The Pondside house of former Boston Mayor John Collins, now slated for demolition, is just one of at least six surviving ex-mayoral residences in Jamaica Plain.
JP has been home to at least five mayors since the neighborhood was annexed by Boston in 1874. Four of them have left at least one former residence still standing.
The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) last month approved the demolition of the Collins house at 20 Myrtle St.—but without knowing about the Collins history. Collins lived there during his powerful 1960-66 reign, when he oversaw the creation of Government Center, the Prudential Center and the current Boston City Hall.
The Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) did know the history and voted not to oppose the demolition. The JPA believes a new house the new owners will build on the site will fit in better with the street’s Victorian mansions, said JPA chair Mark Zanger.
“It’s not a historic house in any way we could understand,” Zanger said. “I don’t see anyone putting up plaques to Mayor Collins.”
He noted there was no opposition from neighbors, and was not worried that the BLC’s decision was not fully informed. As previously reported by the Gazette, the new owners did not inform the BLC about the Collins connection.
“I don’t think it would be the opinion of the JPA board that it was a failure on [the BLC’s] part,” Zanger said. “It was careless.”
Gerry Burke, the former Doyle’s Café owner and local political expert, grew up next door to the Collinses and has expressed a desire for the house to stay.
According to Burke, Collins literally became mayor at the house. The polio-stricken politician took the oath of office there because he could not access City Hall in his wheelchair.
“Hynes came out to the house and swore him in,” said Burke, referring to former Mayor John Hynes, Collins’ predecessor.
Future President John F. Kennedy was a visitor as well, Burke said. Kennedy, then a US senator, had supported Collins’ opponent and stopped by to “mend fences,” Burke recalled his mother telling him.
The 1936 house was built by Joseph P. Manning, a tobacco baron and namesake of the local elementary school, for his daughter and son-in-law, according to Burke. The Gazette has been unable to document the connection, but Burke said the couple—the Conroys—were still living there in the 1950s when he was growing up, and he recalls their history.
The JPA’s non-opposition to the demolition was partly influenced by the fact that another former Collins residence still stands in Pondside.
At least five Boston mayors have called JP home over the years:
• John Collins (1960-66), 20 Myrtle St. Prior to becoming mayor, and while serving as a state representative, lived at 72 Dunster Road at Dane Street, Pondside.
• James Michael Curley (1914-18, 1922-26, 1930-34, 1946-50; also governor, 1935-37), 350 Jamaicaway at Moraine Street, Pondside. Famously powerful and infamously corrupt mayor whose small mansion is now a city-owned facility. Later retired to 9 Pond Circle, Moss Hill.
• Maurice Tobin (1938-45; also governor, 1944-46), 30 Hopkins Road, Moss Hill. Later served as US secretary of labor and was namesake of the Tobin Bridge downtown.
• Malcolm Nichols (1926-30), 796 Centre St. at Hathaway Street, Monument Square. JP’s only Republican mayor, he plotted the Sumner Tunnel downtown.
• Andrew Peters (1918-21), 310 South St. at Asticou Road, Forest Hills. His brief term in office was plagued by scandal. But bigger scandal came from his reported seduction of an 11-year-old girl named Starr Faithfull at the beginning of his mayoral campaign. The relationship was later revealed in the diaries of Faithfull, who killed herself. Peters’ JP house no longer stands.
• Albert Palmer (1883). The Jamaica Plain Historical Society is researching the possibility that this little-known mayor, who served only one year, lived in JP. He is not on the official JP mayor list at this time.
Sources: “Jamaica Plain Called ‘Home’ by Five Boston Mayors,” 1988, Walter Marx, www.jphs.org; Gerry Burke archives; Michael Reiskind.