Year in Review:A Look at the People and Events of 2016

By John Lyndsebost_20161228_a1

On Saturday night the final seconds of 2016 will tick away and East Boston residents will join the world community and look to a new year with optimism and hope.

In this small community the year was filled with stories of triumph, victory, success, tragedy and adversity.

This year marked a significant period of progress in East Boston from important construction developments to long awaited projects to enhance the quality of life for residents to the recognition of long standing institutions that make Eastie one of Boston’s more sought after neighborhoods.

The East Boston Times has compiled the stories that show why Eastie is Boston’s neighborhood on the rise.

January

Petruccelli bids farewell to the Senate

It was bittersweet end to a stellar career for Senator Anthony Petruccelli in January.

Petruccelli entered the Senate Chambers for the last time to a standing ovation from colleagues and a packed gallery of friends, family, supporters and staff members.

“You only have one chance to do this so I may take some time and make sure I thank everyone I can for their love and support over these past 17 years,” said Petruccelli.

Petruccelli, unlike some other farewell speeches by elected officials who tend to point to their accomplishments during their tenure, chose to use the opportunity to thank the countless people that helped him in his career. From the late Albert “Junior” Lombardi to former Senate President Robert Travaglini to his dedicated staff to his friends, Petruccelli said they each had a role in his successes over the years and he could not have gotten this far in life without their support.

February

Angela’s Cafe opens second location

In February Angela’s Cafe opened its second East Boston location at the former El Paisa Restaurant located at 1012 Bennington Street.

Angela’s owner Luis Garcia said the new location will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Garcia said Angela’s original location on the corner of Lexington and Brooks Streets on Eagle Hill will still be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the second location will compliment the widely successful restaurant on Eagle Hill.

“We wanted more space and we have a lot of customers that come to our Eagle Hill location from Orient Heights, Revere and Winthrop so the second location will be a more convenient choice,” said Garcia.

Garcia said the new locations close proximity to the Orient Heights MBTA station across the street would also encourage patrons from Jeffries Point and the Maverick areas to hop on the T and not have to worry about parking.

The menu at the Orient Heights location, with food items like Angela’s award winning guacamole and mole poblano, will be the same as the Eagle Hill restaurant.

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March

MassDOT to begin talks about removing Eastie toll plaza

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) hosted a meeting in March 8 at the East Boston High School to begin discussing the take down of the Eastie toll plaza at the entrance of the Sumner Tunnel.

According to stated officials, after implementation of All Electronic Tolling (AET) MassDOT will be removing  the toll plaza at the Sumner  Tunnel. This project  includes  the reconfiguration and reconstruction of the approaching roadways to the Sumner  Tunnel  and adjacent  intersections. The  work  will also include  upgrades to signage, pavement  markings, pedestrian  accommodations, and roadway appurtenances within the limits of work.

Residents in East Boston have been clamoring for years to remove the toll booths from the entrance of the Sumner Tunnel and replace them with electronic tolling like MassDOT recently implemented on the Tobin Bridge.

This simple change could end the daily congestion on Route 1A during the morning commute. The problem, according to many, is that with only four E-ZPass lanes at the Sumner Tunnel’s toll plaza traffic in the morning has been backing up past the Neptune Road on ramp.

April

Boncore wins Primary, Democrats rally around First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate Nominee

First Suffolk and Middlesex State Senate nominee Joe Boncore and the five other candidates that ran for the seat during Tuesday, April 12 special election put aside their differences and broke bread at Donna’s Restaurant.

The breakfast, hosted by State Democratic Committee Chairman, Sen. Thomas McGee, was aimed at bringing all democrats together behind Boncore after the hotly contested race to replace former Senator Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston.

At the breakfast, Boncore joined candidates Rep. Jay Livingstone, Lydia Edwards, Diana Hwang, Revere City Councilor Steve Morabito and Paul Rogers all who supported Boncore during the May’s General Election. The only former candidate for the senate seat that did not show up to the ‘unity’ breakfast was former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo but Revere’s new Mayor Brian Arrigo was on hand to congratulate Boncore and show solidarity with the state party.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg also stopped by the breakfast to congratulate Boncore and the other candidates for a hard fought race.

 “I was thrilled to be joined by fellow Democrats and the candidates for the special Democratic primary,” said Boncore. “Regardless of our differences on certain issues, we each understand that in the end, supporting the Democratic nominee is what is most important for the district – win or lose. Each of them ran respectful campaigns and I look forward to earning their support this coming fall.”

May

Wounded Vet Ride, woman vet among honorees

Over 6,000 motorcycles roared through East Boston and the North Shore on Saturday May 14.

The annual event raised money for four local veterans wounded in combat overseas.

The daylong event, founded by area resident and U.S. Marine Andrew Biggio and former State Rep. Carlo Basile, followed a 40-mile route along the North Shore and end at Suffolk Downs Racetrack with a concert and barbecue.

This year the Wounded Vet Ride helped raise money for Army SSG James Clark, Sgt. Peter Damon, Army Specialist Sean Pesce, Marine Sgt. Eric Rodriguez and Marine Sgt. Kirstie Ennis.

Marine Sgt. Ennis was the first woman honored at the Massachusetts event since it was started six years ago by Biggio.

On June 23, 2012 a CH-53E Super Stallion Marine Sgt. Kirstie Ennis was aboard went down during a combat resupply run to Forward Operating Base Now Zad, Afghanistan. All eight people aboard survived, but the crash left Ennis with a shattered jaw, broken leg bones, burns, cervical and lumbar spine damage, traumatic brain injury and a hearing impairment. After a few years of trying to salvage her leg it unfortunately had to be amputated. After 38 reconstructive surgeries and years of speech and cognitive therapy, the 24-year-old is scheduled to appear on US Paralympic team.

June

Mayor Walsh cuts ribbon on completed LoPresti Park

In June following his annual coffee hour, Mayor Martin Walsh, flanked by the LoPresti Family, cut the ribbon on the completed LoPresti Park along East Boston waterfront on Sumner Street. The park is named after former East Boston State Senator Michael LoPresti.

The long awaited rehab to the park included the park’s basketball courts, play areas and entrance. In 2014 the artificial turf field that is part of grant from U.S. Soccer Foundation was installed.

“I want to thank the friends of LoPresti park for their work because this is a beautiful place and beautiful park and it is the strong advocacy from groups like them that keep places like this great,” Walsh said.

Features of the renovated waterfront park include a new artificial turf soccer field with lighting, new basketball courts with lighting, a splash pad, a new play area with adult exercise equipment funded by the Trust for Public Land, renovation of the park’s section of the Harborwalk, water access area for personal craft, a picnic grove with a ping-pong table, and salt-tolerant plantings.

Walsh said the park design capitalized on the spectacular views at the site by aligning the entries and pathways with the existing street grid.  The community process emphasized how important basketball was to the neighborhood, and how much people valued being able to be in a park on the water.  Shade is critically important on this site and over 100 trees were planted. A variety of spaces were created for people to spend time in the park from a sunning lawn with views to downtown Boston and Charlestown, to picnic tables, park benches, and lounge chairs.

July

Free kayaking returns to Orient Heights’ Constitution Beach

The free kayaking program kicked off again in July at Constitution Beach and was run by East Boston’s Neighborhood of Affordable Housing’s (NOAH) Community Building and Environment Department’s Youth Crew.

According to NOAH’s Director of Community Building and Environment Department, Chris Marchi, the youths were shooting for 4,000 boaters.  The program is funded by a Save the Harbor/Save the Bay Better Beaches Grant and and Save the Harbor is looking to use NOAH’s model to offer thousands of residents great salt water adventures at other area beaches.

Marchi said with 15 miles of coastline, Eastie has one of the best hidden waterfronts in all of Boston and should be a great resource for summer fun.

“We have the Nations’ cleanest Harbor, but we, as a city, need to learn how to use it,” said Marchi. “Ask the average Bostonian how often they’ve gone on a canoe, kayak or row boat?  Even here in East Boston, which is essentially an island, the majority of people have never been boating. Our model recognizes that knowledge, time and money are often obstacles to participation, even in fun programs like boating.”

August

Zumix music students’ chance of a lifetime

Four Zumix music students recently got a chance of a lifetime. These four young and talented musicians were chosen by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra to help write an original piece of music that they performed alongside the full orchestra at the Boston Hatch Shell in August.

Angelina Botticelli, Justin Garcia, Sebastian Jaramillo and Irisdel Rojas worked for weeks to compose original music and worked with  conductor, Gonzalo Grau, to transform their music into a 20 plus minute long piece that the famed orchestra performed along with the Zumix kids.

The musical piece represented the four elements–earth, air, fire and water– and each Zumix student had to come up with a piece of music inspired by each element. In the piece Garcia represents fire, Botticelli’s music represents earth, while Jaramillo and Rojas are water and air respectively.

September

Zumix Radio kicks off in September

East Boston’s widely popular youth music and arts program hosted a community-wide block party on Saturday, September 17 to launch its low-power FM radio station, 94.9 Zumix.

“We are super excited about the Zumix radio launch party and want to encourage the entire  community to come down and help us celebrate,” said Zumix Director Madeleine Steczynski. “It will be an awesome day with food and live performance and half way through we will ‘Flip the Switch’ on the station and go live from the party.”

The free, outdoor, family-friendly afternoon of music, art, food, and community kicked off at 3 p.m. on September 17 on Orleans Street in Jeffries Point from Sumner to Everett Streets.

The event featured live music on two stages, multi-media art installations, and small business vendors.

Musical performances on alternating stages spaned a wide array genres, and featured Zumix youth ensembles and local bands including Latin Rock group La Chusma, youth group ICA Slam Poets, and hip hop dance crew the Floorlords. Pupusas and cider will also be for sale.

“This is a great moment in a long, important relationship between the station and our neighborhood,” said Thomas. “Youth producers will be given space to create of the type of media that represents and sustains them. I’m so excited that the community is embracing this project. I hope that the Block Party will be everything that is a part of our station’s long-term vision – a place to connect with neighbors, share music, hear a different perspective, and recharge through the power of youth art.”

October

Meet Father Eric Bennett, Sacred Heart’s new parish priest

While the community fought hard to keep beloved Sacred Heart Parish Priest, Father Wayne Belschner, his move to Deedham led to the arrival of a new leader of the church who said he’s ready to continue the good work Father Belschner did in the community.

Fr. Eric Bennett, a 36-year-old native Rhode Islander, arrived at Sacred Heart and has settled in nicely to his new assignment here in East Boston.

“What I love is when you look out from the alter you see Spanish speakers, Italian speakers, Vietnamese speakers, the community is a real melting pot of people,” said Fr. Bennett, who also speaks Spanish and Italian aside from English. “The first couple of weeks doing the Italian Mass was a little rough but the parishioners here were cheering me on so it was great.”

Fr. Bennett was born and raised in Rhode Island and is one of eight children, three sisters and five brothers. His parents, Dudley and Kathleen (Foley) Bennett still live in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Growing up, Fr. Bennett attended local public schools in East Greenwich before enrolling at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island.

“It really is the Mission of the Church to help,” said Fr. Bennett. “We are here if you come in and if you need assistance we want to be here for you.”

As for filling Fr. Belschner’s shoes in the community, Fr. Bennett said while no one could duplicate Fr. Belschner’s larger than life personality he has arrived with his own set of gifts and talents that will hopefully continue Sacred Heart Parish down the right path.

November

Schettino appointed as new Executive Director of the East Boston Foundation

Local attorney Lorene Schettino has served as interim executive director of the East Boston Foundation since Attorney Richard Lynds, who served since 1998, stepped down in January to focus on expanding his law practice. In November, the Foundation’s board made it official and appointed Schettino as the new Executive Director.

The appointment became affective on Thursday, November 24. Schettino has been a practicing lawyer in the Eastie for the past seven years. Schettino graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 2009 and earned her Undergraduate Degree from Suffolk as well. Born and raised in Eastie, Schettino attended elementary school here and graduated from Savio Prep. She and her family have deep roots in Eastie and have long supported numerous charitable organizations over the years.

“I am so excited to have been chosen by the Board to lead the Foundation. I will be a tireless advocate for the community and the outstanding programs supported by the foundation’s work,” said Schettino. “East Boston is extremely fortunate to have so many great community leaders and partnerships whose passion is to improve the quality of life for all the children, residents and businesses in East Boston. I look forward to working with all of them to advance the Foundation’s mission in the community.”

December

Trinity, CDC and BHA break ground on Orient Heights development

For nearly two decades, city and state officials have been trying to figure out the best way to rehab and improve the aging Orient Heights Public Housing development.

In December the long-awaited project to overhaul East Boston’s largest public housing development is one step closer to reality.

The Boston Housing Authority, East Boston Community Development Corporation and Trinity Financial, broke ground on Phase One of the $186 million Orient Heights development project.

The project involves the construction  of two five  story buildings and a combination  of town homes  and  mid-rises. Today, Orient Heights is comprised of 331 units of state-funded public housing terraced into a steep hillside built in 1951 and in great need of maintenance and modernization.

A  total  of  approximately   373  housing  units  are  proposed, replacing obsolete 1940s-era public housing units on a one-to-one basis with the addition of a small market-rate housing component to create a revitalized mixed-income community. A combination  of off-street and on-street parking spaces will  be provided.

Phase One will result in the demolition of four existing buildings containing 90 dwelling units and the central boiler plant and the new construction of 120 affordable housing units in a series of clustered townhouses and a mid rise building along Waldemar Avenue.

“I am grateful to join with our state and community partners as we celebrate the beginning of a new era for the Orient Heights housing development,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. “This public housing facility has been the home of many families for decades, and I am proud that with the support of our state and federal partners we are revitalizing current facilities, while creating new living spaces for future residents.”

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