Written by Anan Shen. This is the first of a series of short stories about the West End.
Demolition and New Construction
Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) proposal for expansion of its West End campus across two blocks on Cambridge Street was approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on October 14, 2021. The expansion requires the demolition of three historically significant masonry buildings: the 1884 Winchell Elementary School (aka Ruth Sleeper Hall) at 24 Blossom Street, the 1910 West End Tenement House at 23-25 North Anderson Street, and the 1929 West End Settlement House at 16-18 Blossom Street. They are three of about a dozen West End buildings that survived urban renewal in the 1950s. Demolition of these three buildings is expected to begin in August 2022.
The Boston Preservation Alliance advocated for these three historic buildings through numerous meetings with MGH and neighborhood partners. The Alliance does not oppose MGH’s concept of expansion, but urged the preservation of the three historic buildings to the maximum extent possible. Due to MGH’s desire to build an underground parking lot at the site and the required phasing of the project, MGH could not find a solution to save the buildings. As MGH begins the demolition process, here is a brief history of what will be lost.
Winchell Elementary School
Winchell Elementary School is the only surviving building that served children in the neighborhood. Built between 1884-85, the school offered education to boys through fourth grade and girls through sixth grade and was open until 1960. MGH purchased the property in 1963, renamed it the Ruth Sleeper Hall, and used it as its nursing school. Besides its educational purpose, West Enders were proud of the school’s architectural merit. Designed by Boston’s city architect Arthur Vinal (who designed many of the beautiful homes along Dorchester’s Melville Ave), the two-story brick construction was a prime example of the Romanesque Revival Style (the third story was tastefully added in 1907 and replaced a pitched roof). The arched entrance is so prominent to the community that it was requested by community members to remain an element of the partially reconstructed facade in MGH’s design. The demolition of this noteworthy building is a delayed result of “urban renewal” from the 1950s.
West End Settlement House
This three-and-half-story brick settlement house was constructed in 1929 for the West End House club that was founded in 1906. Moved from 9 Eaton Street to 16 Blossom Street, the club continued to serve as a home base for Jewish immigrant boys who sought to improve themselves academically, socially, and physically. With assistance from the club advisor Mitchell Freiman, the boys formed social groups around their interests and were actively involved in English language programs, sports teams, and debates. These programs helped the boys develop career paths. In turn, they provided a professional network and community to the younger members of the West End House.
After WWII, the West End House officially transformed into a non-sectarian organization and embraced a more diverse membership. Residents of the West End were forced to leave the neighborhood in the name of “Urban Renewal” and many Jewish families relocated to Roxbury. The West End House club moved to Allston-Brighton and the building was purchased by MGH in 1965 to be converted to its Planning Office. Distinguished members of the West End House include actor Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015), singer Buddy Clark (1912-1949), and President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).
West End Tenement House
This humble building was built around 1910 and is one of only a few surviving tenement buildings still standing in the West End. When built, it sat on the corner of a row of tenements and dense row homes that lined Bridge Ct, a small street off of N Anderson Street. The building is typical of tenement house construction from the early 1900s. An interesting aside is that the previous building was one of many owned by George Parkman and sold by his heirs around 1908.