It was a reunion of sorts last Friday morning on Neptune Road. Those who fought airport expansion like Fred Salvucci, John Vitagliano and Evelyn Morash joined with families displaced by runway expansion like the Gavagnanos and Forgiones to celebrate the opening of an edge buffer park that sought to heal the old wounds suffered by the community at the hands of less caring era in Massport’s history.
Well if past is prologue the Neptune Road Edge Buffer Park where the family homes of Eastie residents once stood before they, along with Wood Island Park, were bulldozed in the late 1960s is proof Massport is committed to paying the debt owed to residents for its wayward ways decades ago.
The buffer area is a 1.69 acre parcel at the end of the North Service Area, and located between the MBTA Blue line and Bennington Street. The buffer pays homage to a neighborhood lost to airport expansion a half century ago and celebrates the residents who fought to protect their neighborhood.
“This was a thriving community and we all know the history,” said Senator Anthony Petruccelli. “This park is not only a great public open space but a reminder of what we have lost as a community. While it will never replace Wood Island or the homes that once housed hundreds of families it is a start to the healing process. The completion of the Neptune Road Airport Edge Buffer Park, will serve as a landmark of a community lost to expansion while simultaneously celebrating the instrumental role they played in fighting to protect their neighborhood. I look forward to enjoying all that the park has to offer and credit the Massachusetts Port Authority along with our constituents for their continued dedication and commitment in working together to bring this concept to fruition.”
Former Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci and former Governor Michael Dukakis talked about the struggle back in the 1960s and the neighborhood’s resolve to fight for justice.
Salvucci recalled the famous story of State Representative George DiLorenzo driving his car through a state police barricade to protest the bulldozing of Wood Island Park.
Dukakis said that what set the fight apart from other social causes is that it was a time when the state was not working for the people and the people demanded that the state recognize their rights to exist and live happily in the homes they made.
“I applaud Tom Glynn and Massport for adding another beautiful green open space to our community and for recognizing the historic significance of Neptune Road and the residents that once lived there,” said Representative Adrian Madaro.
The Neptune Road neighborhood was the scene of a historic confrontation between a community and Massport. Massport eventually acquired the land. The Neptune Road neighborhood was less than 2,000 feet from Runway 15R, and in the runway safety area of Logan’s longest runway. Residents had to deal with 1st generation aircraft engines whose noise levels frequently exceeded 120 decibels–today, 4th generation aircraft are at a decibel level of 45. In the early 1970s, this neighborhood consisted of approximately 400 adults and children living in a close-knit neighborhood littered with early 20th century three-deckers. The neighborhood was famous for its ethnic heritage, small family-owned shops, and Neptune Road was a tree-lined boulevard that led to Wood Island Park, a Frederick Law Olmstead designed park that was taken for airport expansion in the 1960s.
“Clearly, this area of East Boston holds a lot of significance both for the residents who lived here and for Massport and we wanted the buffer area to be designed in a way that acknowledges that history,” said Massport CEO Thomas Glynn. “We hope that people utilize this area and that they enjoy it.”
The community design process for the buffer area began in December of 2010. The Neptune Road Airport Edge Buffer was designed to replicate (1) an Olmstead-like open space and (2) to provide the community with a historic education of the site with a time-line and the “ghosting” of two homes which are outlined with cobblestones salvaged from a WPA site in East Boston. Other design elements include:
Landscaping elements reference Olmsted’s choice of materials and designs; five different types of trees were chosen, Pine, Sumac, Willow, Box elder and Linden; the timeline installation was designed to explain the historical significance of the area; and seven of the original house numbers from Neptune Road are engraved in the sidewalk.
“This beautiful park serves as a great memory for all of those families that lived on Neptune Road, but it’s also a great memory of a close knit community that came together against all odds to save East Boston,’’ said Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “Wood Island Park may no longer exist, but the Neptune Road Airport Buffer will last forever in its place. I want to thank Massport for being a great partner with the community and for providing us with some of the most beautiful open space in the City.”