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Notes from the Archives: Urban Renewal and Government Center

July 17, 2017

Today’s post looks at a significant moment in Boston’s history: the heyday of urban renewal and the plan for Government Center.

John F. Collins served two terms as Boston’s mayor from 1960-1967. During this time, Collins endorsed programs aimed at rebuilding parts of the City considered old, neglected, and in disrepair. These redevelopment programs changed much of Boston’s landscape in the 1960s. The programs also reflected a national interest in urban renewal. Cities across the country were asking for government funds to redesign their neighborhoods.

City Hall under Construction, 1966,  Boston Redevelopment Authority photographs, Collection 4010.001, Boston City Archives

In Boston, some neighborhoods were demolished to make room for new spaces like Government Center. The Mayor John F. Collins records here at the archives include materials about urban renewal and the Government Center planning. The archives also holds records about the design of the City Hall building in Government Center (shown above under construction). To learn more about City Hall, check out our tumblr post here!

Aerial view of Scollay Square, circa 1959, Box 147, Mayor John Collins records, Boston City Archives

Government Center was a major part of Mayor Collins’s citywide redevelopment strategy. In 1959, consulting partners Adams, Howard, and Greeley drafted a report that recommended locations for

  • the new City Hall
  • a new federal office building, and
  • a new county courthouse.

Page 11 from the report (above) shows an aerial view of Scollay Square. The area would eventually become Government Center.

Telefax from David Walker to Mayor John Collins, September 15, 1960, Box 147, Mayor John Collins records, Boston City Archives

This message was sent by the Housing and Home Finance Agency to Mayor Collins in 1960. It shows how the City received an advance of $185,731 to begin its “Government Center urban renewal project.” Federal money partially subsidized the City’s plan for a modern civic center downtown. With loans of more than $21 million, the City bought all but one of the properties in Scollay Square for Government Center by 1962.

Urban renewal also affected neighborhoods outside of downtown Boston. The mayor’s redevelopment strategy included:

  • Charlestown
  • the South End
  • Roxbury and North Dorchester
  • South Boston
  • East Boston, and
  • Jamaica Plain.

Today, there are mixed responses to Mayor Collins’s programs.

Development Plan for Boston, circa 1960-1962, Box 147, Mayor John Collins records, Boston City Archives

Shown here is the back cover of a booklet given to City leaders by Mayor John F. Collins. The booklet promoted his urban renewal program for the City of Boston.

This blog post is by Archives Intern Alejandra Dean. Alejandra  is a graduate student concentrating in archives management at the School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College.