In response to a string of recent crime around the Emerald Necklace, last week some yuppie nitwit from Jamaica Plain asked Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on NPR to return his neighborhood to the peaceful Xanadu of yore. The caller’s idea of JP’s halcyon days, it seemed, was between 2006 and last winter.
Such dumbass transplants should study Dirty Old Boston, the essential new pictorial softcover (spun off the Facebook page of the same name) from local armchair anthropologist Jim Botticelli. His history skips over the safe stuff and picturesque renditions of the Freedom Trail. As Botticelli explains in the intro, his book conjures “a place where you could find a parking spot if you needed it.”
Beginning with the Baby Boom and ending in the late 1980s, the dirty old images cover certain parts of Boston that are, sadly, gone—the Central Artery, the elevated White Fuel light display that used to complement the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. At the same time, through shots from pros and amateurs alike, we’re also reminded of how many familiar eyesores remain; from brown snowpiles to rusted train cars, Boston still has a commendable amount of filth.
Although his collection features candids of every Hub nook from Hyde Park to Eastie, Botticelli, a former WMBR DJ and teacher in Boston Public Schools, pays particular tribute to the West End, where beginning in the 1950s roughly 700 buildings were razed in the name of urban renewal. Plenty of horrors go unseen in this city, then and now, but the displacement of thousands amidst rapid and ruthless gentrification is one dirty old tale that new manicured Bostonians can stand to learn from.
DIRTY OLD BOSTON | NOW AVAILABLE ONLINE + IN BOOKSTORES AROUND THE REGION | DIRTYOLDBOSTON.COM
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.