Lower Roxbury Community Development Corporation
Source: Lower Roxbury: A Community of Treasures in the City of Boston
Written by Ronald Bailey with Diane Turner and Robert Hayden
Notes compiled by Candelaria Silva
LRCC/MDCP had three Executive Directors in its 40+ year history
Ralph Smith – first ED/founder
Danette Jones – 2nd – established MPDC during her tenure
Jeanne Pinado - 3rd/current
Community Activists/Organizers who worked with the community against I-95 and to bring housing back:
Gloria Fox (a resident in Whittier Street and a street worker with youth)
Syvalia Hyman III (Roxbury Federation)
Dan Richardson (Organizer of service center at the Whittier Street Housing Projects)
Alex Rodriguez (Cooper Community Center)
Vinny Haynes (Community organization Coordinator)
Some of the Organizations
South End Neighborhood Action Program.
Cooper Community Center (located on Williams Street then)
The Roxbury Community Council
The Roxbury Federation
Whittier Street Neighborhood Service Center
The Commission on Church and Race
The Episcopalian Church on Tremont Street-St Johns Roxbury Crossing
Dan Richardson (23)
“The Lower Roxbury Community Corporation was basically two hundred families and/or individuals who got together and said, “Hey! Look! You know, we’re gonna set our feet down here and we’re not gonna be moved by anybody.”
Alex Rodriguez talked about the community’s response to the urban renewal plans.
“The alternative was that Lower Roxbury was going to be the industrial exchange of the city. It was going to be an industrial center with low-wage industry. We thought that was an inappropriate use for the district and we also thought it was going to push everybody out. We needed an institutional anchor, in order to create housing. The purpose was to find our major institutional anchor to occupy a good proportion of the land and ten to develop housing that was going to be community-owned and community-operated.
Several issues contributed to the plight of the neighborhood, including:
The condition of the neighborhood. The city had let the neighborhood run down. There was a lot of abandoned housing. Housing was torn down rather than being rehabbed.
The condition of Madison Park itself. In the 30s it had live entertainment. It had a country atmosphere, with a band and a gazebo in the middle of the park.” By the mid-1960s the park had turned into a nightmare – it was hazardous to the community and an eyesore. Suburban homeowners and contractors dumped trash in the neighborhood rather than paying fees to their town dumps or dumping fees for contractors.
Lack of City Services – Byron Rushing: “The city had decided that the neighborhood didn’t need to exist. So they made a conscious decision to cut back on city services.” (23) “The struggle over random dumping in MP provided the stimulus for many residents of Lower Roxbury to get involved with issues related to the plight of their community and gave people the opportunity to identify a major problem in their community – poor government services and treatment.”
How MP got cleaned
Alex Rodrigues “We got a crew of people together and they got out there and someone managed to find the key to a front loader. We piled this huge load of garbage in the park and had a prayer ceremony. The Fire Dept. came and turned their hoses on us – not on the fire – and arrested some people. There were photographs in the paper the next day of black people being hosed down which, in 1966, was a very emotional picture because of the whole idea of Black people being hosed in the South…The state rep at the time came around and rode on our coattails. They announced that if the place didn’t get cleaned up, they were going to have a big march down to City Hall. And the city came out and cleaned it up. …there was so much junk there that it literally took them a week of working eight hours a day to get all of it cleaned up…and finally they put barriers up so people couldn’t drive up into the area.”
Plan for High School
Alex Rodrigues: Around the same time “the city announced that it was going to build Madison Park High School – this campus high school – in Lower Roxbury. And in order to get federal funding for the purchase of the land, they were going to declare that area an urban renewal area. And so that was the beginning of what was called the ‘Campus High School Urban Renewal Area.’ At that point, the plan was that the campus high school was going to fill the whole area from Melnea Cass Blvd to New Dudley St.” (25)
Mrs. Beryl Roach – “Alex Rodriguez came to a meting we had at a community center and explained to us that we didn’t have to move because they didn’t need all the land they were going to take for the high school. We could at least go and fight for a small piece of land. And we just wanted some place to put houses back in to replace the ones they were going to demolish.” (25)
Plans for I-95 (30-31)
All of the housing developments that were going to be impacted by I-95 organized – Whittier Street, Mission Hill Extension Housing, Academy Homes, Bromley Heath Housing. They worked with people in the South End, Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, Brookline and Canton who were also organizing.
Gloria Fox: “We linked up with environmentalists and other people that shared our concerns around other issues, not only the environmental impacts. We had data to back up the kid of deaths and the kind of respiratory problems that would result with the # of automobiles that would be coming through our community if a 10-14 lane highway was just put down the middle of Lower Roxbury, the most densely populated area in the city.
“Operation Stop was the name of the group that later became nationally known as the group that stopped (I-95, a major interstate highway running from Maine to Florida.”)
Low Home Ownership – Most of the people who lived in Lower Roxbury were renters.
The area was mixed.
In response to these negative factors, the community organized and established the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation.(28)
Headline from Bay State Banner – 6000 in Roxbury sent renewal notice (Jan. 15, 1966)– and Inner Belt to Uproot 937 Roxbury Families (Dec. 18, 1965)
(30-33) Gloria Fox“We now had all of this vacant land – there were 500-800 jobs and much property that were already lost from the area. ‘How do we turn that around’ was the question.
(35) Val Hyman said “We’ll know if this thing works if these people fire us, if the throw us out.” (meaning residents) Sure enough, the residents took over about ay ear and a half later and threw out all the planners. “We knew they were gonna make the decisions…They weren’t going to listen to…anybody else.”
“Well, we went and got some planners from MIT and Harvard and we developed our own plan. So when we went to the Urban Renewal Planning meeting at Timilty School in June of 1966, we came in with our little plan for the neighborhood.”
The plan showed that the school campus could be shrunk from its original size of 90 acres to 35 and that housing could be put on it.
Ralph Smith and Shirley Smolinsky (white) were the elected leaders. Mrs. Smolinsky was a homemaker. Mr. Smith left his job and worked full-time for the effort before there was money to pay him.
Ralph Smith received a notice in 1966 telling him he’d have to move from the 2-family home he owned on Vernon Street. The letter also talked about the plans for I-95. “We didn’t want to move. People knew what had happened in Mission Hill with the building of apartments on Huntington Ave and also in the West End. “They were promised that they were not going to be permanently displaced, but indeed they were. We did not want this displacement to happen in Lower Roxbury.” (40)
Three days of hearings were scheduled. Ed Logue, Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) did not show up on the 1st day of the hearing. They went to the mayor and said they wanted Logue. He came on the 2nd day.
The Lower Roxbury group came with a draft of a memorandum of understanding but Logue refused to acknowledge it. He did acknowledge “that smart-aleck crowd from MIT who helped to put this memorandum together.”
During the 1st 2 days of hearings before the City Council, Ed said no to the MOA. On the 3rd day of the hearing Logue said “that the BRA wouldn’t sign anything because the Roxbury contingent didn’t represent the community. At 5pm on Friday, he still would not sign…because, he argued, the Roxbury residents had not come up with signatures from everyone in the Lower Roxbury community. By Monday morning…more than 500 signatures were gathered. There were further hearings, including a hearing at the Timilty School in May 1966 about the BRA plans to take the land. This hearing lasted 4 days. And on Monday, with the signatures in hand, the Lower Roxbury residents could count on most of the City council members to vote with them, but no Mr. Logue. “We went into the hearing at the Timilty School with the argument that the campus high school could fit on 35 acres instead of the 90 acres that the BRA was proposing to take and to use.”
Finally, by Jan. 1967, Logue and the mayor had signed the memorandum of agreement. And they came out to the Whittier Street project for the signing. By that time, the group had more formally organized as the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation and Mrs. Smolinsky and Ralph smith had been elected co-chairs. (42)
Ralph Smith: “Once the agreement was signed, there were three stages. The first stage was ‘we want you to build some housing.’ The second stage was ‘we want to have a say in what kind of housing is built in this community.’ So we organized people to look at Academy Homes Townhouses sort of thing and we begin to meet…Somewhere along the line, Urban Planning Aid, which was a group of architects, had come into offer assistance to help the community in making judgments. This was almost simultaneous to when we began the hearings about I-85 and the campus high school, and they came to lend a hand.” (42)
LRCC builds Madison Park Village:
Vinny Haynes (44): “We would have been doing more than 400 units of housing, with an elderly development, an apartment complex, then the town houses.”
The buildings were erected in phases.
Phase One: Housing for the elderly, named Smith House after Ralph Smith, was the first to be erected because financing for this was the easiest to get. .The second building was an apartment building named Haynes House after Vincent Haynes. It was very difficult to do. It was originally going to be 3 stories but ended up being 7 stories. The first Phase of the townhouses had 120 units in two, three and four-unit clusters.
Phase two – another 90 townhouses
Phase 3 – more units
About Ralph Smith
(46) Mrs. Sara Coles “I think Ralph was effective because he was dogged. Like a pit bull gets a hold of something and is not going to let it go…”
Ralph Smith’s leadership appears to be important, and many residents commented on the qualities that made him a strong leader. Mrs. Brathwaite said, “He was a strong leader. He always said one person doesn’t have all the answers and what you have to do is surround yourselves with people who are knowledgeable. And that’s what he did. And that’s probably why the project book off; he got the best people he could possibly find…”
In his own words: Mr. Smith said, “I wanted to do something for my people and I did it. I tried to treat people fairly and I did what I did because I wanted to make sure that somebody would at least know I passed this way. I was not looking for accolades…I’m the only one of my group that kept it all black, and black people own this development.”
Madison Park Development Corporation is the successor to the LRCC. From their website (Madison-park.org), here is their current real estate portfolio:
113 homeownership units,
1,173 rental units, and
125 units of student housing (with Northeastern University)
Two commercial buildings (85,000 square feet of vibrant retail and office space located in formerly vacant buildings – the old Woolworth Building and Hibernian Hall).
They are currently working on theOrchard Homeownership Initiative, which will be up to 32 for-sale homes to be built on vacant land on Dudley, Adams, Eustis and other nearby Streets. The homes will besold to households with incomes below 80% of area median. Residents of Orchard Commons and Orchard Gardens will have first priority in purchasing these new homes to be built on vacant land on Dudley, Adams, Eustis, and other nearby streets.