By Ellen Hume

We are asking North Enders to sign our petition at www.savethenazzaro.org to stop the possible sale and demolition of the Nazzaro Community Center building at 30 N. Bennet St. Do we really need more luxury condos, taking away our public space in the heart of the neighborhood? We will present our campaign at the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association meeting on December 13, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Nazzaro Center. Please come!

Everyone knows the iconic Nazzaro Center, which has been the center of community life here for generations.  Opened in 1910 as the elegant North End Bath House and Gymnasium, it is heavily used as a gym, school playground, and senior center. This is the staging place for the bands at our feasts, our official community meeting and voting location, and a beloved cultural landmark.  It is featured in architecture books and on Boston’s commercial walking tours, as a beautiful example of what still makes this Boston’s “Little Italy.”

Nazzaro Community Center, 30 N. Bennet St.

Now some city officials want to sell this unique North End cultural asset for private condo development. The only way to get the expanded community facilities that the North End needs, they say, is to abandon the centrally-located Nazzaro building, by selling it, or by tearing it down. They are offering to demolish the current building and build a modern community center over Polcari Park, losing our playground, and it would still be too small. Even the city planners didn’t like this option!

A lot of North Enders are saying No Deal.

“We shouldn’t have to sell what we already have, to get new facilities for our children,” a North End parent said on election day Nov. 7, as she signed our Landmarks petition outside the Nazzaro Center. On that first day, over 700 registered voters signed to protect the building, despite the pouring rain. We have a big stack of signature pages, reflecting opposition from every corner, age group and background in the North End. Since the Landmarks Commission staff said that they can’t process this many official signatures, we are asking new supporters to sign a separate petition at https://www.change.org/p/boston-mayor-marty-walsh-save-the-nazzaro-center-and-polcari-playground that we plan to present directly to Mayor Walsh.

We believe there is a reasonable compromise. We are asking the city to preserve the beauty of this historic building and the open space of its popular playground between Prince and North Bennet Streets, while also ensuring that they are fixed up for continued public use. They should also build a new indoor basketball court and other facilities in a second location. It’s only a matter of money. Are our city leaders willing to invest in the North End, or just sell our precious assets to pay for what our community needs?

Ironically, the Nazzaro building bears the name of a local hero many people will remember, who saved the North End from being destroyed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority decades ago. State Sen. Michael Nazzaro Jr., seeing what had just happened to the nearby West End, successfully lobbied to preserve North End’s historic buildings from demolition by the city.

Originally sponsored by President John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, Mayor “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the building was designed after the Villa Medici in Rome, by a famous Boston architect, John Maginnis. Opened in 1910 as the North End Bath House and Gymnasium, the Nazzaro Center tells the other history of the North End, which is as important as the famous Revolutionary period: the time when millions of working-class immigrants poured in from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century, building the America we know today. The Bath House was converted into a community center in 1984 and Mayor Menino renovated the building 20 years later, for $1 million, including a new floor on the basketball court.

Now the Nazzaro Community Center is too small and it needs repairs. The Nazzaro’s new director Stephen Siciliano said in a comment on this site that the current location doesn’t work because there is only so much space and there is no way they will be able to accommodate the real needs of our community and not one specific group. For seniors, if the new location would be the Mirabella, he suggests shuttle service to/from the Nazzaro. John Romano, another one of the Mayor’s 10 official advisors on the project, says the Nazzaro is just a “pile of bricks” that should be torn down.

We strongly disagree! As North End tax payers, we deserve more from our government. Our youth population is indeed growing, and there is a waiting list for Nazzaro programs. But the North End’s historic culture is essential to the economics of this neighborhood. We shouldn’t have to sell our crown jewels to get the expanded facilities we deserve. We shouldn’t have to move all our community programs away from the heart of the neighborhood to a much less desirable location, because someone sees a way to make money with this choice parcel.

Other Boston neighborhoods like Charlestown and Beacon Hill have community programs in multiple locations, and are also protected as official historic districts.  The North End, which contributes significant revenue to the city as a celebrated tourist magnet and restaurant district, is famous for our “Little Italy” culture. But even though we are Boston’s oldest neighborhood, the North End is not designated as a protected historic district. The Mayor can sell off our public assets with impunity.

“We need to keep our community center here, in the heart of neighborhood,” said Marie Simboli of Prince Street, a life-long North Ender who is helping to lead the Save the Nazzaro effort. “The North End shouldn’t have to lose its culture and public space to build more condos and pay for a new basketball court on the waterfront.  Seniors and little kids won’t be able to cross Causeway Street. And think of the flooding there!”

Simboli and her neighbors believe the city should redesign the inside of the Nazzaro building on N. Bennet St., protecting its unique architecture and public use, while adding new facilities in a second location, such as the city’s Fulton Street parking lot. This was the most popular view on October 17 among the standing-room-only crowd of concerned parents and citizens, when the city finally briefed us on their plans. The city planners had once considered the Fulton Street option, but for some unexplained reason, took it off the table. Was it because the city-owned parcel there is considered too tempting for some luxury condo developer?

The city’s consultants, working on a $3 million design and site selection contract, acknowledged that they have obtained a commercial real estate assessment on the Nazzaro building, for $8 million. They said that they haven’t even considered the logical solution of expanding the programs into two locations.

We need to tell the Mayor that there are limits to how much luxury housing Boston needs, especially at the cost of our North End legacy and quality of life. Please come to our presentation to the North End / Waterfront Residents Association at 7 p.m. on Dec. 13 at the Nazzaro Center, and sign our petition at www.savethenazzaro.org.

[Ed note: This post was updated on December 13, 2018 to clarify statements by the Nazzaro Director. Please also view the City’s response in Mayor’s Column, Setting the Record Straight About the Nazzaro Center.]


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30 COMMENTS

  1. The open space at the Nazzaro produces an important visual effect for the neighborhood. Is is not a treat to see openness and children and trees? It is a breath of fresh air and badly needed as a nucleus for residents of all ages. Losing the Nazzaro and the open space would ‘shut us down’ psychologically as well. Walking by and through the grounds is uplifting and contributes to the historic nuances of the neighborhood….there is life…children playing…the basketball court…the elders sitting on the benches. The Life of the neighborhood.

    • Heather
      We aren’t losing the Nazzaro Centet! We will have a new state of the art center at another location. I doubt you have ever set foot in our current center. You probably aren’t even a member because if you were you would know that a new building with more space for youth and elderly programming and athletic activities (hopefully the city adds an indoor pool) would actually help our children “psychologically”! And the author of this Op-Ed lives in the old Columbus H.S. right next door! Interesting how she magically has become an activist for Historical Preservation! The neighborhood got nothing in return for Columbus H.S. or it’s gym (most people who live here now don’t even know where the C.C. Center was). Both location were developed into condos that no middle class working North End family could dream of affording! And Marie Simboli has a lot of nerve commenting on condos! Her brother was part of the development team that bought and built the condos at Christopher Columbus high school! The North End got a dozen donuts and coffee from that developer! Build our kids a new center! We’re finally getting something for the community to enjoy!
      Amazing people don’t want a new Nazzaro Center or a turf athletic field! Maybe my kids should go play after school at Melnea Cass Blvd. and Mass Ave!!! The fancy people in the Christopher Columbus H.S. probably don’t know where that is either!!

      • No one, including the author, is saying more space and a newer center isn’t needed. Not sure how people don’t understand that. But I think EVERYONE agrees the building should not be sold for new condos…how about a mixed use where it remains a senior center and part time day care center? The possibilities for that space are endless. But knocking it down where the city gathers the profits should not be an option.

        • Gary F
          Nice to meet you! I’m Parent F.
          If we have to sell the Nazzaro Center to build a new center then so be it! Steven Siciliano is right. Landmark the building and move on from the conversation! It’s actually a great idea to landmark the building but i’ll bet %90 percent of those who signed the petition had no clue how the Nazzaro Center served this neighborhood over the last century! People are spinning a message here like the building is going be bulldozed! It is not. I don’t agree with John Romano’s comments but I also don’t agree that Ellen has outed him in some BS op-ed! He’s done more for this neighborhood in the 2018 calendar year than everyone who signed that petition has done in their lifetime for the North End.All of a sudden everyone cares about the Nazzaro! How about the city make it %100 affordable housing or even low income housing for people who want to stay here but have been priced out by the very people who live in the old Columbus H.S. and C.C. Center! Would that be acceptable?
          Give me a break! A new ball park a new community center more senior housing at the old K of C and the best elementary school in Boston adding a third building! We should all be thankful this is where we call home! Instead people show up to neighborhood meetings or post non sense on this website to complain about “turf vs grass” and the “dangers of crossing Commercial St if the new center is built at Mirabella Pool!” Hit the walk button and wait for the walk signal! The button even talks to you now!

          • I don’t want new condos affordable or not in the Nazzaro center. the area is congested as it is and more condos mean more cars. It’s extremely hard to find parking as it is and takes almost an hour on some night. If they want to build another center in addition to the Nazzaro – that’s fine. But the building should remain and serve as a community center as well.

          • @mvblfst if you’re driving in the North End you are foolish. Fortunately, we invented a place with ample free parking–the suburbs. I suggest you move there if your car is so important to you.

            • Jared your comment is quite pretentiousness and snobby.

              From reading your comment it seems to me you don’t have much going on. Probably no family. No kids to drive around or support. Seems pretty sad if you ask me. Families (and their vehicles) are encouraged around here. Who are you to tell somebody they should be in the suburbs?

              Just an FYI… there are 4 people in my north end apartment and we have 4 SUVs!!!! Park them all in the street and we love it! So easy getting around whenever I want!

            • @Mikey. Four SUVs in the most congested and transit accessible part of the City? That sounds pretty selfish (and dumb), especially when driving is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. But don’t worry, judging by your flippant tone, you don’t believe in science or climate change. You do however seem to derive your self worth from owning a car. Man, I pity you.

              • I don’t understand why people think that it is so hard to park in the North End. I Just bought a brand new Ford F-150 and I always find a big enough spot with in 20 minutes. North street is a secret parking gem!

  2. The Seniors can be bussed to a new remote location??? Does that include for community meetings? Is the city going to use part of the money designated for the new building to purchase a senior shuttle bus and hire a driver to transport seniors to and from their daily meetings and evening community meetings they might want to attend?

  3. I signed the petition I live in the West End but I have been in the Nazzaro gym and outside many times, I don’t want to see it go espically the court!!!.

  4. Can someone please paste a link to the article that claims the city wants to sell it for “condo development”? I’m pretty sure the city would like to see it be re-purposed for other community activities if a new Nazzaro is built. Pretty sure the author is full of merda.

    Anyone who is against having a new community center built by the ball fields is clearly self-serving and myopic.

    • Why is anyone who does not want it by the ball fields self serving and myopic Maybe some parents think having the kids cross Commercial St is too dangerous. Maybe the senior citizens don’t want to have to walk that far to play bingo or to attend a community meeting .
      FYI do a search of this site or google if you are so interested in proving your point. The city does want to sell this prime site to a developer.

      • So they should relocate the hockey rink to the center of the North End because it’s less dangerous crossing the street? Horse$it.

        As I stated before, link to an article that claims the city’s desire to put up more housing. Link it. Right now.

    • Check out this Boston.gov invitation for proposals for building housing at the Nazzaro Center which is 77 on their list of primary assets to be used for housing. (you have to click tbe link)
      https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/rfi_housing_with_public_assets_in_boston_0.pdf
      They also list the North End Public Library branch. By raising this issue publicly now we are hoping they will clarify what they are really trying to do (is it luxury condos as some have said to us, to make the most money for the city, or is it low income housing?) and invite the public to be involved with decisions about the future of the Nazzaro building.

  5. At a minimum, Ellen Hume has taken quotes by Stephen Siciliano and John Romano WAY out of context. I suggest she provide citations or remove them.

    More nuanced are her logic fallacies throughout including her strawman implication that the options are binary and black and white. The goal is better amenities for residents. If there are tradeoffs, let’s discuss them in and honest civil manner. Not with misinformation and scary exaggerations.

    If you’re concerned about the historical preservation, let’s get a petition to add the Nazzaro to the registry. If you’re concerned about seniors safely moving about the neighborhood, let’s talk about traffic calming measures. For now, I can’t put my name on a petition that is so poorly thought out and riddled with half truths.

  6. My comment to you Heather you don’t know what your talking about Columbus Court Condo’s my brother could have developed more condos on that parking lot and he didn’t that’s the promise he made to the residents on tileston and widget street and he gave ten thousand dollar donation to nazzaro center and if the Mayor decides to put housing for the elderly at the Nazzaro I would be happy. Get your facts straight Heather remember the Archidocese sold off CC Center and Columbus Court and their were other North End business people that bid on Columbus High School not just MY Brother. Get your facts straight when it comes to the Simboli family. I have lived in this North end all my life and on the NEWNC for over 20 years. I fought for the nursing home to remain in the north end not put our elderly in Brighton so families could be near their loved ones. All the article stated preserve the nazzaro center for the elderly and children make more room so more children can go there and put a new basketball court and gym in a different location. Fix up the polcari playground leave that basketball court for the young teens put new benches so people can sit and enjoy that park. It’s all about the elderly and children. You have no idea what we lost in the North end growing up. Talk to me in person when you have something to say about the simboli family. Get your facts straight.

  7. Get our children out of that building ASAP. It is the most dangerous undersized basketball court in America. All NE residents of all ages deserve more. All the other youth activity/community clubs around the city are making us look silly. Great people, expired facility.

  8. To Marie, I, Heather, did not write that scathing comment about you, your brother and other North Enders.
    It was “North End Parent and Member of the Nazzaro” who responded to me and went off on the other people.
    Read the second comment. Those comments are useless and I never quite believe all that stuff. Not to worry….she is very rude. Take heart.

  9. Backin the day, my three boys loved the team sports at the Nazzaro. They were there until they started to play school sports. As. a grandmother, I brought my grandchildren there for Toddler Play on Tuesdays. I am now a retired teacher from St. John Schoolwho used to accompany my class to the Nazzaro for gym. I would also go to watch their games, dance recitals , and plays wonderful memories!
    . I do not look at the Nazzaro as a pile of bricks. It is a beautiful building that needs to be retuned. . Build another site for the kids, but use this for the seniors and meetings. Tearing this down would be a terrible mistake. It is the center of the North End .

  10. Slam Dunk. Polcari, I agree, is going underwater first. By a long shot. Save a neighborhood classic that makes this neighborhood a neighborhood.

  11. The North End community should not be required to choose between having a new and improved community center and keeping an important historic building, the Nazzaro Center, and adjacent Polcari Playground intact. The City should be asked to look at options that keep both the Nazzaro Center and Polcari Playground available for public use AND add a new community center at a different location.

    The Nazzaro Center has a long history in the North End and is important to the history of the City as a whole, and even beyond the City, not just for its initial role in the bathhouse movement and its relationship to immigration but also for its continued public role as part of the North End municipal center. The building has played an important role in the lives of many North End residents over the decades, and continues to do so today. Making the Nazzaro Center and the Polcari Playground a Boston Landmark would ensure the preservation of at least the exterior of the building and the playground for years to come, regardless of the use (public or private) that might be made of the building.

    The determination of where the North End’s new community center is, and what it looks like should be a transparent process focusing on community input. There could be other options than those that have been presented so far, including options that preserve the Nazzaro Center building and Polcari Playground and add an additional building at another location, with each location serving different purposes. It should not be a foregone conclusion that the existing Nazzaro Center and Polcari Playground must be demolished, or sold off, to allow for a new and improved center. More consideration and public input is warranted before a decision is made by the City.

  12. At the first community meeting it was stated that the needs assessment that was conducted with the input from various residents who USE the Nazzaro Center on a regular basis, (seniors, coaches, parents, kids, staff and yes, our elected officials) estimated that a new community center would need a 50,000 Square Feet (SQF) build out to accommodate all the needs and wants that were listed by the group.

    The presenter also said that a location with 40,000 SQF may work, but it would not include all the needs that the community members listed. It was also stated that the current Nazzaro Center building, even if built out to include the “courtyard” (dungeon) and some of the footprint of Polcari Playground (St. Anthony’s) would not meet either requirement and fall well below the needed square footage, somewhere near 35,000 SQF. This would take a new regulation sized basketball court off the table, an expanded community room capable of accommodating large resident meetings, a pool, and other state of the art programming for our seniors, kids and neighbors.

    I am not advocating the destruction of the current Nazzaro, I do however, strongly believe this neighborhood needs and deserves a NEW state of the art community center. The North End has always been served by multiple centers: Shaw House at the old NBSS; The old Catherine Moore House Convent; The North End Union and the Nazzaro Center. The op-ed by Ms. Hume clouds the argument by offering only a binary choice and by mis-characterizing the positions of our long time community leaders. The decision we as a community must answer is WHERE (Fulton Street parcel should be a viable option) will this NEW community center be located and how and for what purpose we KEEP the Nazzaro Center as part of that service system. We can have both!

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