Monday, February 20, 2012

Through the Eyes of the Boston Globe - 1967

This article was from a series produced in 1967 on the city's different districts. It is a window into the time, but don't take it without a grain of salt. The fact that they chose to feature a photo of a Lamartine street back yard, including laundry hanging on the clotheslines, should tell you something. I suppose there were muggings during those years in parts of Jamaica Plain, but I walked the streets those years in my neck of the woods, and I don't remember women living in fear of attacks. And people I talk to now reminisce about walking to the Pond, the Arboreteum, and travelling across the city on public transportation in those years without fear. In fact, times would get much worse in Jamaica Plain in the coming years, but in 1967 it hadn't happened yet.

Boston Globe, July 14, 1967

BOSTON: A Closeup of Its Neighborhoods, Its People and Its Problems

There is no one Jamaica Plain.

There are countless Jamaica Plains - the Jamaica Plain of the elderly Yankee widow and the poor white, of the old Irish precinct worker and the newly-arrived Portuguese laborer, of the owner-occupied three-decker and the dull, gray mansion turned into a nursing home.

Perhaps more than any other section of the city, Jamaica Plain is a cross-section of Boston a district whose 51,000 inhabitants go from the very top to the very bottom, both geographically and economically.

At the top is Moss Hill, one of the classiest sections of the city, whose fertile fields made up the estates of the Yankee Bowdithes and the Balches, fields now subdivided into split-levels and ranch homes, ranging from $20,000 to $60,000. The occupants are predominantly Catholic.

You go to Moss Hill by driving down a bucolic, suburban road from Brookline. You go through it on winding, tree-lined streets, featuring large lawns and single family homes.

Here are the homes of the professionals - the dentists, doctors, lawyers, real estate and insurance men. When you press their doorbells, you are answered by chimes, followed by housewives who will tell you that Pond st. should be straightened, the Arborway traffic should be slowed down, garbage should be collected twice wekly in the summer, a recreation area should be built for the kids.

They will tell you that Moss HIll is "an ideal neighborhood," well protected by a strong association that will allow no beauty parlors, funeral homes, schools, or anything else that does not fit into the scheme of things.

Move down from Moss Hill, and the roads become congested and bumpier; the neighborhoods more closely settled; the zoning mixed commercial and residential.

Cutting through the guts of Jamaica Plain is Centre st., the tributary for the district's blighted busines section, a bockmarked two-way avenue of potholes sliced down the middle by the Huntington av.trolley line.

West of Centre st. leading to Jamaica Pond, east of Centre st. leading to the railroad tracks and south of Centre st. in the Forest Hills area are the single-family, two-story and triple-decker hoomes that for years have given stability to Jamaica Plain.

Here lives the traditional Jamaica Plain resident, white Catholic (not necessarily Irish, perhaps Ukranian, Latvian, Italian), a skilled worker who pays between $75 and $100 rent (unheated) to live above his landlord in a three-decker worth $24,000 or so on the market.

But the contrast is not simply between Moss Hill and this vast working man's area.

On and around Amory st., for example, lower income Negroes, whites, Cubans and Puerto Ricans now mix with the older residents. A neighborhood committee meeting features Irish and Negro faces.

A block away from the well-clipped lawn at 56 Lochstead av., the home of Kenneth O'Donnell former aide to President Kennedy, is a smudged brick apartment ouse, where a white-haired woman lives along and wonders in the Winter whether the ice will be removed from the sidewalk so that she may go shopping.

Here, surrounded by stability and blight, are the landmarks and last bastions of an older society such as the Eliot School, a well-kept 191-year-old structure named after the Rev. John Eliot, who preached to the Indians, the Footlight Club, the oldest amateur theatrical club in America and Eliot Hall, where Margeurite Souther holds her dancing classes for debs.

Not far away are back streets were elderly women fear to tread lest they be mugged.

In this vast neighborhood is the home of Mayor John F. Collins, and here too are the midle income people who feel alienated from the city regardless of who the mayor may be.

They are people like Mrs Hugh O'Neill, of 70 Weld Hill st., a young mother born in Ireland and now living in her own home in the Forest Hills area.

Mrs. O'Neill is disgusted that halfway down her street are two triple-decker houses "that are a disgrace to the street." One is abandoned and boarded up. The other perhaps should be. They are examples of the blight that has begun to creep into the solid middle-income neighborhoods.

But the worst blight is at the bottom, across the tracks from Moss Hill and the middle-income areas.

You get there by picking up the train downtown at the Washington st. Station. In three of four minutes you are on the elevated, looking down on the South End and Roxbury, on vacant lots, rooftops splattered with broken glass, slums and rubble.

The train clacks rhythmically on the tracks. It hisses, It squeaks around turns. Egleston sq. In the distance are the projects, which are the very bottom.

When you ring the doorbells under the elevated on Washington st., you are answered not by chimes but often by silence. Silence because everyone is out working, or because everyone is too scared to answer the door, or because the ancient earphones and mouthpieces in the grimey apartment building no longer work.

When someone does answer the bell, he will not talk about tough zoning or ideal neighborhoods. He will speak little or ill of politicians. There is no candidate for mayor around the block.

There the merchants, the residents and workers talk of a friend mugged, a pocketbook snatched, a teenager drunk, a cop who wasn't there. A candidate - what's a candidate?

Alienated voters, the sociologists would say, and their kind are legion in a community once regarded as politically savvy, a community where you can still see the Jamaicaway home of James Michael Curley, the school named after his wife, and the oldtimers who remember the old pols.

But old pols die, and neighborhoods change. Jamaica Plain is changing.


  1. Hey, wait a minute! The the very bottom? Wish someone told me in 1967 that I was living in the VERY BOTTOM of society! I certainly didn't feel that way and I'm sure many of my neighbors did either. There were some mighty fine people living in those projects in 1967.

  2. Wow. I was 7 in 1967, growing up in Forest Hills, apparently right around the corner from Weld Hill St's Mrs. O'Neill. I didn't even know Moss Hill existed back then, or Center for that matter. I loved reading this article and remembering, even the bad stuff, 'cause I know growing up in JP made me who I am today. A little bit tough and a whole lot liberal. Middle class now, but with working class values. And proud of it.