JP History: Jamaicaway Tower built in familiar controversy

Fifty years ago, in the early 1960s, the Jamaicaway was caught in a familiar struggle. Would a proposed housing development permanently change the face of the neighborhood?

Just like today’s S. Huntington area debate, the proposed Jamaicaway Tower and Townhouses would demolish a historic building and impact the Emerald Necklace in order to create modern luxury apartments in a high-rise building.

The proposed development would create a 30-story tower and several townhouses overlooking Jamaica Pond from Perkins Street by demolishing the century-old Old Judge Thomas house. The luxury housing units would rent for $130 to $450—about $950 to $3,200 in today’s dollars— the highest rent of which was for the four duplex penthouses. Developers were also promising shuttles that would take residents directly into downtown Boston.

Jamaicaway Tower and Townhouses at 111 Perkins St., a 282-unit, 30-story tower and 18-townhouse complex, finally opened to residents in 1965, after four years in controversial development. Aside from its unusual height, towering over Jamaica Pond and the rest of JP, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) determination that the area to be developed was “blighted” to allow the tower’s construction contributed to the controversy. The shuttle service never materialized.

Designating the area as “blighted” is a contentious choice the BRA still employs. A Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) development at 461 Walnut Ave. was approved at the end of 2010 by designating the existing building as “blighted, substandard or decadent.” About a dozen neighbors sued the BRA and the JPNDC and its development partner over that decision, delaying the construction of a respite care facility for over a year.

A June 12, 1964 Boston Globe story quoted a neighbor of the then-proposed Jamaicaway Tower development as calling the tower a “monstrosity.”

“Things would be different today with Jamaica Pond Association and the JPNC [neighborhood council],” both organizations that were created after the development, JPA member Kevin Moloney told the Gazette.

Moloney has been a vocal opponent of the two major projects proposed for the Jamaicaway area, 161 and 105A S. Huntington Ave. The four- to five-story building proposed for 161 S. Huntington Ave. was approved by the BRA in November.

That same 1964 Globe story, provided to the Gazette by Moloney, outlines a Boston City Council hearing where a state law that limited building heights in the area to 65 feet was called into question. That state legislation was initiated by then state Sen. and JP resident James Hennigan Jr. Those who supported the development said the law “violated home rule,” according to then state Rep. Stephen Davenport’s quote in the Globe story. The City Council voted against enforcing that state law 8 to 1.

Both sides of the debate presented the City Council with petitions with hundreds of signatures each.

Then-City Councilor Peter Hines told the Globe in a June 16, 1964 story that he was voting for the project because he expected the owners to sell to a motel developer if the tower did not go forward.

The development cost $7.25 million at the time, according to a May 13, 1965 Boston Globe story. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, that would translate to just under $53 million today.

The tower and townhouses are still occupied today. The tower has become one of JP’s prominent landmarks.

The Tower and Townhouses became Boston’s first housing co-op. Notable residents of Jamaicaway Tower have included recently-shuttered Jamaica Plain Citizen publisher Harry Harwich, according to former Gazette publisher Sandra Storey and former state Attorney General Edward McCormack Jr., according to Moloney.

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