Jamaica Plain

By Jim Botticelli/Dirty Old Boston Creator

Jamaica Plain--let's call it JP--is a different sort of Boston neighborhood. The jury's out on the definitive origins of its name unfortunately but a point of local pride is that it has long been intergrated in ways other areas of the city have not. Oh, the well to do live pondside and the hoi-polloi on the other side of the Orange Line tracks, but JP became strongly identified with the Rainbow movement as far back as the 1983 Mayoral candidacy of Mel King. Add to that mix a heavy LGBTQ contingent and you know you've arrived in a place unlike any other in the city. Like other Boston neighborhoods, JP was known as a "streetcar suburb", not a suburb in the modern sense, but also not then considered part of the fabric of Boston. It was outside the city proper. You had to travel to get in and out. JP's relationship to the car has always been arduous. Then when push came to shove, JP was front and center in stopping I-95 from tearing the neighborhood apart.

Eminent domain had already torn a harsh shard from Forest Hills straight to the South End before Governor Frank Sargent put a kibosh on the whole thing in the early 70s. Unfortunately a lot of the real estate where the Orange Line is today had taken a terrible beating. Much of JP itself was dilapidated throughout the 70s into the late 80s. Perhaps that is why planners thought they could ram an interstate through urban neighborhoods unchallenged. It's been a long slow and often controversial slog to get JP to where it is in the 21st Century.

(Below) Paul Gore at Lamartine St in the mid 80s. Photo by Mark Hoffman

(Above) Two stately houses on Seaverns St in need serious repair in the early 80s. Courtesy JP Historical Society

Most JP types took the streetcars or the subway into town; the neighborhood offers access to both the Orange and Green lines of the MBTA and to this day, particularly at busy travel times, hordes of commuters walk JP's leafy streets toward the #39, #41, JP Loop and the Orange Line which opened on the very space claimed and ruined by the planners of I-95 in the 50s and 60s. The final days of the old elevated Orange Line date back over 30 years to 1987. Few miss it. Poetic justice was sweet.

On a long-gone elevated Orange Line platform, 1987. Photo by Chris Lovett

Unfortunately the Green Line didn't fare as well. With the trolley tracks in the middle of Huntington, South Huntington and Centre Streets, lacking air conditioning or adequate seat space, the E-Line to Forest Hills was abandoned in the mid 80s in favor of a bus to and from Copley. You can still take the E-Line as far as Heath St, but that's the end of the line. Although late 80s New Romanticist types vowed to bring the trolley back, the lasting memories of the riding public coupled with mounting road rage. Boston was becoming more choked with automobile traffic. It was decided that buses moved through traffic better. 

South Huntington at Centre Long Ago

Barely changed in nearly a century. South Huntington & Centre St.

A mad dash on mid-80s Centre St to beat that streetcar. Photo by Fran Perkins

In 1967 the trolleys were backed up during the rebuilding of Centre St and both foot and automobile traffic was unbearable.

Lest the reader react negatively to this post, please remember the most important thing: JP's calling card has always been Jamaica Pond, a kettle pond that is part of the Emerald Necklace, which mostly rings the city. Except where planners decided to cut it off so traffic could pass.

The pond's area is about 68 acres, the depth is 53 feet in the middle, making it the largest body of fresh water in Boston. It is ringed by a 1.7 mile walking path, and is an extremely popular destination for urban dwellers who use it for walking, fishing, rowing, and sailing. The pond once served as a reservoir for the City of Boston.

JP. Love it, hate it, but you can't ignore it. It makes Boston a better place.

 

 

 

 

2 comments

Joan Dunfey

Nice overview. As a resident for 44 years some things u left out. In the 70s many families interested in making city a better place bought pond side and on summer hill which u refer to as the hoi poli. We sent our kids to Boston public schools in hopes of making them better for all kids, kept the city from closing the Jp lib and lobbied to get a renovation. Our kids played baseball at the regan league making it the only integrated league in the city. We started a public and bilingual preschool. In those days we were told mothers should be home with their kids. We were a cheap home for all kinds of artists. Some called us “urban pioneers”. But I never liked that name. We just believed in the city and Jp esp. we started block parties to build community. Now our pondside has lost all of the teachers and working class families. We do not like the expensive housing which keeps our own children from living in Jp. Your story should include some of this. We are not the hoi poli

Joan Dunfey
Joan Dunfey

Settlers in the 70s

Joan Dunfey

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