Curley House revival presses forward

October 7, 2011
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PONDSIDE—It is taking a little longer than expected, but plans to revive the long-underused historic home of legendary Boston Politician James Michael Curley are moving forward.

Richard Dennis, head of the Friends of the James Michael Curley House, which is spearheading the revival effort, said that the group’s plans to take over operations at the house from the city have hit some snags.

“The devil is in the details,” Dennis said. According to the rules that govern he city-administered George Robert White Fund—the legal entity that owns the 350 Jamaicaway house—“It might be implied, if you can believe it, that no educational programs can be conducted” with fund assets, he said.

Saying that the problem is the “ancient” language of the White Fund’s rules, Dennis said he is not overly worried about overcoming the legal hurdle. “I think it is going to get ironed out, but the lawyers have to do it carefully,” Dennis said.

Friends of the Curley House’s plan is to lease the property from the city to boost public use of the space. The group plans to finance the management of the property, as well as educational programming there, by marketing the mansion as a reception hall.

He said he is hopeful Friends of The Curley House will be able to take over management of the property in time to start marketing it for the holiday season.

In the mean time, Suffolk University Professor Lawrence Overlan, a Curley scholar who will likely serve as docent for the property, said he has amassed a sizable amount of raw material for displays at the house.

His main focus, he told the Gazette, is documenting Curley’s public works through the politician’s four terms as mayor—1914-1918, 1922-1926, 1930-1934 and 1946-1950.

“The public works he did are really the missing piece of the Curley story,” Overlan said, noting that other historians have focused on Curley’s populist appeal, his political career and his reputation for corruption.

Overlan said he is attempting to document all of the police stations, fires stations, schools, libraries, monuments, public housing developments, parks and roadway improvement projects built during Curley’s time as mayor.

Curley was responsible for constructing tunnels MBTA’s E Line Green Line trolley, Overlan said. That project was never completed to the mayor’s satisfaction, though. “He wanted to depress it all the way to Heath Street,” Overlan said.

Overlan has compiled some of his findings into PowerPoint presentations that he hopes to use as the basis for exhibits at the house, he said. The next step, he said is to find someone to set up the exhibits. “That is not my end of the business,” Overlan said.

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