by Andrew Weiner
If there was somewhere we all could have moved together, we would have,"
Campano explains. Instead, the displaced families were forced to take housing
wherever they could find it. Some moved to East Boston, Dorchester, or
Mattapan, others to Somerville or Medford. Lavine calls this scattering a
"diaspora." "Where could we go?" he asks. "We didn't know anybody outside the
|OLD WEST: Jim Campano, a former resident of the West End, started the West Ender, a newspaper in which former residents can share anecdotes and memories. The community they have formed is the only remnant of the destroyed neighborhood.
Only half the former West Enders actually received relocation payments, which
averaged just $69 per family. The new apartments were priced way out of reach,
and the city-subsidized housing -- in recently constructed projects -- was
deemed no replacement for the old neighborhood. "It was painfully clear," says
Lavine, "that we had been sold out."
The realization came as people struggled to adapt to new surroundings that
seemed harsh and unfamiliar. The transition was especially difficult for the
elderly, many of them first-generation immigrants who were now ill-equipped to
adjust to such change. Many people have long believed that many of the deaths
immediately following the relocation were caused in large part by grief.
Apocryphal or not, these stories suggest how deep and lasting was the damage
done to the community. To this day, those displaced feel hurt; West Ender Hy
Escott calls it "the worst thing that ever happened." The sociologist Marc
Fried spent several years with West Enders researching the psychological
effects of their dislocation. More than 90 percent showed symptoms of
depression. Fried concluded that cohesive neighborhoods provide residents with
a feeling of rootedness that is essential in maintaining a sense of identity
and purpose. The study also helped establish the notion that people can grieve
for the loss of something other than a loved one.
For years after the demolition, trainloads of West Enders would return to the
area each weekend to frequent the stores they once patronized. Former resident
Raymond Papa recalls standing on Causeway Street and staring at what used to be
his block, trying to remember what went where as if he could bring back the
past through sheer force of imagination.
Decades after the demolition, surviving West Enders still felt that they lost
not only their houses, but their home. Interviews taped during the 1980s
testify to this sense of profound loss. Many express variations on a common
theme: "Something of me went with the West End." One middle-aged woman eerily
confesses, "For 30 years I have felt like I had no past." Another speaks of how
dislocation breeds a sense of limbo: "I still have the feeling that I'm
"The worst thing," says Jim Campano, "is not being able to walk around the old
Time couldn't restore lost memories or grant impossible desires, but it did
provide certain consolations. One was the reworking of eminent-domain law to
require sufficient relocation payments, affordable replacement housing, and
counseling for those displaced. Another was that the Taking quickly became
known among urban planners as a glaring example of what not to do. Vowing that
no one should have to suffer what the West Enders did, community activists
derailed planned renewal projects in Allston, the Fenway, and the South End.
Nor was the story lost on advocates like Jane Jacobs, who helped block a plan
to clear a swath of Lower Manhattan for a crosstown highway. Yet despite the
downfall of urban-renewal policies, their ill effects are still felt in such
problems as the current citywide housing crisis.
Perhaps the most important consequence was the formation, during the 1980s, of
a literary forum in which former West End residents could come together again,
if only on the printed page. West Enders had been meeting informally at club
and camp reunions, but they lacked a more regular means of communication. In
1984, Campano followed up a reunion by sending a typewritten newsletter to
about 100 friends. Circulation soon swelled, especially after a 1986 reunion
drew more than 2500 people to the Wonderland Ballroom in Revere.
Before long the West Ender was an actual newspaper, arriving quarterly
in the mailboxes of more than 4000 families. Only you can't exactly call it a
newspaper, since its contents have been given over almost entirely to
recollections of the past. Headings like "Do You Remember?" and "Down Memory
Lane" loom over photos of the old neighborhood. Poems and stories from readers
are offset by a steady number of obituaries.
The real core of the West Ender is its letters section, a feature one
reader calls "my regular dose of inspired nostalgia." People write in from all
over the country to share recent news and ask after old friends. Many letters,
though, are simple acts of remembrance: they tell who used to frequent which
lunch counter, or which shop stood where. One recent letter is solely a list of
nicknames: Meatball, Matzoh Ball, Yishka, Beppy, Lovey, Bony, Limpy, Ragman,
and more than 200 more. (There were no repeats.) The repetitive "I remember" in
these letters sounds almost like the chanting of a spell, as if by standing
together in a magic circle the West Enders could revive the past.
But while the tone of the paper is mainly one of friendly reminiscence,
bitterness is seldom far away. And during recent years, the West Ender
has played a part in a controversy surrounding the last remaining plot of
cleared land from the old neighborhood.
In 1992, the BRA reclaimed the parcel from the original developer and announced
its intention to build a complex of low- and middle-income apartments. When
Campano and other former West Enders were invited to participate in the
planning, it appeared that the city might finally be awarding them some measure
of redress. They understood that displaced former residents would have a
prominent place in the new development, and they secured space for a museum and
new West Ender offices. But fair-housing law held that first dibs on
space in the new West End Place would go to minorities, meaning that West
Enders were left with the higher-priced units.
Campano and the Old West End Housing Corporation claimed reverse discrimination
and sued under a state statute, but lost. About two dozen West Enders took
apartments, but many others felt they'd been sold out again. Hard feelings
abounded. Campano used the West Ender to launch attacks against the
developers and their partners in the Boston Archdiocese. In the fallout, the
plans for the museum and the newspaper offices were put on hold.
Although attorneys have been working to effect a compromise on the museum, it
appears unlikely that the West Ender will exchange editorial freedom for
office space. Regardless of what happens, though, Campano and the majority of
his fellow West Enders seem resigned to disappointment. A museum would help
them get the historical recognition they feel they deserve, but what they
really want is for the old neighborhood never to have been taken in the first
place. Nobody can give them that, but neither can anyone destroy the
neighborhood they've rebuilt in their memories.
Andrew Weiner's great-grandparents settled in the West End before moving on
to Malden. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org