When Joseph McDonald – the newly appointed president of the West End Civic Association (WECA) – returned to the neighborhood in 2003, much had changed since urban renewal forced him and his family from their home more than 50 years earlier.
“People didn’t live at home,” McDonald said of the West End during his childhood. “The apartments were so small that I slept in a closet. No one had automobiles, and everyone lived on the street.”
McDonald added, “Today, I live in a condo that’s twice as big as what a family of five lived in when I was a child.”
A second-generation West End native, McDonald was raised at 379 Charles St., where the swimming pool for the athletic complex at Charles River Park is now located. His family was among the first to leave the neighborhood when the city announced its redevelopment plans, relocating to Jamaica Plain in 1952 when McDonald was 12.
McDonald went on to graduate from Boston Latin and Harvard, where he earned a degree in physics in ‘62, before working in U.S. government intelligence. In 1986, McDonald moved to Rockport, where he lived until he returned to the West End nine years ago.
Reflecting on how the West End has changed since the early ‘50s, McDonald points to the absence of anything like the Elizabeth Peabody House, a long-defunct Charles Street community center that offered a wide range of programming for all ages, including youth athletics, amateur dramatics, classes for immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship and day-care services for young children.
“We don’t have that nowadays,” McDonald said. “There’s no common focus.”
As for the biggest obstacle that the West End now faces, McDonald cites nine large residential towers slated to break ground within two blocks of the Boston Garden in the next few years.
“Every one of them is going to impact traffic on Bruins and Celtics game nights, but each project was considered individually, as if the others didn’t exist,” McDonald said.
Since beginning his one-year term as WECA president earlier this month, McDonald has already reached out to the Boston City Council to advocate for a unified traffic plan that would incorporate all of the proposed projects.
“That’s going to be my main objective for the year,” McDonald said.
McDonald expressed concern that the units in the new residential towers would be primarily one-bedroom rentals.
“We have no opportunities for families to move to the West End…so we’re pressing [developers] to offer more two- and three bedroom units,” McDonald said.
McDonald is also working with neighbors from the Beacon Hill and the North End to bring a new supermarket to the area.
“In the long run, we’re working with the same neighborhoods to open a new school,” McDonald said. “We know it’s not going to happen before 2016 at the earliest, but we ‘re still working hard [to achieve this goal].”
McDonald encourages West End resendents to attend WECA’s monthly membership meetings, which take place at the West End Museum, located at 150 Staniford St., at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.