Spirit of old neighborhood lives on in Boston's West End
By Kathleen Howley, Globe Correspondent, 5/13/2000
"I keep a waiting list of people who want to buy there. When someone comes on the market, I make a call and it's gone instantly," said Turner, owner of Ivy Associates Inc. Real Estate.
Her real estate office is located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, but Turner has been a resident of the West End for 11 years, she said.
"I'm considered to be almost a newcomer. Many of my neighbors have been living there for much longer. It's a very stable, sought-after community," she said.
That's not the image that many Bostonians hold. They think of the West End as being a place where transferred executives live for their first few years in Boston, she said.
"People tend to think of it as a transient community of sterile high-rises. But, the reality is so different. It's a very close-knit neighborhood where neighbors know each other and keep an eye out for each other," she said.
She said prices range from $155,000 to $175,000 for studios, between $249,000 and $299,000 for one-bedroom units, and from $350,000 to $450,000 for two-bedroom units. Underground parking spaces cost about $40,000, she said.
There are some three-bedroom units among the neighborhood's more than 1,000 condominiums, but they are rare, Turner said.
"There have been no three-bedrooms on the market for years. If one was available, it would go for more than $500,000 and there would be intense competition," she said.
When the smaller units come on the market, often the first people she calls are the abutters, said Turner.
"There are so many families who want to stay in the city but are running out of room. Lots of people want to buy an abutting unit and break down the walls to increase their living space," she said.
In addition, the neighborhood has more than 1,100 apartments in Charles River Park - advertised by the well-known sign on Storrow Drive that says, "If you lived here you'd be home now" - that rent for between $1,500 and $5,000.
The sleek high-rises of today's West End are worlds away from the old West End, an ethnic neighborhood of narrow streets lined with brick apartment buildings. In the 1950s, before the neighborhood was leveled as part of a massive urban renewal project, about 8,000 people lived in less than one-third of a square mile, said Joseph LoPiccolo, a former resident.
Then, there were eight elementary schools in the neighborhood, he said. Today, there are no schools.
LoPiccolo, 58, grew up in the West End, near the corner of Brighton and Chamber streets. The building and the streets no longer exist.
The housing stock was much like the north slope of Beacon Hill, he said. The streets were narrow, lined with four-story buildings. At every corner there was an ethnic bakery, variety store, or delicatessen, he said.
"We had every kind of person - Italian, Polish, Jewish, black, Irish. We all got along, because we were all poor. We were all in the same boat," he said.
LoPiccolo said that after the residents of the old West End were disbursed, they formed a community in exile.
"We have reunions, get-togethers, we have a newsletter. If you knew the old West End, you never could forget it or the lessons you learned there," he said.
Anthony Sammarco, author of more than a dozen books on the history of Boston neighborhoods, said that Boston's West End today is widely acknowledged as an example of urban renewal run amuck.
"Urban renewal could have worked in that neighborhood if it had not been as dramatic or emotional. Instead, the entire neighborhood was demolished, creating emotional scars that are still felt 40 years later," he said.
Many of the buildings that were bulldozed would have been considered architectural treasures today, he said.
"Basically, we are talking about the same housing stock as you find on the north slope of Beacon Hill. Today, you can't change the color of the front door of those buildings without permission of the architectural commission. Forty years ago a whole neighborhood of those buildings was obliterated," he said.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 5/13/2000.
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