The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

“Big city life at its very best”: Urban Renewal, Vice, and Adult Entertainment in 1970s Boston

During the 1970s, Boston’s Combat Zone, a (now former) adult entertainment district located around lower Washington Street, was at the center of urban renewal plans. After looking through the finding aid for the Park Plaza Development Project records, I decided to dig in and see if I could unpack attitudes toward the Combat Zone during this period. I largely focused on a group of reports produced during the planning period by the Park Plaza Civic Advisory Committee (CAC), a citizen’s group formed in response to the plans of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) for the project. These records provide insights into the shifting attitudes toward regulation of adult entertainment and vice in Boston during the 1970s, and also shed some light on the goals of urban renewal projects, the physical and social geography of the city, and desired models for maintaining order in the city.

 

The BRA’s plans for the Park Plaza project called for the demolition of parts of the Combat Zone. In a May 1973 report, the BRA discusses the impacts of this demolition on adult entertainment in the city. The report mentions the prior demolition of Scollay Square and its impact on adult entertainment. Businesses did not move from the Square to the Washington Street area when it was demolished; rather, the Washington Street adult district already existed. This implies that when the Combat Zone is destroyed, adult businesses from the Washington Street area will not move elsewhere, and the businesses in other areas will not be impacted. The report then states the City of Boston’s desire to increase surveillance and management of “remaining adult entertainment,” utilizing “new street lighting, public mini-parks, sign control, expanded police enforcement, continued police ‘visibility’, and possible additional control under various regulatory measures.”

The “Combat Zone” area is to the left in this photo.

 

The BRA met resistance to this plan, however. Writing in July 1974, CAC member Daniel J. Ahern criticizes the demolition plan, and writes about proposals to preserve the district. His report represents a different view than the earlier one taken by the BRA; he suggests that containment of adult entertainment in that district is necessary for the well-being of the city. Ahern makes his views on the matter clear in Appendix A of his report, a memo dated 1 May 1973. In the memo, he is very critical of the “earthy” forms of entertainment in the Combat Zone that he thinks certain people “associate with big city life at its very best.” However, he argues that the best approach is to maintain it in that location, invest in it, and keep it available for people who want it while protecting other parts of Boston from those forms of entertainment.

Along these lines, an Entertainment District Subcommittee of the CAC was formed to work on these issues. Connections were formed between the CAC and business owners in the area, who wanted to privately invest in plans for improvements to the area. Additionally, both the CAC and the business owners expressed interest in working with the BRA to implement new plans. The BRA, however, while expressing a willingness to work with the CAC and business owners, was fairly uncooperative. As of Ahern’s writing in July 1974, and at least as late the release of a February 1975 CAC newsletter, the demolition plan was still in place.

 

These discussions about vice and urban planning took place within a broader context of urban renewal in 1970s Boston. The Park Plaza reports call for revitalization of underutilized areas, and predict an influx of newer, wealthier residents and customers into the area. According to a March 1974 Department of Community Affairs report, over three-quarters of the new housing proposed as part of the Park Plaza project were for “middle and upper income residents.” The influence of big developers and the lack of affordable housing in the proposal serve as points of contention for some people. This suggests room for analysis of class dynamics and who would have benefited from the developments.

As I only looked at this small group of reports, it’s safe to say that I haven’t come close to unpacking the whole story. For example, I’m interested in the roles that race and gender may have played in these discussions and developments. If you’re interested in conducting some investigations of your own, the Park Plaza Development Project records are open for research here in the library at the MHS.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 4 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

May is arrived! With it comes a full month of programs taking place here at the Society for public consumption. Kicking off the month, we have

- Tuesday, 3 May, 5:15PM : "'They bid me speak what I thought he would give': The Commodification of Captive People During King Phillip's War" is an Early American History seminar event presented by Joanne Jahnke Wegner from the University of Minnesota. Wegner's essay addresses the systems of human trafficking that circulated both Native American and English captives during King Phillip's War. Kate Grandjean of Wellesley College provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 4 May, 12:00PM : Join us at noon for our next Brown Bag lunch talk, this time featuring Michael Zakim of Tel Aviv University and the Charles Warren Center. "Fear and Loathing at the Crystal Palace: the Failure of America's First World's Fair" examines how an enthusiastic group of New Yorkers, hoping to repeat the success of London's 1851 Exhibition, ended up stoking ongoing American debate over the changing meaning of industry in these years of the Industrial Revolution. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 7 May, 10:00AM : Stop by for The History and Collections of the MHSa docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.orgWhile you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition.

- Satuday, 7 May, 5:00PM : "Mad for Glory: The True Story of Two Americans and the Fate of the Pacific World" is an author talk with Robert Booth. This book tells a story set amidst the confusion of the War of 1812 in which two charismatic Americans played out an astonishing drama of nation-building and imperialism in the Pacific. This talk is open to the public, registration required for $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 4:30PM. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 1 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

Announcing 2016-2017 Research Fellowships

The MHS is thrilled to receive the list of the incoming research fellows for the 2015-2016 cycle.  Each year our various fellowship programs bring a wide variety of researchers working on a full range of topics into the MHS library. The Reader Services Staff enjoys getting to know the fellows, many of whom become career-long friends of the Society, returning to our reading room year after year. 

If any of the research topics are particularly interesting to you, keep an eye on our events calendar over the course of the upcoming year, as all research fellows present their research at brown-bag lunch programs as part of their commitment to the MHS.

For more information about the different fellowship types, click the headings below.

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MHS-NEH Long-term Research Fellowships (With special thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent agency of the U.S. government):

Manisha Sinha, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, “Men for All Seasons: Sumner, Stevens, and the Making of Radical Reconstruction”

Kara Swanson, Northeastern University, “A Passion for Patents: Inventiveness, Citizenship and American Nationhood”

 

Suzanne and Caleb Loring Research Fellowship On the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences (with the Boston Athenaeum):

Kent McConnell, Phillips Exeter Academy, “A Time-Stained God: Spiritual Lives, Civil War Deaths and the Violent Remaking of Religion in America”

 

MHS Short-Term Research Fellowships:

African-American Studies Fellow

James Shinn, Yale University, “Republicans, Reconstruction, and the Origins of U.S. Imperialism in the Caribbean, 1865-1878”

 

Andrew Oliver Fellow

Kimberly Alexander, University of New Hampshire, “Exploring Anglicization Through Pre-1750 Textiles”

 

Andrew W. Mellon Fellows

Abigail Cooper, Brandeis University, ‘“Lord, Until I Reach My Home’: Inside the Refugee Camps of the American Civil War”

Stephen Engle, Florida Atlantic University, “Champion in Our Hour of Need: The Life of John Albion Andrew”

Jessica Farrell, University of Minnesota, “(Re)Capturing Empire: A Reconsideration of Liberia’s Precarious Sovereignty and American Empire as Exception in the 19th Century”

Andrea Gray, Papers of Thomas Jefferson and George Mason University, “’Leaving their callings’: Retirement in the Early Republic”

Ross Nedervelt, Florida International University, “The Border-seas of a New British Empire: The British Atlantic Islands in the Age of the American Revolution”

Luke Nichter, Texas A&M University – Central Texas, “Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and the Decline of the Eastern Establishment”

Franklin Sammons, University of California, Berkeley, “The Long Life of Yazoo: Land Speculation, Finance, and Dispossession in the Southeastern Borderlands, 1789-1840”

Michael Verney, University of New Hampshire, “’Our Field of Fame’: Naval Exploration and Empire in the Early American Republic, 1815-1860”

Stephen West, Catholic University of America, “A Constitutional Lost Cause: The Fifteenth Amendment in American Memory and Political Culture, 1870-1920”

 

Benjamin F. Stevens Fellow

Abram Van Engen, Washington University in Saint Louis, “American Model: The Life of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill”

 

Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellows

Catherine Kelly, University of Oklahoma, “Making Peace: Loyalists in the Early U.S. Republic”

David Montejano, University of California, Berkeley, “From Southern Plantation to Northern Mill: Traveling along the Cotton Trail during the American Civil War”

 

Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellow

Nora Slominsky, Graduate Center, CUNY, “’The Engine of Free Expression’[?]: The Political Development of Copyright in the Colonial British Atlantic and Early National United States”

 

Marc Friedlaender Fellow

Julia Rose Kraut, New York University, “A Fear of Foreigners and of Freedom: Ideological Exclusion and Deportation in America”

 

Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellow

Craig Smith, Lesley University, “Redemption: The American Revolution, Ethics, and Abolitionism in Britain and the United States”

 

Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellows

Evan Haefeli, Texas A&M University, “The Delaware as Women and the Iroquois Great Peace of 1670”

Cathryn Halverson, University of Copenhagen, “Faraway Women and The Atlantic Monthly”

 

W. B. H. Dowse Fellows

Nathan Fell, University of Houston, “The Nature of Colonization: Native Americans, Colonists, and the Environment in New England, 1400-1750”

Michael Hattem, Yale University, “The Past is Prologue: The Origins of American History Culture, 1730-1800”

 

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) Awards (* indicates that part of fellowship will be completed at the MHS):

*Cassandra Berman, Brandeis University, “Motherhood and the Court of Public Opinion: Transgressive Maternity in America, 1768-1868”

Amy Breimaier, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, “’I learn my Books well’: Child Readers and the Economics of Cultural Change in New England, 1765-1815”

Jamie Brummitt, Duke University, “Protestant Relics: The Politics of Religion and the Art of Mourning in the Early American Republic”

*Emily Burns, Auburn University, “Innocence Abroad: The Cultural Politics and Paradox of American Artistic Innocence in Fin-de-Siècle France”

Ben Davidson, New York University, “Freedom’s Generation: Coming of Age in the Era of Emancipation”

Mary Draper, University of Virginia, “The Tropical Metropolis: Cities and Society in the Early Modern British Caribbean”

*John Garcia, University of Pennsylvania, “Specimen Pages: Critical Bibliography and Digital Analysis of 19th-Century Subscription Publishing in America”

*Louis Gerdelan, Harvard University, “Calamitous Knowledge: Understanding Disaster in the British, Spanish, and French Atlantic Worlds, 1666-1755”

Matthew Ghazarian, Columbia University, “Famine and the American Protestant Mission: Humanitarianism and Sectarianism in Turkey, 1858-1893”

*Kenyon Gradert, Washington University in St. Louis, “The Second Reformation: Protestant Inheritance in Antislavery New England”

Nalleli Guillen, University of Delaware, “Round the World Every Evening: Panoramic Spectacles, Entertainment Culture, and a Growing Imperial Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century America”

Jane Hooper, George Mason University, “’Let the Girls Come Aboard’: Intimate Contact between America and Madagascar”

Rachel Knecht, Brown University, “Inventing the Mathematical Economy in Nineteenth-Century America”

*Jonathan Lande, Brown University, “Disciplining Freedom: Union Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation in the Civil War Courts-Martial”

*Rachel Miller, University of Michigan, “Capital Entertainment: Creative Labor and the Modern Stage, 1860-1930”

Alexandra Montgomery, University of Pennsylvania, “Projecting Power in the Dawnland: Colonization Schemes, Imperial Failure, and Competing Visions of the Gulf of Maine World, 1710-1800”

Carrie Streeter, University of California, San Diego, “Before Yoga: Self-Expression and Health in the Age of Nervousness”

Andrew Wasserman, Louisiana Tech University, “Bang! We’re All Dead: The Places of Nuclear Fear in 1980s America”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 April, 2016, 12:00 AM

Harriet the Spy

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will be featured on the new $20 bill, becoming simultaneously the first African American and the third woman (after Pocahontas and Martha Washington) to appear on our federal paper currency. An escaped slave, “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, Union scout, armed raider, humanitarian, suffragist: the more you learn about Tubman, the more fascinating she becomes. John Brown called her “General Tubman.” I decided to search the MHS collections for material related to this remarkable woman.

Unfortunately (but perhaps unsurprisingly) I didn’t find much. We do have three photographs of Tubman in our collection of Portraits of American Abolitionists, one from 1886 and two taken in 1906, when she was in her eighties.


 

 

We also hold a copy of Sarah H. Bradford’s 1886 biography, Harriet, the Moses of Her People, a second edition and revision of Bradford’s 1869 Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Both books were written from personal interviews with Tubman, who was, by all accounts, illiterate all her life.

 

 

But when I looked at manuscript collections, I turned up only two passing references to Tubman, neither of which mention her by name. Both appear in the correspondence of John A. Andrew, the famous Civil War governor of Massachusetts. Sparse in content, these particular letters are important and intriguing primarily because of context.

First, some background. According to Bradford, “In the early days of the war, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, knowing well the brave and sagacious character of Harriet, sent for her, and asked her if she could go at a moment’s notice, to act as spy and scout for our armies, and, if need be, to act as hospital nurse, in short, to be ready to give any required service to the Union cause.” (pp. 93-94)

It looks like the two letters in our collection document Tubman’s trip south from Boston as she embarked on this espionage mission. Both were written by Col. Frank E. Howe in New York, formerly a member of Gov. Andrew’s staff. The first dates from 10 January 1862 and begins: “Colored woman arrived & is cared for.”

 

On 21 January 1862, Howe wrote to Andrew again, this time marking his letter “Confidential.” After discussing other matters, he said: “I have a letter from Washington informing me that the colored underground woman did not sail in the Baltic, but her luggage did – will send a pass on for her – & its all I can do.”

 

Subterfuge may have been the reason Howe didn’t use Tubman’s name. Presumably, she was traveling through New York and Washington to points south. Abolitionist Franklin B. Sanborn later confirmed: “In 1862, I think it was, she went from Boston to Port Royal, [S.C.] under the advice and encouragement of Mr. Garrison, Governor Andrew, Dr. Howe, and other leading people.” (Bradford, pp. 136-137)

I’d be surprised if there weren’t more references to Harriet Tubman buried in other manuscript collections here at the MHS, but unfortunately item-level subject access to our vast holdings is impossible. I found these two letters in Andrew’s papers because of an index to the collection created 35 years ago and encoded as part of the online guide. We hope our intrepid researchers will uncover more!

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 11:11 AM

This Week @ MHS

Here are the public programs on-tap for this ultimate week of April:

- Tuesday, 26 April, 5:15PM : The next installment in the Immigration and Urban History seminar series, featuring Rebecca Marchiel of the University of Mississippi, is called "Communities Must Be Vigilant: The Financial Turn in National Urban Policy." This chapter from Marchiel's book project explores the mixed results of 1970s efforts to revitalize neighborhoods through community-bank partnerships. Davarian Baldwin, Trinity College, provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 27 April, 12:00PM : Pack a lunch and stopy by on Wednesday for another Brown Bag lunch talk. This time, short-term fellow Christina Carrick, Boston University, presents "Among Strangers in a Distant Climate: Loyalist Exiles Define Empire and Nation, 1775-1783." Carrick's project uses Loyalist correspondence networks to examine how exiles crafted and empowered new identities and in the process helped to reshape the British Empire and the United States. This talk is free and open to the public. All are welcome!

- Wednesday, 27 April, 6:00PM : Also on Wednesday is a special author talk titled "'Most Blessed of the Patriarchs' Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination." This talk features Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard Law School and University of Virginia's Peter S. Onuf, the country's leading Jefferson scholar, as they discuss their absorbing and revealing character study which clarifies the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. This event is sold out. 

- Saturday, 30 April, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 12:00 AM

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