City reviewing a reuse for Curley House

July 4, 2014
By

PONDSIDE—Stalled plans to revive the long-underused historic home of legendary Boston politician James Michael Curley are getting a second look from Mayor Martin Walsh’s new administration.

Richard Dennis, head of a friends group for the 350 Jamaicaway mansion, aims to turn it into a museum and events rental space.

“It appears the requested use is barred by the restrictions of [the George Robert White] fund, but the City of Boston is exploring its available legal options for what can be done to make proper usage of such a gem left to its care,” City spokesperson Kate Norton told the Gazette this week, referring to a City-affiliated trust that owns the house.

Dennis told the Gazette that the friends group reached out to Mayor Martin Walsh through local City Councilor Matt O’Malley for support. O’Malley has previously stated his support for the revival of the property and approached Walsh on behalf of the friends shortly after the election, Dennis told the Gazette.

“The change in mayoralty has brought in a new group of people who are decision-makers,” he said.

Dennis also said that the Friends are currently looking for the support of other nonprofit organizations “who might be interested in taking over the management [of the property to] make it more active.”

Curley built the house, which features trademark shutters with shamrock designs, in 1915.

The Curley House is owned by the George Robert White Fund, a trust created to “create public works of utility and beauty” in the City of Boston. The house has been sporadically used to host private events since the trust bought it in the late 1980s. The Friends of the James Michael Curley House would like to lease the house, turn it into a museum and host more private events in the house as a means to support the property.

Dennis, Curley’s 89-year-old stepson, who is spearheading the revival effort, said that the group’s plans to take over operations from the city are still going forward. He said he is hopeful that the new administration will be on board “to get it utilized more frequently and establish it as a permanent historical monument,” he said.

The ongoing complication in using the Curley House is language in White’s will that forbids any profit being made by properties owned by the fund.

“A precise reading of the language of White’s will suggests that no money can be made by any properties that he gave to city,” not even by independent businesses operating on the premises, like caterers, Dennis said.

Dennis said that the administration of previous Mayor Thomas Menino had adopted a very strict reading of the will, which made opening up the Curley house difficult.

“We have to see whether the new administration takes the same position,” he said.

According to language in the 14th article of White’s will, which created the White Fund, and a City lawyer, the city must pay the maintenance costs for any trust-owned property. It must also keep those funds wholly separate from any other sources of income or expense.

The will also stipulates that no funds from the trust be used for “religious, political, educational or any purpose which it shall be the duty of the City in the ordinary course of events to provide”—that is, any normal and typical City programs.

That means funds that support or maintain the Curley House, as well as any programming offered there, would have to be very carefully outlined to make sure they meet the requirements of the trust.

The Curley House as it looked during a rare open event in 2011. (Gazette File Photo)

The Curley House as it looked during a rare open event in 2011. (Gazette File Photo)

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