The West End Museum is hosting The Housing Act of 1949, a re-configured and updated exhibit that examines the path to the destruction of the Boston’s West End.
It explores Democrat Harry S. Truman’s re-election in the face of a mounting housing demand, which prompted him to put urban renewal on the national agenda and set in motion the final chapter of the old West End’s story. The show comprises graphic panels, photographs, and artifacts.
During Truman’s campaign, he blamed the Republican-dominated Congress for refusing to commit funds to urban renewal during his first term. Following his re-election, Congress returned to Democrat control and earmarked funding for the program. That ultimately led to the demolition of the West End, widely regarded as a dreadful mistake.
“Regardless of how well-intentioned federal urban renewal may have been, the ultimate result for the West End was the complete destruction of a vibrant, tight-knit community and the displacement of thousands of families who called that neighborhood home.” – Lucia, who co-curated this exhibit with Bill Kuttner and Jim Briand.
The Housing Act of 1949 tells the story of the origin of urban renewal, including the legislation that financed the ill-named “slum clearance” in American cities. Ironically, the Act fell under Truman’s “Fair Deal” initiative. While envisioned to address the national housing shortage by transitioning families from so-called “slums and firetraps” into safer public housing, the Act failed to recognize the cost of destroying the well-established communities in which these families lived.
The exhibit is free and open to the public now through July 15.
Top photo: West End post-demolition, looking south toward Customs House c.1962. Photo courtesy of Johnathan Kaiser & The West End Museum.