The West End Museum presents “Reflections on Boston’s West End: The Origins & Lessons of Urban Renewal,” a lecture series that provides a comprehensive examination of the forces that led to the urban renewal programs in mid-20th century America.

Structured as a series of seven lectures with discussion, each session has a distinct topic, but all use Boston’s West End urban renewal project as the primary example and connecting point.

Attendees will learn how an entire Boston neighborhood vanished, displacing about 7,500 people who called it home. Tenement houses with mom-and-pop storefronts fell to the wrecking ball, ultimately to be replaced by high-rises with professed suburban amenities, all in the name of progress. The destruction of the West End came to be seen as a landmark case in urban planning circles. Its simplistic, top-down approach became a textbook example of how NOT to transform a city. As Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Series presenter James Briand has worked with The West End Museum since 2009, developing classroom presentations and tours on various topics including urban renewal, the work of Jane Jacobs, the 1949 Housing Act, and Title One. Briand has authored numerous articles on local history and is a lifelong resident of the Boston area.

Beginning February 19 and running through the fall, the lectures take place on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. at The West End Museum. Pre-registration is required at thewestendmuseum.org/events.

Attendees may opt to register for the entire lecture series for $120 ($60 Museum members and students), or individual sessions for $20 each ($10 Museum members and students). Individual lecture titles, descriptions, and dates appear below.

Lecture 1: Urban Renewal & the People of the West End Demolition
February 19
Explore the story of the clearance and redevelopment of the West End and the people at the heart of those events. The rich mix of families that filled the dense, winding streets of the neighborhood comprised about 7,500 residents from more than 20 different ethnic and racial groups, including Italian, Jewish, Irish, and African-American. Their backgrounds, hopes, and aspirations will be considered along with the vision for the city and the motivations of the key players who sought to build a new, supposedly better Boston by tearing down the West End.

Lecture 2: The History of the Slum in America & Boston
March 25
Learn about the history of slums in America, including how Progressive Era (1890-1920) thinkers linked physical conditions of city neighborhoods with social, economic, and moral degradation. Such thinking laid the groundwork for so-called urban renewal programs in America’s cities and, specifically, in Boston’s West End.

Lecture 3: FDR, Truman & Urban Renewal in Boston
April 22
Explore the history of housing and urban renewal programs under FDR’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal, and how they set the stage for the destruction of a vibrant, multicultural Boston neighborhood of approximately 7,500 people.

Lecture 4: Jane Jacobs & the Legacy of Boston’s West End
May 6
To celebrate Jane Jacobs Week, examine the heated debate on “the future of the city” in the late 1950s and early 1960s with a special focus on the contrasting views of urban policy experts such as Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs. Explore the ways in which Jacobs — author of the landmark book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961) — drew inspiration from the story of Boston’s West End.

Lecture 5: When the Car Was King & Boston Paid the Price
September 16
Learn how the rise of the automobile reshaped Greater Boston during the Eisenhower administration, and how seeking to accommodate more vehicular traffic helped pave the way for the destruction of the West End of Boston.

Lecture 6: The Power Brokers of Boston & Urban Renewal
October 14
Explore the economic, social, and political considerations tied to Boston’s political, business, religious, and educational interests that aligned to support the demolition and redevelopment of the diverse but tight knit West End neighborhood, home to about 7,500 residents.

Lecture 7: David & Goliath — The Last-Ditch Effort to Save Boston’s West End
November 18
Learn how a small group of immigrants, isolated from the power structures in Washington D.C. and Boston, took on the federal and state government to save their beloved West End from urban renewal. Explore the people, the battle, and the legacy of their loss.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. MY father grew up in the West ENd.. I am 75 and lived on Commercial St in the late sixties and seventies. ALso ran walking tours for The Historic Neighborhoods ( no longer in existence. ) Don’t know is Jeanne Eisenstadt is still active. IF so say hello, Lois Cugini, Jalico, Mexico

  2. My family lived at 52 Allan Street right across the street from the Mass General. My grandfather Giovanni Pirozzi owned the building and my family of six resided on the ground floor. My grandparents and aunts and uncles lived one flight up. The storefront was a dry cleaning establishment run by my aunt Santa. My brother and I would often sit in the front windows and wave to people who passed by. Allan Street was one way, but people often drove the wrong way.
    My brother saw my grandfather across the street one day and darted across the street to see him. He was hit by a car going the wrong way. Fortunately he was not seriously injured. When my grandfather had a heart attack, his room at the Mass General overlooked Allan Street. We would go out everyday and wave to him.
    We attended the Winchell School and belonged to the West End House. We appeared in productions at the Peabody House and during the summer swam daily at the MDC pools. One day at the pool, I had an excruciating bellyache and couldn’t stand the pain. Thank God the Mass General was just across the street as we did not own a car. I was rushed to the ER and had my appendix removed.
    On the corner of Allan and Blossom Street, was a bodega that had big Sealtest sign over the entrance. Around the corner on Spring Street, was Silver’s Bakery, a fish market and fruit stand whos names escape me. Jimmy Mangiaviga had a store that had everything us kids could ever want. He had the best selection of penny candy. You could buy a whole dill pickle fo a nickel or a spear for a penny. Jimmy would sell you a piece of chalk for a penny if you couldn’t afford the box.
    He had all the flavors of Italian ice. We were never allowed to play the pinball machines as they were the ones that paid out cash. Jimmy knew all our parents, so we could never be out of line.
    I made my first communion at St Joseph’s Church, it was the first time I ever wore a suit.
    My uncle Ralph owned a bicycle shop on Chambers Street and presented me with my first two wheeler. I learned to ride on Spring Street because of the incline down to Allan Street. My uncle also owned O’Neils bar in Leverett Square across the street from Kaminsky’s. I’m 70 years old now and I still remember the original Joe & Nemos, the Bowdoin Square firehouse, a cigar store Indian in Scollay Square and Gallo’s Bakery where French bread was 13 cents or 2 for a quarter, and sheet pan Sicilian pizza, cheese only for a nickel a slice.

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