THE HOUSING OF WASHINGTON PARK URBAN RENEWAL AREA
ACADEMY HOMES I & IIEdit
BRA Director Logue and his design staff put a great deal of thought and effort into the plan and development of Academy Homes I because it was the first project begun of Washington Park Urban Renewal in Roxbury. In his final report as BRA director on August 4, 1967, Logue wrote that he considered Academy Homes to be an outstanding achievement. So proud of it ,in fact, that he more than likely was the one who convinced the city to name its two main streets Weaver Way and Slayton Way after the two principle federal administrators of the national urban renewal program.§
Like the rest of the four housing developments built as part of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Program Academy I was a self contained little village of largely identical boxes made of interchangeable parts facing private ways.
Academy Homes I was not faith-based housing but it was built on church-owned land, the 16 acre campus of the Sisters of Notre Dame, established in 1853 as a boarding school for Catholic girls educated to be teachers in the growing parochial schools of the Boston Archdiocese§§ A large, long brick dormitory and school set back on a ridge well away from the dusty Dedham Turnpike ( as Washington Street was then called) housed the Academy ( it was located directly behind the present-day Council of Elders tower).
Designed by the nation’s most famous architect of Catholic churches and institutions Patrick C. Keely the Academy opened on May 1, 1859. ( Fairly isolated until 1898 when Columbus Avenue was built, it was reached from the railroad station at Boylston Street via a street that ran off Amory Street today called Dimock Street).
When the Sisters of Notre Dame announced their intention to remove the school to Hingham in 1961, the BRA grasped this golden opportunity to use the largely open site as housing for those largely low income residents displaced for the civic center and Warren Gardens at the tip of the Urban Renewal boundary Of the six housing developments built for Washington Park, no one would be relocated for Academy Homes The BRA had about 14 acres of land to subdivide when it bought the campus on May 16, 1963 ( Suffolk County Deeds Book 7747.Page 467).
Director Logue largely influenced the selection of both architect and developer. In January, 1963, he asked the architect Carl Koch, with whom he had worked in the design of Liberty Square Residences as part of New Haven’s urban renewal program, to come to Boston and design Academy Homes I. Carl Koch ( 1912-1998) was often called the “grandfather of prefab” for his innovative experimentation and use of simple repetitive cast forms that would reduce the costs of building housing. After graduation from Harvard College, Koch studied with Walter Gropius at the Harvard Graduate School of Design from which he graduated in 1937. ( Obituary Boston Globe July 10, 1998).
The BRA used section 221(D) (3) of the Housing Act of 1961 for financing.
( HR 6028 Passed June 1, 1961. 87th Congress). If any one piece of legislation built Washington Park, Section 221 (D)( 3 ) came closest.
This section was aimed at the redevelopment of slum areas for moderate income family hosing through a joint program of mortgage insurance and long term loans at below market rates. This package would be made available to non profit organizations and cooperatives, certain public agencies and limited dividend corporations to build the housing.§ In 1963, Section 221 housing averages 57% less than regular FHA multi family housing. Moreover the state provided tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations engaged in housing production.
The total cost of Washington Park renewal plan was estimated to be $75 million, of which $25 million would be contributed by the city through the sale of municipal bonds which the state would match dollar for dollar for the construction of streets, site clearance, sewer, water and electrical lines. Two thirds of the cost would be born by the US Housing Finance Agency. BRA acquired the land and prepared the site for constructions and negotiated a sale price with the developer which would assume full responsibility for completion of the housing which would be signed off at the completion when the BRA concluded that it was built according to plan. This was the process by which all the other developments were built in Washington Park.
Director Logue lined up the Building Services Employees International Union
( BUSE) Local 254, AFL-CIO to develop Academy Homes under a non profit satellite called BUSE Boston Inc. On June 24, 1963,the BRA agreed to complete site preparation in an agreement with BUSE and the site would be rough graded and roads built except for paving by July 31,1963.
On May 10,1963 HHFA Administrator Robert C. Weaver participated in the groundbreakng for Academy Homes I at Columbus and Richie Street. Academy I was completed in 1966 and Academy II opened in early 1967.
The entire site was broken up into 5 parcels of which BUSE and its contractor the Development Corporation of America ( DCA) built over the next 4 years. The first parcel DCA built was at Columbus and Richie Street ( parcel E) followed by parcel E2A at Washington and Dimock Street. This was combined and built with parcel B3, the 7.5 acre between Cobden, Townsend and Washington Streets called Academy Homes II.
Academy Homes I Fact Sheet Edit
1596 Columbus Avenue and Academy Road
202 midpriced and affordable apartments spread over 7.4 acres in 11, 3 –story clusters.
Carl Koch and Associates architect,
Groundbreaking May 10,1963.
Opened late 1966,
Cost $ 3 million
Acquired by Urban Edge and Academy Homes Tenant Council in April 1998
for $6.8 million.
Complete renovation begun in April 1999 .
Mostue Associates, architect
Completed May 8, 2000
Estimated cost $20 million.
The first new housing in Washington Part urban renewal and planned as low cost homes for residents displaced during site clearance for Warren Gardens and the civic center, the poorest part of the urban renewal district. Architect Carl Koch devised a scheme whereby construction costs could be minimized – and hence rents - with a system of prefabricated parts that could be interchangeably fit together for a variety of unit sizes.
Koch invented an advanced program of pre-stressed concrete plank and wall parts he called Spancrete. factory made and site delivered to be hoisted and notched in place;
non load bearing walls were made of prefabricated stressed plywood.
The City of Boston Building Department required considerable coaxing to permit this experimental style of construction with which it had no experience. Contractors had limited success with putting the pieces together correctly too and structural problems plagued both Academy Homes for decades.
Sepp Frinkas was the structural engineer on Koch’s team on Academy I & II as well as another prefabricated housing style devised for the Infill Houses program
(such as 2000 – 2030 Columbus Avenue designed in 1971).
The architectural community loved the Spancrete concept and Progressive Architecture gave Academy Homes I a citation for advanced residential design in its January, 1965 issue.
Academy Homes IIEdit
A companion development partially built on open land of the girls’ school but largely built on a very high site opposite the academy campus.
WPUR Parcels E-2 and B-3. Total 7.5 acres. The smallest was E-2, a pentagon shaped
tract built out in similar from to Academy I. Three , three story low rise clusters in
U - shape and V shape formations of 18 apartments each tucked behind the grey stone walls of the old school.. Building permit June 29, 1966.
Carl Koch and Associates, architect.
Parcel B3 was the largest, a bundle of 83 wood frame 2 and 3 family homes located on the opposite side of Washington Street and on Codman Park, a public street that ran along the edge of the hillside.
After clearance, five huge precast monoliths of 3 to 9 stories rose above the street with most entrances facing Codman Park to eliminate as much as possible the noise of the elevated railroad that snaked down Washington Street until its removal in 1989. The low rise cluster faced Cobden Street with entrances on that public way, The largest was a 9 story zigzag monolith supported on vast concrete plinths jammed into living conglomerate . These plinths supported prefabricated housing units and overhanging bays The ground level was intended for retail stores. These two vast gray structures would dominate the landscape and be the entranceway to Roxbury for 35 years.
Building permits for Parcel B-3 housing were issued on June 29, 1966.
The Land Disposition Agreement was signed on June 30, 1966 between the BRA and Academy Cooperative Homes Inc. The buyer paid $4,120,000 for the land aand agred to build 315 units of moderate income housing on or before July 1, 1968 ( Suffolk County Deeds.Book 8051 Page 148 Land court Cert 75539. Book 373 page 139).
Renters began moving at the end of 1967.
The development was sold at a foreclosure sale on February 21, 1975 and the 315 leaseholders stumbled through twenty years of bad management and delayed maintenance until it was taken over by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on June 28, 1995. ( Land Court Doc. 527720/ Cert. Bk. 544 page 137).
In December 1997 HUD agreed to include Academy Homes II in the massive Demolition-Disposition Program then underway administered by Mass Housing. Demo-Dispo was a huge project under which 11 multi family developments - mostly in Roxbury and many as old as 80 years - would be preserved and some rebuilt from the ground up. Academy Homes II was the last added to the list and the last completed in 2005. In the end the Demo Dispo Program cost $276 million, gave new hones to 1 866 families and was the largest preservation project of multi family housing in Boston’s history.
HUD appropriated $45.5 million to raze and rebuild Academy Homes II. ( MHFA Project 96.006) Every lease holder was relocated- some as far away as South Boston – for over 4 years.( Boston Globe, March 3, 2001),
So wracked with technical problems largely the result of poor construction but also from thirty years of delayed maintenance that Carl Kochs’ celebrated Spancrete met the wreckers ball in March of 2001. The entire 7.5 acre site was leveled in a year.
The unit configuration was reduced from 315 to 236 apartments in 3 story wood frame buildings built on 3 sites.
Elton Associates and Chia Ming Sze, architects. Paula Collins AIA principle architect.
Diane Georgopulis, AIA Mass Housing project architect.
Site A. Codman Park, Washington Street and Townsend Street.
12 row house blocks.
Typical building permit:
39- 55 Codman Park
10 unit, 3 stories, woodframe. 36 feet high. X 138 feet long.
Estimated cost $1,328.600
Permit: Sept 8, 2000. Occupied in November –December 2004.
Site B Washington Street and Dimock StreetEdit
9 row house clusters
Typical building permit:
288-2894 Washington Street
All brick veneer fronts facing Washington Street with individual entrances behind the original stone wall of the Academy.
6 units, 3 story, woodframe.
Estimated cost $932,915.
Permit granted Jan 16, 2001,
Occupied March-April, 2004
Site C Richie Street
3, 3 story row houses set around a court abutting Academy Homes I on the west side.
Occupied in Nov, 2003.
All plans filed on February 27, 2000
All building permits granted by Jan 11, 2001.
Groundbreaking on Sept 28, 2001.
All three sites cleared of original structures by April 2003.
( See The Boston Globe .March 29,2003 “The End of a Bad Dream:Tenants Return to Rebuilt Academy Homes”
Boston Globe , April 17, 2004, “Starting Over Boosts Academy Development”.) § Robert C. Weaver ( 1907 – 1997 ) was Administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency.
William Slayton ( 1918-1999) was Urban Renewal Administrator in the Kennedy administration. See “Operation and Achievement of the Urban Renewal Program”, by William L Slayton, in Urban Renewal: The Record and the Controversy. James Q Wilson, editor, MIT Press, 1966.
On April 23, 1963, William Slayton came to Boston to formally announce federal approval of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Plan.
Weaver, the son of a Washington, DC postal worker , began his career in the then newly created US Housing Authority in 1937. In the Kennedy administration he was director of that office, then called the US Housing & Home Finance Agency under which the Urban Renewal Program was administered. When Lyndon Johnson created the Housing & Urban Development Agency in 1965 , Weaver became its first secretary and the first black cabinet officer in American history. The author of several books, The Urban Complex ( Garden City, 1964 ) analyzes the urban renewal program.
§§ In 1919 the Sisters of Notre Dame established Emmanuel College in the Fenway, the first Catholic Women’s college in New England. § For more information on the 221 (D)(3) program see
- “ A Study in Contradictions: The Origin and Legacy of the Housing Act of 1949”, Alex Von Hoffman, Housing Policy Debate Vol. 11, Issue 2, FNMA Foundation 2000, page 319.
- “Operation and Achievements of the Urban Renewal Program”, William L Slayton, in Urban Renewal : The Record and the Controversy, James Q Wilson, ed, MIT Press, 1966, page 193, 194.
- Weaver, Robert C, The Urban Complex, Human Values in Urban Life, Garden City, NJ, 1964.
- “Urban Renewal: An Historical Overview”, Jewel Bellushi and Murray Hauknecht. Reprinted in Urban Renewal, People, Politics and Planning,Bellushi and Hauknecht, eds. Anchor, 1967.