Columbia Point is a remote neighborhood at the edge of a peninsula in Dorchester. While it is within two miles and three subway stops from downtown Boston, it feels cut off from Boston and even the rest of Dorchester. The waterfront neighborhood overlooks Boston Harbor, and is ringed by the scenic Harborwalk, which runs 47 miles along the coast.
Unlike most other neighborhoods of the city, Columbia Point is dominated by large institutional and public housing uses, including the U.Mass Boston campus, Boston College High School, and the Harbor Point mixed-income housing complex. The neighborhood also contains the I.M. Pei-designed John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, and the Commonwealth Museum/Massachusetts Archives – with one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and one of the few surviving copies of the Bill of Rights. In 2011, the city produced a Columbia Point Master Plan to guide the development of the neighborhood into a livelier, mixed-use area.
The most historic building in the neighborhood is a sewage pumphouse. Boston is a delightfully quirky city. It's beloved landmarks include a gas station sign (the Citgo sign in Fenway-Kenmore, a potentially-explosive liquefied natural gas tank at Commercial Point, and a former sewage pumping station here at Columbia Point.
Built on landfill. Columbia Point is one of many neighborhoods of the city created or expanded using landfill. The peninsula was originally just 14 acres but has been enlarged to 350 acres. Parts of the peninsula – including the site of the Harbor Point apartments – were previously used as a trash dump, which was covered with fill to convert it to buildable land. Columbia Park and Morrissey Boulevard were also created using landfill. One challenge of infilled land at the waterfront is that basements of larger buildings may require pumping during high tides to keep hydrostatic pressure from damaging foundations.
Unlike most other neighborhoods of the city, Columbia Point is dominated by large institutional and public housing uses, including the U.Mass Boston campus built largely in the 1970s, Boston College High School, and the Harbor Point mixed-income housing complex. The neighborhood also contains the I.M. Pei-designed John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, and the Commonwealth Museum/Massachusetts Archives – with one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and one of the few surviving copies of the Bill of Rights. In 2011, the city produced a Columbia Point Master Plan to guide the development of the neighborhood into a livelier, mixed-use area.
The Calf Pasture Pumping Station (435 Mt. Vernon St.), built in the 1880s, is a nine-acre complex resembling a Romanesque Revival granite castle. It is the oldest surviving building on Columbia Point, and was the headworks for the entire Boston sewer system for nearly a century. It was designed by George A. Clough (1843-1910), who served as Boston's first city architect. It will be adapted for re-use by UMass Boston.
Within the Columbia Point peninsula, the former Columbia Point housing complex was once regarded as one of the more violent and dangerous areas. It has since been redeveloped into a model of affordable housing, according to the New York Times and Architect magazine. It has since been renamed Harbor Point, to distance itself from its past.
Columbia Point is served by the JFK/UMass stop for both the Red Line and Commuter Rail. On the Red Line, the neighborhood is three stops from downtown Boston.
Columbia Point is within Dorchester, and is on a peninsula at the northeastern edge of the neighborhood. To the north is the Andrew Square neighborhood of South Boston, to the west is Savin Hill section of Dorchester, and the harbor is to the east.
The native Americans called the peninsula Mattaponnock, and it was the landing place for the Puritans in 1630. Captain ____ Squib of the Mary and John brought his passengers ashore, and they named their new land after their hometown of Dorchester in Dorset, England. These settlers built houses and a meeting house nearby at a place later called Allen’s Plain, roughly where Pleasant Street is today.
From the 1600s through the mid 1800s, it was used as a calf pasture for farmers from Dorchester. However, intense development began shortly after Dorchester was annexed to Boston in 1870.
The peninsula was originally 14 acres, but today has been expanded to 350 acres through its use as a sewage station, trash dump, and landfill operations. A sprawling trash dump dominated the landscape for decades, and as one writer recalls: "The fact that this area was once a dump is mostly forgotten, but a few years ago I came upon a reminder of that time. When passing through the parking lot of the UMB maintenance department, I saw a large hole dug into the ground to accommodate the tank for a new gas pump. A backhoe had excavated a neat shaft about eight feet wide by ten feet deep, exposing a cross section that was layered like a slab of lasagna. At the top was about four feet of soil, loose and brown; below that was layer upon layer of tightly packed rubbish. It was shocking to see all the bottles and cans, broken toys, splintered boards, shredded cloth and cardboard, now well over forty years old, looking so fresh in the light of day."
In 1884, the area became the end of a sewer line for Boston, storing waste in tanks before releasing it into the harbor with the outgoing tides – this is part of the reason that Boston Harbor was so grossly polluted for so long. It was in operation until 1968. Today, the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, designed by H.H. Richardson, is the oldest surviving building on the peninsula.
In 1954, the Columbia Point housing projects opened their 27 stark brick towers on and next to the site of the former trash dump. In 1962, residents retained F. Lee Bailey to help them close the nearby dump. However, the buildings and living conditions continued to deteriorate. In 1984, the city leased the complex to a private firm, which renovated the buildings and renamed it Harbor Point to distance it from its troubled past.
In 1974, the University of Massachusetts Boston campus was opened on the tip of Columbia Point, and called the Harbor Campus.
In 1977, after an unsuccessful bid to have the John F. Kennedy Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts close to Harvard University, ground was broken at the tip of Columbia Point for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, designed by the architect I. M. Pei, and dedicated on October 20, 1979.
The Columbia Point Housing Projects fell into disrepair and became quite dangerous. By the mid-1970s the Boston Housing Authority was under community, political, and legal pressure and orders to renovate and cure the living conditions at the site. By the 1980s only 300 families lived there and the buildings were falling apart. Columbia Point had become a symbol of what was wrong with public housing.
In 2008, plans and proposals were unveiled and presented to public community hearings by the Corcoran-Jennison Company to redevelop the 30-acre (12 ha) Bayside Exposition Center site on the Columbia Point peninsula into a mixed use village of storefronts and residences, called "Bayside on the Point". There were serious problems with the ongoing development plans, since the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority had planned to build a sewage odor control facility just adjacent to the development site.
However, in 2009, the Bayside Expo Center property was lost in a foreclosure on Corcoran-Jennison to a Florida-based real estate firm, LNR/CMAT, who bought it. Soon after, the University of Massachusetts Boston bought the property from them to build future campus facilities. In February 2010, The University of Massachusetts Boston in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts Building Authority formally signed the purchase papers and bought the Bayside Expo property for $18.7 million. In 2010, the university plans to break ground and start building a new science laboratory and other facilities.
In late 2012, a developer, Synergy Investments, announced plans to put up a residential building at 25 Morrissey Blvd. right next to the JFK/UMass train stop, on an abandoned lot, to further develop the foot of the Columbia Point peninsula. Also, in 2012, developer Corcoran-Jennison Companies announced plans to build another residential building on Mt. Vernon Street on the site of the office complex next to the former Bayside Expo.
In 2014, the Boston Redevelopment Authority began a study on redeveloping the main road on Columbia Point, Mount Vernon Street, in conjunction with the Master Plan for the peninsula.
On March 30, 2015 the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate was dedicated by President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden in attendance. The Institute has been open to the public since March 31, 2015.
Source: Lawton, University of Massachusetts Boston, research materials
1630 – Puritan settlers land on Columbia Point. The site is used as a calf pasture for the town of Dorchester until 1869
1884 – The Sewage pumping station opens at the end of Mile Road.
1942 – Camp McKay, used to house Italian prisoners during World War II, is built on the north side of the peninsula.
1954 – Columbia Point housing project opens and the first tenants move in.
1965 – The Columbia Point Health Center, the first community health center in the country, opens.
1966 – Construction of the Bayside Mall begins.
1971 – Construction of University of Massachusetts Boston begins.
1974 – The Harbor Campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston, opens on Columbia Point.
1975 – Tenants at several public housing projects file suit against the Boston Housing Authority, complaining of sub-standard living conditions.
1978 – The Boston Redevelopment Authority receives a $10 million federal grant for improvements at the Columbia Point housing project.
1979 – The Boston Housing Authority is placed in receivership by the courts.
1979 – The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is formally dedicated.
1984 – The Boston Housing Authority’s receivership ends and Corcoran, Mullins, Jennison, a private development company, takes over the management of Columbia Point, initiating a major cleanup and intensive maintenance improvements.
1985 – The Massachusetts State Archives opens in November.
1986 – The construction of the new Harbor Point housing complex, a mixed-income community, on the site of the former Columbia Point housing projects, begins.
1998 – Harbor Point Apartments achieves a 99% occupancy rate and celebrates its tenth anniversary.
2008 – A proposal for the re-development of the Bayside Exposition Center site into a mixed residential and commercial property to be called "Bayside on the Point" was offered for public perusal.
2009 – The Bayside Exposition Center site is lost in a foreclosure and eventually sold to the University of Massachusetts Boston.
2010 – The University of Massachusetts Boston formally buys the Bayside Expo property for $18.7 million in February 2010
2015 – The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate opened to the public in March.
During World War II, small barracks were built on this landfill for some prisoners of war. After the war, these were re-used for the Columbia Point Veterans Village. Also, in 1950, Boston College High School relocated from the South End of Boston to its present home on Morrissey Boulevard.
More landfill on the north shore of the peninsula had been created to build the Columbia Point Development housing projects which were the largest in Boston and New England and built by the Boston Housing Authority. The area was now known as Columbia Point. The Columbia Point Development was completed in 1954 and had 1,500 apartments. Other infrastructure was added, including public schools.
BOSTON, Nov. 22— Only five years ago, Ruby Jaundoo lived in one of the country's most dilapidated and dangerous public housing projects. Likened by city residents to a war zone, the Columbia Point apartments sat secluded on a peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor; even ambulance crews and firefighters would not come to the neighborhood without a police escort.
"Nobody wanted to come out here," Ms. Jaundoo said. "The police wouldn't patrol. The gangs were infesting our housing. I was fearful and I'd had enough."
Ms. Jaundoo and the other women who dominated Columbia Point's tenants' board began negotiating in the late 1970's with developers who coveted the project's 51 acres, a strip of waterfront property that shares views of the harbor with the nearby John F. Kennedy Library. Fears of Being Driven Out
"We knew this land was becoming prime property and we were an eyesore," said Ms. Jaundoo. "We were afraid that we would be driven out."
Today the site, renamed Harbor Point to shed bad memories, is a sprawl of manicured lawns surrounding tennis courts, town houses and mid-rise apartment buildings where residents, including Ms. Jaundoo and most of her original neighbors, represent a broad range of races, ethnic backgrounds and incomes.
While mixed-income developments have been successful on a smaller scale, Harbor Point is the nation's first effort to transform a large Federal project by recruiting middle- and higher-income residents, government officials say. State and local authorities are hoping Harbor Point will be a model for economic and racial integration of public housing elsewhere.
But the transition has not been painless. Fractious tenant disputes are only now easing, and a surprise investment from the Chevron Oil Company in August rescued Harbor Point from the brink of bankruptcy.
When Catherine D'Vileskis moved into Harbor Point three years ago, the first white person on her block, she was greeted by a young Hispanic boy who pointed at her and said, "It's a whitey!" Now "that family has been my neighbors for years," she said, adding, "The shock is gone."
But feelings of mistrust still linger among tenants. Harbor Point had been home to black and Hispanic low-income Bostonians since it first opened in 1954. The imposing yellow brick buildings, 30 seven-story structures built to house 1,504 impoverished families families, were a source of great pride in Boston. Yet by the 1970's, the buildings had fallen victim to neglect and blight, and were abandoned by all but 356 families.
Conceding failure, the Boston Housing Authority turned over the site to private developers in 1986 with the ambitious goal of renovating the neighborhood without driving out low-income residents. The 99-year lease names two owners: the tenants' elected board and a partnership of developers led by the firm of Corcoran, Mullins, Jennison of Braintree, Mass.
The development now has 1,283 units, some refurbished and others built new. The lease requires that 400 of them be set aside for residents who receive rent subsidies, while the rest command market rates. A two-bedroom apartment now goes for $825 a month.
To attract wealthier tenants, the developers advertised the site's proximity to downtown Boston and amenities in the development, including a fitness club, two swimming pools and a child-care center. The developers also hired a 24-hour security force to help ease fears about crime.
Nearly all the low-income units are now occupied, but 26 families who lived in Columbia Point before the arrival of the private developers have since left, many evicted for drug dealing, nonpayment of rent or vandalism.
"There was a bad element and there still is," said Joe Corcoran, who heads the development firm. "We have rooted out 25 families that were really bad, but there are five more to go."
Fears that the developers are trying to rid the site of all low-income residents have emerged among tenants who complain of harassment by the 25-member security force. Many longtime residents have chafed at strict rules enacted by the tenant board. Residents are asked to move along if they loiter on streets at night. Young children must be inside by 7:30 P.M. in the school year, and teen-agers by 10:30. No pets are allowed and the management checks apartments to enforce housekeeping rules.
Ms. Jaundoo acknowledged that some security guards had been dismissed for mistreating residents, but said: "People have to pay their rent on time, take care of their children and respect other people's rights. Those rules are true at any housing project, but we enforce them."
Many residents describe the 12-member tenants' board, a mix of low-income and wealthier residents who hold quarterly open meetings to air disputes, as the glue that holds the community together. "The security force is only acting on what the tenants themselves have enacted," said Onjada Haggard, a resident.
To help blur the color line between low- and higher-income residents, an aggressive marketing effort has attracted black, Asian and Hispanic professionals and a small number of white low-income renters. Many of the market-rate renters are young professionals who work nearby in Boston's financial district.
Maureen Coleman, a manager at Scudder, Stevens & Clark, a mutual fund company in Boston, moved to Harbor Point in 1988. "I like it here," she said. "It's clean and it feels safe. But if you grew up in a neighborhood where everyone looks just like you, this isn't the place for you."
Despite improvements in tenant relations, Harbor Point was still struggling until recently to stay afloat financially. Boston's rental real estate market began to plummet soon after Harbor Point opened in 1988. Trying to attract affluent renters as the recession deepened, the developers slashed rents by 35 percent. Deficits and costly loans finally pushed Harbor Point close to bankruptcy this summer.
Help arrived in August, when Chevron announced it would invest $34 million over seven years to take advantage of $38 million in low-income housing tax credits and depreciation. The credits were established by Congress in 1986 to encourage private investment in low-income housing. Rescue of Harbor Point
The deal saved Harbor Point from defaulting on some of its $175 million in state and Federal loans. Mr. Corcoran said he believed the cash infusion would cover any future deficits.
At Chevron, company officials are quick to reassure shareholders that they are not operating out of pure altruism. "Our primary objective is to generate income for the company," said Nancy Carroll, a spokeswoman. "But the fact that it's a social investment doesn't hurt."
Photos: The Columbia Point apartments, situated on a peninsula in Boston Harbor, was once likened to a war zone. Redeveloped, it was renamed Harbor Point to shed the memory of the time when even ambulance crews and firefighters would not respond without a police escort. "We knew this land was becoming prime property and we were an eyesore," said Ruby Jaundoo, left, a member of the Columbia Point's tenants' board. Catherine D'Vileskis, right, moved into Harbor Point three years ago, the first white person on her block. (Photographs by Rick Friedman for The New York Times) Map of Massachusetts showing location of Harbor Point