Born of landfill in the late 1880’s, The Fenway — formerly a tidal swamp — emerged alongside Frederick Law Olmsted’s newly carved parks and rivers to attract some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Some were new but others found the Fenway to be a place where they could expand beyond the confinement of Beacon Hill or the Back Bay. Roads were drawn in the East and West Fenway, and cultural centers such as the New England Conservatory, Museum of Fine Arts, Simmons College, and the Gardner Museum opened their doors to Boston’s newest neighborhood.
Along with institutions came a large influx of working people to fill the modest new apartments which were specially built for the small middle-class households of clerks, performers, teachers, and professionals who would form the backbone of this community. The Fenway was a good place to live — accessible to culture, parks, commerce, and good public transportation.
Nearly a century later, people continue to make their homes in the Fenway, many for the same reasons as its first residents. But while development and change are inevitable in the Fenway and the City as a whole, care must always be taken not to lose sight of why this neighborhood has worked so well in the past and what we can do to ensure its future.
In 1961, a group of East Fenway friends and neighbors became concerned with declining conditions in their neighborhood and decided to try to do something about it. The Fenway Civic Association (FCA) was founded, and volunteers took on projects to clean their streets, beautify their surroundings, and protect their residents from crime. It soon became clear that would not be enough. To be most effective in protecting and caring for their neighborhood, FCA leaders found they had to “learn the ropes”. They educated themselves and others about political, jurisdictional, and regulatory aspects of Boston, learned how to communicate with public officials, and earned the role as civic overseers for the Fenway neighborhood.