at a hospital on Walnut Avenue and lived in his grandfather’s house at 10 Elmore Street ( taken and razed by the BRA 45 years later). A 1936 graduate of Roxbury Memorial high school, after service in WW II ,he served in the State House as Representative and Senator and in 1955 ran successfully for the Boston City Council despite being paralyzed by polio that struck him during the campaign and confined him to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. He served two terms as mayor and was succeeded by Kevin H White who served 4 terms.
§§§ The city lost 14,000 jobs, 100,000 residents, and $78 million in taxable assets in the business district alone during the decade of the 1950’s. The median family income was the 7th lowest in comparable American cities, and business and civic leaders had long ago escaped to the suburbs.
§§§§ Planning The City Upon A Hill, Lawrence W. Kennedy, UMass Press, 1992, Page 175.
§ In the September, 1963 issue of the Journal of Housing, Muriel Snowden described the partnership: “ with the push for an urban renewal project in the Roxbury neighborhood and with the support of municipal officials, the efforts of freedom House took their place within a larger conception. Here at last was a means of establishing the sought after relationship between citizens of a neighborhood and an over-all planning program where the success potential did seem great. Freedom House is the medium through which the vital two way communication between the BRA and the local citizens were established, because Freedom House has an intimate and sensitive knowledge of Washington Park, it has been possible to bring together very diverse elements to focus on urban renewal as a common concern.”
§ “ That summer of 1940, I went around the neighborhood of Waumbeck and Humboldt Avenue, which is something like Harlem’s Sugar Hill where I would later live. I saw those Roxbury Negroes acting and living differently from any black people I’d ever dreamed of seeing. This was the snooty- black neighborhood; they called themselves the “400” and they looked down their noses at the Negroes of the black ghetto[ ie middle Roxbury. ed ] where Mary, my other half sister lived [ on Dale Street, ed]. Under the pitiful misapprehension that it would make them “better,’ these Hill Negroes were breaking their backs trying to imitate white people.” Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Grove Press, 1964, page 34.
§§ This study is confined to new housing construction in the Washington Park Urban Renewal district. Briefly, rehabilitation was mainly devoted to single family or two family homes. But in August, 1965 the BRA assisted the owners of two large adjacent apartment blocks at 224- 236 Seaver Street and 1-10 Nazing Court to receive a $1.25 million rehabilitation grant that upgraded 10 housing units including new kitchens, bathrooms, all new wiring and exterior masonry repair work. It was the largest rehabilitation grant in the whole renewal project. In 2002 these same apartments underwent a $3 million rehabilitation funded by MassHousing, a quasi public housing bank founded in 1966.
§ “ Rehabilitation is the key to the Boston Program,” Logue told the councilors, “ It makes a shift away from the clearance project to the renewal rehabilitation project aimed at preserving an entire neighborhood. The heart and soul [of that renewal] is planning with people. It begins with an act of faith. The BRA and the neighborhood work together … and this joint effort is the basis for success.” § The front page of the January 14, 1965 edition of the Jewish Advocate ran a photograph of the synagogue under the headline “ Plan Rebirth of Razed Synagogue in Roxbury”
“ Congregation Beth Hamidrash Hagodol fell victim to the population shifts and the bulldozer of the ‘New Boston’, which claimed it so the land might be used for the building of a central activity center for Washington Park Urban Renewal…
“ Organized in 1913, the building was completed in 1916 [sic. Actually it was 1914]. In its day it was to the then burgeoning Jewish community in Roxbury everything a synagogue should be- house of worship, house of learning and assembly hall. At its apogee it claimed 500 members.” Formed in the old Jewish West End on North Russell Street in August,1903, the synagogue leadership followed the Jewish community to Roxbury a decade later and retained J Frederick Krokyn to design their large synagogue on an acre of ground at Crawford Street. Sixty five years later, Congregation Hamidrash Hagadol returned to the West End after the BRA sold it parcel 10 of the West End development area at 55 Martha Road. In 1969, CBT architects designed a one story brick synagogue that opened for high holiday services in September, 1971. The site of the old Crawford Street shul remains empty to this day( 2005).
§ Pencil Points. February, 1937. page 67. “The Architect and the Small House.” § Three churches were razed for the sake of urban renewal too. Dudley Street Baptist church ( 1852) was leveled for the new District II police station; St Richard’s Church on Buena Vista Street ( ca 1912) was taken up for Warren Gardens; and the oldest, St James Episcopal Church ( 1833 ) on St James St. opposite the MBTA yards was taken down for housing not built for another 20 years.
Dudley Street Baptist Church. The Baptists moved to Dudley Square in 1819 and in 1853 built their second and grandest house of worship. After 1901 when the elevated transit line was built, riders could look out the car windows and admire the wooden Gothic tracery of the spire. Slated to be razed for the new civic center, the minister and congregation held a farewell service on Dec. 27, 1964 before removing up the hill to Putnam Chapel of Roxbury First Church.( Boston Citizen “Boston’s integrated newspaper” ,Jan 8, 1965).
St James Episcopal Church was established in 1833 and was noted for its fine stain glass windows. ( See Boston Herald, April 6, 1903 page 4 for photograph of the church and line drawing of the sanctuary).The site lay vacant for nearly 25
years after the church was demolished until the BRA designated St James Estates to build 18 row house condominiums in 1989. Fuller Design and Stull & Lee, architects.
St Richards Church tucked up on Buena Vista St above Warren Streetwas replaced by Warren Gardens in 1965 and for two years served as the BRA site office. Built as a Unitarian Church in 1912, the stone church was bought by the Archdiocese as a black Catholic parish and rededicated by Richard Cardinal Cushing on April 7, 1946.