- Activist Theresa Hynes Reflects on
Twenty-Five Years of Involvement in
- The following is an excerpt from a taped interview conducted
by local historian Bill Marchione with long-time Allston-Brighton
community activist Theresa Hynes.
- Bill Marchione: Would you tell us a little bit about
yourself---where you grew up, about your family background, and so
- Theresa Hynes: I was born in Galway, Ireland, about ten
miles from the city of Galway. We lived on a farm. My father had
always lived in Ireland, but my mother had lived here for seven
years, so she was an American citizen, and she went back to
Ireland when she got married.
- BM: How did you happen to come here to
- TH: When I met my husband he was living here, on
Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton.
- BM: Your husband owned an auto repair business, didn't
- TH: Yes, he did. He had worked in England in garages
and on Rolls Royces, so he started a business here. His original
place was a little garage that fit two cars on Harvard Avenue,
opposite where Kinvara's is now.
- BM: So how many years have you lived in
- TH: Forty-two years.
- BM: How did you first become involved in the
Allston-Brighton community and what issues drew you into
- TH: I became involved when my kids were at the Hamilton
School with the Home & School Association there. I then became
involved with desegregation and I worked for the Citywide
Educational Coalition and was the coordinator for Allston-Brighton
and Mission Hill. Then I was on the court appointed councils for
desegregation. I believed strongly in integration because I could
see comparison between the situation here and the situation in
Northern Ireland, and I believed that if people at the grass roots
level became involved it could make a difference.
- BM: Do you think that the conditions in the Boston
Public Schools have improved since then?
- TH: I think access has improved and I think the
interaction has improved, but I don't think education has
improved, judging by the test scores. I do think that there's a
value in going to school with people of different racial groups,
different ethnic groups, different social backgrounds. In the long
run, I think that's an advantage, especially in a country as vast
as this is. It would be an advantage if the standards of education
were up to what's available in certain suburban schools.
Obviously, the classes need to be a lot smaller and there needs to
be more of a concentration on academics.
- BM: What were some of the other problems the community
faced when you first became involved in the 1970s, and have we
made progress in those areas?
- TH: Many of us who were involved with the schools moved
on to become involved with the community as a whole. So we became
involved in various zoning issues. But there weren't as many
zoning issues then. Now it takes a three hour meeting, and all we
can deal with are requests for zoning variances.
- BM: Back then the decisions were being made
- TH: Exactly, the community didn't have input into the
- BM: What community organizations have you been
- TH: The Brighton/ Allston Improvement Association, the
St. Elizabeth's Task Force, which I co-chair. I've also been on
the B. C. Task Force, the Institutional Expansion Board of the
City of Boston, the CDC Board for a little while, and various
- BM: Can you tell us a little about the Brighton/
Allston Improvement Association---when that group came into
- TH: There was an existing civic association which
wasn't very active and a number of us were nominated to its board
and we went to the annual meeting where the election was to take
place. But there was also a struggle going on between a local
officeholder and someone who aspired to his job. There was also
interference from a higher level of government in this simple
little election. There was an organized effort by the officeholder
and his high level patron to get people out to vote against
us---to choose people would be favorable to the person who was
already in office. And there was a huge, huge turnout, and all of
us who had been nominated were defeated. The people who came in
had been given lists of approved nominees. You remember that?
- BM: Yes, I certainly do.
- TH: Well, after the meeting, the people who had been
defeated, were so outraged that we went down to one of the local
restaurants and decided to start a new organization which became
the Brighton-Allston Improvement Association.
- BM: And the other organization faded away, didn't
- TH: Yes, I don't know that they ever met after that,
maybe once or twice at most.
- BM: If a newcomer asked you to give a short description
of Allston-Brighton of today how would you respond?
- TH: I would describe it as a very exciting community
with really great people. And while it has a large transient
population, there is a real neighborhood here also. It's a vibrant
community and it does appear to be improving a great deal. Also,
it's a welcoming community, where peole are received with open
arms if they want to participate. It's also, however, a
neighborhood with a great many problems, with a need to have
people involved who have different skills.
- BM: Which do you consider the most serious
- TH: In my opinion, the low percentage of home ownership
appears to be one of the bigger problems. By the same token, the
large number of absentee landlords, who not only don't live in
their properties, but don't even live in Allston-Brighton. I'm not
questioning the right of a person to own property in a
neighborhood where he doesn't live, but it isn't right when an
owner runs that property into the ground. They would never keep
property in the neighborhoods in which they live as they do here
in Allston-Brighton. And when you see cars parked in front
yards---grass having been removed---it's not the resident home
owners who are doing that, it's the absentee landlords.
- BM: What other problems would you describe as
- TH: Another major problem remains the state of the
schools. Brighton-Allston as we know is very convenient to the
city. But young families don't want to come and live here because
of the standard of education. Until that improves we'll have a
problem increasing home ownership. These are the problems, but I
would add that very often, when it comes to dealing with these
problems, our expectation as a community are too low.
- BM: How so?
- TH: Well, for example, zoning is a big issue in our
neighborhood. The neighborhoods that preserve their values,
esthetically and price-wise, are the neighborhoods with tight
zoning. People come in and want to convert a two-family to a three
family. Not wishing to be negative, very often these proposals are
agreed to. Too often we settle for the lesser of two evils. What
was the point of revising the zoning code a few years ago to make
it better, and then granting all these variances? Also, we can't
always blame the Board of Appeals when community groups support
these applications. When you don't support variances, the
applicants complains of how negative you are, but that's just an
- Another example is the use of neon signs in the business
district. In other towns business is without these garish signs.
When Main Streets came in to being, there was a design code (there
was a booklet) and that design code was really, really good.
That's all that has to be followed. When businesses come in with
proposed changes they should be required to follow closely the
design requirements in that booklet.
- BM: Is institutional expansion a serious problem for
- TH: I believe that institutions are very important, but
we have to be vigilant. I was a nurse so I worked a good deal of
my life in the medical field. Hospitals and universities are
crucial to the neighborhood, the city, and the country in general.
We are fortunate to have access to these institutions. However, I
don't think the people who live here benefit sufficiently from
them. I believe the people of the neighborhood should be getting
more benefits from their presence. These institutions carry a
certain amount of baggage for the neighborhood. The three
universities impinge---B.C., B.U. and Harvard---all impinge on
Allston-Brighton creating problems for the community.
- Take the B.C. Stadium, for example. That is not an advantage
to this community. It's a great advantage to B.C. certainly. It's
wonderful for their alumni who live all over the state and come to
this new, expanded stadium. Even though it is as well managed as
anyone could manage the large amount of people who come in to
attend events there, and the police do the very best job they can,
it is still an inconvenience to those of us who live in the
immediate neighborhood. For example, if people don't have an
Allston-Brighton sticker, they are going to get a ticket. And when
one has a tenant, one has to remember to tell them to move their
cars. It's a real nuisance. I've come to the conclusion that the
neighborhood needs written notification. Also, it seems to be a
foregone conclusion that these institutions, because of their
influence, are going to get whatever they want.
- Boston College does give $75,000 to $80,000 a year to various
community projects. I'm on the committee that decides how that
money will be distributed, but the grants are limited to $2500.
And unlike the Brown Fund, which gives much larger grants and has
done marvelous work in the community, the B.C. grants have had no
- BM: Do you think that our elected representatives are
more responsive to the neighborhood today than they were
twenty-five years ago?
- TH: I think they are. But as community representatives,
we're always looking for more. And the motto of the BAIA has been
(one of our mottoes at least)---as Henry Ragin, our first
President used to say---"We're watchdogs, not cheer leaders!" That
doesn't mean that we never give praise, but our basic function is
that of watchdogs. Our expectations ought to be high. We know they
- We also need to work at having more clout as a community. It
does appear at times that other neighborhoods of the city are
better served than ours.
- BM: How are we being short changed?
- TH: For example, in comparison to other neighborhoods,
we have little open space in Allston-Brighton. Let's contrast our
situation, for example, with that of West Roxbury, a community
that has much more open space to begin with, and many more single
family homes set on generous lots. The state paid six and a half
million dollars so that West Roxbury could get Hancock Woods as
open space. It was a tremendous coup for West Roxbury. I don't
know when anything has ever been bought for Allston-Brighton to
increase its open space. But, then again, it comes back to
expectations. Recently there was a piece of land for sale next to
Rogers Park---a small parcel of land at the corner of Lake Street.
It was going for $300,000, and I remember some of us suggesting
that the land be bought and be added to the park. And many of the
activists---who are supposed to love open space---said, "Oh no!
That's not a good use. That's too much money." This illustrates
the difference between the expectations here in Allston-Brighton
and those in other neighborhoods.
- BM: One would hope that in redesigning Commonwealth
Avenue the city would restore some of the open spaces that were
intended to be there. The original plan for Commonwealth Avenue
included quite a bit of green space. There were paths for walking,
there were benches. The avenue has been transformed from its
- TH: That's another example of our lack of clout. There
was $30 million originally allocated some years ago for the
redesign of Commonwealth Avenue and that money was shunted over, I
understand, to the Avenue of the Arts. We have to learn to guard
the moneys allocated to us more effectively. As you may know the
section of Commonwealth Avenue between Warren Street and Chestnut
Hill Avenue is slated to be worked on this spring.
- BM: There have been some fairly remarkable physical
improvements in this neighborhood in the last few years---
redesign of streets, parks, public buildings, etc. Are you pleased
with these developments?
- TH: Yes, certainly. The track removal made one of the
biggest differences since I've been involved. It's one of the most
successful projects that has occurred here. Not only are the roads
more serviceable, but it was done so beautifully esthetically.
Public Works Commissioner Cassazza was a pleasure to work
with---so cooperative and interested in the community, very
sensitive to the neighborhood.