The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) will celebrate 35 years of working to improve JP with its annual meeting and a barbecue on June 9.
With major projects of national significance like the Brewery complex renovation on Amory Street, the rehabilitation of the Blessed Sacrament campus and the multi-stage revitalization of Jackson Square, the JPNDC has permanently changed the face of JP.
“What has made the work so gratifying has been the people of JP,” JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal said. “They are caring, passionate people who are trying to make the world and better and more just place. That spirit has guided our work and the work of so many groups. I’m hopeful that we’ll keeping working toward the goal of creating a healthier and more just community.”
JPNDC Communications Director Sally Swenson took time to reminisce about the projects done by the JPNDC since 1977. For information on the annual meeting, see JP Agenda.
The first few years of the JPNDC’s existence were mostly about trying to stay alive, Swenson said. While the JPNDC’s signature site, the Brewery complex on Amory Street, was already on their radar, most of the work was focused on planting seeds and readying the organization for its task.
“This was very tenuous. This was a brand new organization. Some of the board members took out second mortgages to fund the JPNDC,” Swenson said. “People said to us, ‘You’re crazy.’ The brewery was crumbling…We were surviving, trying to keep these very ambitious goals alive.”
The second five years, however, gave fruit: The Angela Westover House at 31 Germania St.—the JPNDC’s first housing project—opened its doors to house 11 frail seniors.
The Brewery complex was purchased by the JPNDC and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the first orders of business was removing 40 feet from the chimney.
“The bricks were falling down,” Swenson said.
The Brewery’s most famous tenant moved in in 1985: Boston Beer Company, the maker of Samuel Adams beer, took up residence on Amory Street, and have “been our anchor tenant ever since,” Swenson said.
It was also a time of expansion for the JPNDC. Land in JP was cheap then, and the JPNDC took advantage, acquiring properties that would become major projects later.
“In those days, JP wasn’t expensive,” Swenson said. “We didn’t have to compete with private developers.”
Land was so inexpensive because of larger issues in JP: The Boston Police Department considered Hyde/Jackson Square the cocaine capital of Boston in the late 1980s, Swenson said, and many lots were empty because of arson attacks.
The JPNDC also continued work on the Brewery. The 16-building complex had to be renovated once building at a time, Swenson said.
Two more big projects opened their doors during this period: the Jackson Square Stop & Shop and the Hyde Square co-op.
The Stop & Shop and adjoining stores—the JP Plaza mall—were a major undertaking between the JPNDC, private developer Mordechai Levin and the Bromley-Heath housing development’s Tenant Management Corporation.
The Martha M. Eliot Health Center also opened in Bromley Heath as part of that project.
A big change arose during this time. Rent control in the city of Boston was legislated out of existence.
With housing prices rising, the JPNDC decided to get involved: it began its “economic initiatives,” or classes and counseling projects aimed at helping people “build skill sets to help their lives,” Swenson said.
The JPNDC, along with City Life/Vida Urbana, also pushed their “campaign of conscience,” asking landlords to keep rental prices affordable to maintain diversity in JP.
The Nate Smith House, consisting of 45 apartments for low-income elders, opened in a culmination of a 15-year neighborhood struggle with former owner George Carroll.
Carroll’s buildings were kept in such poor condition that, in 1992, he was sentenced to house arrest in the building on the corner of Paul Gore and Lamartine streets until he agreed to make it habitable.
The JPNDC and other organizations signed a commitment to work together to redevelop Jackson Square, a major undertaking. The area was razed in the 1970s to make way for an I-95 extension that never came, thanks to strong community opposition.
The JPNDC, along with the other Partners for Jackson—Urban Edge, the Hyde Square Task Force and a private developer—started working on creating over 400 new homes—60 percent of which will be affordable—a youth and family center and new retail spaces, along with other smaller improvements.
Rockvale Circle Cooperative opened with affordable homes for 15 families.
The JPNDC, along with the Fenway Community Development Corporation, launched the Boston Health Care and Training Institute, a collaboration with employers and other organizations to help neighborhood residents and entry-level workers move up in their health-care careers.
“That ran for five years. We were training 300 people every year,” Swenson said. “At the end of 2007, we handed it off to another agency that could deal better with the regional effort.”
The Catherine Gallagher Cooperative opened on Heath Street, providing homes for 34 low-income families.
Ten families moved into the Lamartine Homes for first-time homebuyers and 65 low-income seniors moved into the Julia Martin House, named for a longtime Bromley-Heath activist.
Mike’s Fitness, Tony Williams School of Dance and Children’s Music Center of JP open at the Brewery, in the “grand opening” of the Brewery’s main block, Swenson said.
And the JPNDC purchased the 2.3-acre Blessed Sacrament Church campus on Centre Street from the Boston Archdiocese, a major landmark that is slowly being developed.
“That was a big deal. We’re pretty sure it’s one of the largest church properties to be redeveloped by a community organization,” Swenson said.
All that development didn’t come without a price. With JP’s reputation improving, real estate prices began to soar.
“As the neighborhood has changed and become more expensive, it becomes harder and harder for us to do what we need to do, even though it’s more important,” Swenson said.
Despite the 2008 financial crisis, the JPNDC managed to complete three more housing projects at the Blessed Sacrament campus: Creighton Commons, 16 condos for first-time owners, the Doña Betsaida co-op, comprising 36 low-income rentals and co-ops, and the Sister Virgina Mulhern House, a former convent that is now housing for the formerly homeless.
In 2010, the long-running renovation of the Brewery Complex was finally complete.
Another project to create housing for the homeless—in this case, medically frail individuals—was stalled in 2011 after the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved it because of a lawsuit brought forward by the project’s potential new neighbors around Walnut Avenue. That lawsuit is still in court.
More projects in and around Jackson Square are recently completed or still ongoing. A new building at 270 Centre St. is now home to four businesses, including newly-opened Gail’s Café and Grill.