JP Observer: Curley House needs to be open again

June 20, 2014
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Outside, with its white shutters with cut-out shamrocks, the red brick mansion across from Jamaica Pond is eye-catching. Inside, James Michael Curley’s former home is gorgeous.

Unfortunately, few people have entered in recent decades to take in the dramatic winding, open staircase and the glittering chandelier in the foyer. Few members of the public have gotten to walk on the beautiful, shiny wood floors in the Georgian Revival mansion that was four-time Boston Mayor, three-time Congressman and one-term Massachusetts Gov. Curley’s home for more than 40 years.

Devoted supporters of reuse of the mansion have been talking to the City of Boston for a few years about opening the 21-room house more to the public.

The official Boston landmark was purchased in 1988 for $1.5 million by the George Robert White Fund, which the mayor, the president of the Boston City Council and other officials oversee. Curley had sold the mansion to the Catholic Oblate Fathers in 1956 and moved away. The Oblates put it up for sale 32 years later.

In typical JP community response, residents spoke up quickly that they wanted the building preserved for the public. The new Jamaica Plain Historical Society (JPHS) joined the fledgling JP Neighborhood Council and others to encourage the City to make sure the property didn’t fall into private hands.

Some events have taken place there in the 26 years since, including a reception for the Tennessee delegation to the Democratic Convention in 2004, a ReadBoston fund-raiser and a JPHS annual meeting.

District City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who lives nearby on the Jamaicaway, is promoting reopening the house. He names activities that might be held there, such as tours for the public (much like the Loring-Greenough House has), weddings, institutional receptions, readings by authors, etc.

Also recommended is that it be used as a museum and location for doing research on Boston history. Curley historian Lawrence Overlan, a professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology and member of the board of Friends of the James Michael Curley House, is promoting that idea because of its proximity to so many colleges.

Where funds for operations and capital improvements would come from is still being explored, according to Richard Dennis, president and treasurer of the Friends, and enthusiastic champion of opening the building. The White Fund forbids uses for ordinary city business, and there are some restrictions on fund-raising.

Dennis, 89, is Curley’s stepson and lived in the house for more than 10 years while growing up. The Friends held a meeting at the house where neighbors were supportive of opening the house more, Dennis said.

JP residents Carole Mathieson, manager of the House for the City for 20 years, and Michael Reiskind of JPHS are also on the Friends board.

When Curley lived there, constituents routinely lined up to go in and talk to him about their concerns, and he spoke with all of them, Dennis remembers.

Although we can’t see them, people are lining up figuratively now, hoping to enter the historic Curley House and benefit from the experience once again.

Sandra Storey was the founding editor and publisher of the Gazette and lives in Jamaica Plain.