For some, a neighborhood is much more than a set of contiguous
blocks. Boston's West End, demolished 40 years ago in the name of
'progress,' exists now only in the collective memory of its former
residents. They're joining forces to create what some call a
'neighborhood of the mind,' writes Andrew Weiner in the
The story is not atypical: a tenement neighborhood bursting with diversity and vitality sits atop a prime chunk of urban land. By the late 50s, the city digs out and dusts off 'eminent domain,' using the power of the law to remove families from their homes and neighborhood.
The West End, which Weiner describes as 'a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with densely packed rows of five- and six-story walk-ups,' differed from Boston's many other ethnic enclaves in that it acted as a true melting pot, celebrating an unparalleled diversity among its 20,000 inhabitants. The 'tenements were inhabited initially by Irish immigrants, then successively by Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles, Russians, and Albanians,' Weiner lists. But, by 1958, all were gone: what remained was about 50 acres of emptiness.
The story is rarely told by anyone but West Enders--and do they love telling it. Today, some former residents print a quarterly publication of nostalgic recollections of the past, featuring columns like 'Do You Remember?' and 'Down Memory Lane.' Like most, West Enders founder Jim Campano refuses to forget: 'I don't want to make it sound like heaven, but we all did get along,' he says. 'If I could figure out what it was, I'd bottle it and sell it.'