Boston's New York Streets

Before the demolition of Boston’s old West End neighborhood, there was another site that became the city’s first urban redevelopment district. Known as the Boston New York Streets, this area was inhabited by people from all walks of life, including Russian Jews, Greeks, Italians, and more. Located in the northeast corner of the South End and bound by the Southeast expressway, West Berkeley Street, Washington Street, and the end of the Massachusetts turnpike, it encompassed 24 acres of land lined with rowhouses and, in the latter part of the 19th century, tenement flats. Its history is a reflection of the long battle for dominance between Boston and its regional rival, New York City.

When the Boston Albany Railroad Company was chartered in 1831, it was meant to connect Boston with Albany, New York via railroad. It provided not only passenger transportation, but also the import of cargo goods. According to Boston Globe archives, the Boston mayor offered a toast to “Albany and Boston — connected together by a railroad which brings the two cities in such proximity, that Albany supplies Boston with bread, and Boston, Albany with candles, both made and delivered on the same day.” Within a decade, a new residential neighborhood had sprung up next to the terminal, its streets given the names of rapidly growing market towns along the Erie Canal, Troy, Rochester, Genesee, Oswego, Oneida, Seneca, and Albany.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long. Boston spent the whole 19th century trying to catch up with New York, but the Albany rail connection was simply not enough to overcome he advantages offered by the Hudson, and Boston shrank as a port city. The New York Streets declined in appeal and, beginning in 1955, all but Albany Street were erased from the map entirely.

Town planners decided the best way to create jobs and increase property taxes was to bring factories downtown. By 1957, 321 buildings along the New York Streets had been demolished. Over 1,000 residents were displaced from their homes and community, and the Boston Herald factory and printing presses occupied the leveled lots for decades to come. Industrial business sprouted as the neighborhood, near and under the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 93 overpasses, languished for decades.

It’s interesting to note that famed architect Marcel Bauer had developed a plan for the former New York Streets as early as 1943 that included a landscaped superblock lined with sleek, stylish towers surrounding a central community center and parking garage. While this obviously never happened, the area has been undergoing a residential resurgence in the past few years. Condominium and apartment buildings like Ink Block and Siena, and the increasing number of retail and restaurants that are even now springing up harken back to Bauer’s vision and the neighborhood’s actual past. Life is coming back to a part of the South End that was once bustling with activity. One could say that today, this area is one of the first re-redevelopment projects.

Sources: Boston Globe, CBS Boston, NorthEndWaterfront, The Boston Herald