By John Lynds
On Sunday night the final seconds of 2017 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 that are sure to transform the very face of the neighborhood. From longtime elected officials and agency heads stepping down to a new young crop of leaders emerging Eastie is poised to become an even greater neighborhood in 2018.
This year marked a significant period of progress in Eastie 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.
In his final speech before the Council LaMattina said he was proud of what he and his colleagues had accomplished and for the spirit of cooperation throughout his tenure.
“When I look around this Chamber I’m so proud of my fellow Councilors here and the work you continue to do to make Boston a better city,” said LaMattina. “I’m most proud that we have all worked together for my eleven and half years here. We have worked as one body and because we work together the city is a better place. There was something I learned as kid (at the Social Centers) and that is, “When we all give, We all gain”. I can truly say we all worked together and for that I’m grateful because the city gained.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina leaves office
When City Councilor Sal LaMattina announced in April he would leave public office, the shockwaves rippled throughout the community. After a stellar 30-year career with the City of Boston, eleven of which was spent as the District 1 City Councilor, LaMattina said “It’s time. It’s time to give someone else a shot who has new ideas. I did not make this decision lightly but I feel I’ve left my mark on District 1.”
LaMattina began his career in public service under former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn as a Neighborhood Services Coordinator in 1987. LaMattina later moved to the Central Artery Project under Flynn and continued to work in Transportation under his longtime friend and mentor, the late Mayor Thomas Menino.
During that time LaMattina founded the annual neighborhood celebration, Eastie Pride Day and emerged as an important political figure in the neighborhood. Eleven and half years ago LaMattina was elected District City Councilor during a special election.
“I always wanted to run for city council and when Paul Scapicchio left the opportunity was there,” said LaMattina. “I was unsure until Mayor Menino called me and told me ‘I had no (guts)’. So he challenged me and I ran and here I am today.”
Suffolk Downs Sold
It is the largest developable parcel in the neighborhood was touted as the perfect site for a resort-style casino but that effort failed four years ago. After the failed casino bid the 161-acre Suffolk Downs Racetrack has the potential to be anything but the neighborhood wanted something great.
In stepped in former Boston Redevelopment Authority head Thomas O’Brien and his company, HYM Investment Group, LLC.
HYM purchased the racetrack in April.
Since the purchase O’Brien and his team have traveled around Eastie touting their vision for the racetrack which includes a mixed-use development of housing, retail and 40 acres of public open space.
The site then became the City of Boston’s pick for Seattle-based Amazon’s second North American headquarters (H20) request for proposals.
However, O’Brien has said his firm’s development plan is the same with or without Amazon.
“Obviously we feel really good,” said O’Brien. “Boston proposed such a good bid. When you review what some of the other cities prepared I think you will find both Mayor Walsh and Mayor Arrigo put together a really strong bid. With that said our plan is the same with or without Amazon. At the end of the day we want to build a large mixed use development with amenities and greenspace that is second to none. However, we are holding fast on our commitments to greenspace, a strong retail component and workforce housing. We want to make sure the open space gets delivered, retail gets delivered, housing gets delivered.”
In the spring it looked as though East Boston would forever lose its beloved community sailing program. At the end of the sailing season in Fall 2016 Piers Park Sailing Center (PPSC) was forced to layoff its year-round employees because there was no money left to keep the program going. It looked as though the two-decade old sailing program was doomed and unless the board was able to raise enough money before sailing began this spring PPSC would have not reopen for the 2017 season.
However, the community was determined not to let PPSC sink into the abyss and sprung into action. Through a neighborhood grassroots fundraising effort and generous grants from organizations like PierPac, Massport, the East Boston Foundation and some local developers, the future looked bright for the Sailing Center.
Over the summer PPSC Executive Director Alex DeFronzo announced that local enrollment has hit 185 youths that have signed up for PPSC’s summer programs.
“Piers Park Sailing Center (PPSC) had reopened for 2017 and despite the cold start to the season, hundreds have already sailed Boston Harbor this year through youth and adult programming supported by the East Boston Foundation, PiersPAC, Massport, and the local community,” said DeFronzo. “One hundred eighty five East Boston youth have registered for PPSC’s Inclusive Summer Program, more than ever before. Expanded outreach efforts and renewed support for the Center have resulted in many weeks of summer enrollment filling to capacity.”
Lydia Edwards elected District 1 City Councilor
At Kelley Square Pub in East Boston on election night in November, Lydia Edwards stood on a chair in the middle of the dinning room and declared her historic win as the first woman of color to be elected to the District 1 City Council seat a ‘mandate’.
Edwards edged out challenger Stephen Passacantilli of the North End 52.73 percent to 47.14 percent. When all the votes were counted in the District, Edwards ended the night with 6,897 votes to Passacantilli’s 6,167.
You can’t take anything away from Edwards’s big win last week. She out campaigned, out maneuvered and out messaged Passacantilli.
In Eastie Edwards wooed the ever changing demographic in the neighborhood, topped the ticked with 3,416 votes and won 10 out of the neighborhood’s 14 precincts. Millennial and young professionals, who have taken over a majority of the Eastie’s neighborhood groups and are becoming a political force in Eastie, turned out in big numbers during the election.
“I can’t believe this, look at what we did,” Edwards told her crowd of supporters at Kelley’s on Election night. “Together we proudly made history tonight. I’m so proud of all of you. I thank you all so much. This is what a grassroots campaign looks like. This is the most beautiful room in Boston tonight. I see so many people whose hands I shook and doors I knocked on. I see so many colors and so many religions in this room. It took all of us to show what a people’s campaign looks like. My heart is so filled is so filled with joy because we won going high, being positive and being inclusive.”
Paris St Gym and Central Square reopen, represent $32 million in capital improvements
Two major city projects finished up in 2017 after several years of construction
Both the Paris Street Community Center and the Central Square Redevelopment Project were both completed this year.
When Anthony “Tony” Albano was growing up on the hardscrabble streets of the Maverick Housing Development back in the 1950s and 1960s, he turned to the Paris Street Gym and sports as an outlet and way to stay out of trouble. Albano quickly made a name for himself through his prowess on the basketball court. Albano, along with others like John Nucci, the late Eddie Contilli and Arthur Lewis had legendary basketball battles at Paris Street Gym that are still talked about in certain circles today. However, back then the gym was nothing more than four walls, a basketball court, a few matts and a rickety old elevated running track. There were some showers and locker but today, what city officials have transformed the Paris Street Gym into through a $12 million project is nothing short of spectacular.
In August Mayor Martin Walsh joined with Eastie’s elected officials and Boston for Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) administrators to officially reopen the Paris Street Gym and dedicate the gym’s basketball court in honor of the late Albano.
“Anthony dedicated his life for 40 years to the students of East Boston High School,” said Mayor Walsh. “This dedication is just a small gesture to remember his great impact in the community. I’ve know Anthony (Albano) forever. I was involved in politics in Dorchester, he was involved in politics in East Boston and I remember a conversation we had years ago in Savin Hill. We were talking about politics but then the conversation turned to “how do you help people?”; how do you help a kid get a summer job?; how do you help that kid that’s in a jam get out of a jam?; how do you help someone get a job and support his or her family? That’s what this man did for the community and he helped thousands upon thousands of people…probably more people than we will ever know. Again what we are doing today is just a very small gesture, but by putting his name on this gym–a gym that is going to mentor young people and a gym that is going to help build charter in young people–it’s an important gesture for his legacy.”
Then in September the City cut the ribbon on the completed Central Square.
Business owners, residents, and East Boston drivers all breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Central Square rehab project wrapped up. After two years of disruptions to traffic patterns, parking and the square’s central park, Mayor Walsh joined Eastie’s elected officials and community members to officially cut the ribbon on the $20 million square and park rehab.
In the end the disruptions were worth the wait as Central Square and Bertulli Park have been transformed into a beautifully streetscaped and landscaped jewel in the middle of the neighborhood.
“I am thrilled to see such an amazing transformation here in Bertulli Park,” said Mayor Walsh. “Concrete has been replaced with a beautiful, green parkland and a host of other amenities that welcomes East Boston residents to visit, relax and enjoy Central Square. I want to thank all of our partners in the East Boston community who worked side by side with the City of Boston to make this renovated park a reality.”
After several years of planning and construction the park now includes 97 new trees and related green infrastructure, updated pavement, new LED lighting and seating, and new bicycle facilities. Streets surrounding the park have been redefined to ensure safe and consistent roadway conditions. For example, sidewalks have been widened to make transversing the square easier for pedestrians and traffic patterns around the park have been changed to combat congestion.
Additional new features include a wide pedestrian promenade on the Meridian Street side with a double row of trees and several benches. An elliptically shaped granite wall that also offers additional seating separates the more active areas of the park from a large parcel of green space known as Bertulli Park. There are now shortened pedestrian street crossings between Bertulli Park, the East Boston Social Center and surrounding businesses and residences. The entire park is handicap assessable with ADA compliant ramps and sidewalks.
The city also added a polished and more prominently displayed veteran’s memorial closer to the Social Centers’ side of the park.
The installation of green infrastructure in the form of permeable pavement that allows storm water to feed the roots of the new trees instead of sending it to drainage pipes and Boston Harbor.
EBSC Executive Director John Kelly retires
In May, after 34 years as the head of the East Boston Social Centers, Executive Director John Kelly retired.
Kelly, whose connection to Eastie dates back to his father who immigrated to the neighborhood from Scotland in 1925, transformed the EBSC’s original mission in the neighborhood as a social and recreational agency into one of the largest child care and teen agencies in the area.
Kelly began his career in the 1960s as a social worker and ran food-service programs as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in Southeastern Massachusetts. His work was so successful he was recruited to help run similar programs in the Boston area before ending up in South Boston at the Boys & Girls Club.
Kelly ended up as director of the Southie Boys & Girls Club and it was during this time in the 1970s he ended up supervising a program that was renting space in the third floor of the EBSC’s owned Trinity House on Meridian Street.
“How I ended up in East Boston is the Boys & Girls Club started running a summer food service program and with my experience during the Johnson-era in the 1960s they wanted someone to run it for the whole metropolitan area,” said Kelly. “So I wrote a grant and got the grant to run the program and we expanded to East Boston to the Trinity House.”
Then in 1983, following the retirement of longtime EBSC Director Jack Forbes, the Social Centers board needed someone to head the agency.
“Jack Forbes did a great job but the Social Centers needed to grow and could no longer survive fiscally by being a social and recreational agency alone,” said Kelly. “The buildings had issues, they had lost funding for the teen program and while they had great senior programs and some child care programs and the camps the board wasn’t sure it could survive much longer.”
Kelly took on the challenge and set out to rebuild the EBSC by redesigning the agency’s mission through increasing its profile as a child care agency while still keeping senior and youth programs as well as the East Boston Camps.
“When I got here I realized immediately youth and adult recreation was being taken care of, for the most part, by the city-funded community centers like Paris Street and Orient Heights so we needed to do something different,” said Kelly. “I didn’t think there was a future in social recreation because it was hard to fund. So I had to rethink it all.”
So Kelly began cutting back on funding social recreation and began to focus more on what the Socials Centers is today.
“The funding for social recreation just dried up so this was the avenue we had to take,” said Kelly. “While the public school kindergarten programs helped, we filled a lot of the gaps because we were full time child care where as kindergarten programs were only during the school year and only during school hours. There was no direct care for kids under five, or after 2 p.m. or during school vacations or throughout the summer months.”
ICA announces expansion to Eastie
In February Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art announced it is planning an expansion here on East Boston’s waterfront by 2018.
The ICA plans to renovate a condemned industrial warehouse at the Boston Shipyard and Marina on Marginal Street across from KO Pies into a thriving community art space.
“This is exciting news for East Boston,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “To have an institution like the ICA come to the neighborhood will have positive impacts not only for the visitors but also for the water transportation piece of this proposal with the inclusion of water taxi service between both sites. I believe that this is a partnership that will work and will greatly benefit the neighborhood and the ICA.”
The ICA will expand its artistic programming across the Harbor to a temporary site at the shipyard in Eastie.
According to the ICA the new space, dubbed the Watershed, is projected to open in summer 2018 pending permitting and final design. The ICA said they need to bring the currently condemned building up to code but want to keep a raw industrial feel to the building. The shipyard has played host to HarborArts, an annual art festival that uses art and artists to bring attention the global climate change and water pollution, for several
The ICA will present art and public programs in the new 15,000-square-foot space seasonally while continuing its regular programming in the Seaport year-round. The Watershed will be a raw, industrial space for art unlike any other in Boston, where visitors can experience immersive projects by artists engaged with the site, space, and issues related to this unique location.”
In addition to a flexible space for art and programs, the Watershed will house an introductory gallery focused on the historic shipyard and a waterside plaza that will serve as a gathering place.Admission will be free for all.
The Watershed will represent an exciting and creative mode of growth for the ICA museum.
ICA Director Jill Medvedow added, “We are thrilled to launch this exciting new journey and to create new opportunities for art and artists and to deepen the connection between the natural and cultural resources of Boston.”
Father John Nazzaro changes roles at Salesian Boys & Girls Club
In August, Fr. John Nazzaro announced he was stepping down as the Salesian Boys & Girls Club Executive Director but would remain at the Boys & Girls Club as the Director of Mission.
Fr. Nazzaro told the East Boston Times that he wanted to clear the air and make sure the community understands that he will remain at the club on a full time basis and is excited about his new role.
“I think I will be able to impact more young people as Director of Mission without having to deal with the day to day administrative responsibilities,” said Dr, Nazzaro.
The Director of Mission, explained Fr. Nazzaro, is a more pastoral position that will insure the Salesian Spirit and the spirit of St. John Bosco, the Apostle of Youth, will be present at the club for years to come.
As Director of Mission Fr. Nazzaro will collaborate with the Executive Director during the transition and help oversee faith formation, mission identity and formation of the Salesian educational approach.
Since taking over the Boys & Girls Club as Executive Director eleven years ago Fr. Nazzaro has been without a Director of Mission– a position he said is a priority in all Salesian houses throughout the congregation.
With this new position as Director of Mission, Fr. Nazzaro will have more time to attend to the spiritual and educational philosophy of the Salesians as well as promoting a Christian culture at the club
“Years ago when the Boys & Girls Club was on Paris Street we had priests that were dedicated to keeping the spirit of the Salesian order and the spirit of Don Bosco in the building,” said Fr. Nazzaro. “These priests had more time to mentor the kids, take them on field trips and be on hand to help them through tough times. As Executive Director a lot of my time was spent dealing with administrative issues, issues with the building, raising money, etc. Now I’m free to be with the kids on a regular basis and build the relationships we had with the community years ago. Our priority has always been to make the Boys & Girls Club a safe place for young people.”
Toll plaza project and ensuing traffic nightmare
It was no secret in the neighborhood that traffic here has gotten a worse, not better as a result of MassDOT’s All Electronic Tolling (AET) program that removed the toll booths from the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel. The removal of tolls and subsequent reconfiguration of the plaza has led to a traffic nightmare that MassDOT traffic engineers have tried in vain to correct for months.
Eastie resident reported it took nearly 45 minutes to travel from her Orient Heights residence to the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza. Many other residents have reported late arrivals to work, being late to drop their children off to school and general frustration over trying to navigate Eastie’s streets during the morning commute.
“The traffic seems to be starting earlier and earlier,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “They should be reconfiguring the plaza in the next few weeks and we’ll just have to wait and see if there is an improvement. I share and all me neighbor’s frustrations because I’m sitting in the same traffic every morning as everyone else.”
In November MassDOT spokesperson, Patrick Marvin confirmed that MassDOT crews are at work to get the new configuration up and running as soon as possible.
“Crews are continuing with roadways reconstruction operations at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel and expect that in the coming weeks, the traffic pattern will be adjusted so that vehicles traveling into the Sumner Tunnel will be closer to the median area meaning a straighter approach into the tunnel.” he said. “The timing of this traffic pattern adjustment will be dependent upon the progress of construction work and weather conditions.”
In September hundreds of Eastie residents voiced their disappointment with the whole toll plaza project. From inadequate traffic studies to poorly attended community meetings before the AET went into effect, residents said more could have been done and more community input given before construction began. Some also accused the state agency of trying to shoehorn the AET program, that has worked on the MassPike, into a dense urban area. In places where removing toll booths increased the speed of traffic and decreased gridlock, like the Allston/Brighton, the removal of the Sumner Tunnel tolls has had the complete opposite affect. Residents at the meeting said MassDOT failed to recognize that Eastie’s toll plaza is unique in that it is situated smack dab in the middle of a residential and commercial neighborhood. Unlike the Mass Pike tolls, the toll plaza here includes pedestrian traffic, neighborhood traffic as well as North Shore traffic coming down Route 1A. The plaza is bordered by homes, businesses and neighborhood side streets. So MassDOT’s goal of increasing traffic flow and volume for Route1A commuters has had hugely negative affect on the neighborhood as side streets have become completely gridlocked during the morning commute.
Longtime Santarpio’s waiter, Tony Costanzo retires
With his humor, good nature and apron filled with buttons, gifts from the thousands of customers he has served from all across the globe, Tony Costanzo has been one of the most recognizable faces inside the famed Santarpio’s Pizza for decades.
For 33 years Costanzo has been serving up Santarpio’s famous pies with a smile and joke and became one of the most beloved waiters at the 114 year old pizzeria.
However, it was an end of an era in October when Costanzo worked his last double shift and hung up his famed button-clad apron for good.
“I started working here, a couple of shifts a week, while I was working for John Hancock,” said Costanzo, who will turn 67 years old. “I worked at Hancock starting in 1968 but my department was sold to another company. After I was laid off I came to Frank (Santarpio) and said I had to find another job. He said, “Why don’t you just work more shifts?’, and the rest is history.”
Through his 33 plus years Santarpio’s Costanzo has met numerous actors, sports legends and politicians and seen the place transform but retain it’s integrity of arguably the best pizza in Boston.
“When I started we had sawdust on the floor, there was grated cheese in gerber jars, the booth cushions were held together by duct tape and some waiter would serve your pizza with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths,” said Costanzo. “While the inside has been polished up it still the basic menu and the pizza that has kept people coming back for generation. I think it’s the best pizza in the world.”
While the grittiness of Santarpio’s has changed, as well as the demographics of Eastie, Costanzo is just glad he was able to put a smile on customers’ faces year after year.
“Naturally I think what people come for is the pizza but it’s also the waiters, the atmosphere, the history,” he said. “Going to Santarpio’s is an experience and we all made sure people enjoyed themselves. I’d like to think I’d made people feel like they were at home. Thirty three years is a long time,” he said. “I’d like to think I made small difference in people’s lives. All I ever wanted in life was to be nice to people, put a smile on their face and have them leave wanting to come back. So when I see a woman come in who I use to sing Frank Sinatra songs to when she was a kid now come in with her son and we reminisce I know I’ve made somewhat of an impact.”