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A Decent Place to Live: From Columbia Point to Harbor Point : Records, 1951-2000


5 cartons and 1 flat box


The research materials collected for the preparation of Jane Roessner’s work A Decent Place to Live: From Columbia Point to Harbor Point (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000) were donated to the Archives and Special Collections department of the Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston by Otile McManus on behalf of Joseph Corcoran and the American City Coalition on June 28, 2001.


The Columbia Point public housing project was built in the early 1950s on a beautiful 50-acre oceanfront setting, but one isolated from downtown Boston and cut off from the local community.  The project, comprised of 1,502 units, was the largest in Boston and one of the largest nation-wide.

During the 1950s and early 1960s the project housed working-class families who took pride in the community and who worked to bring public transportation and social services to Columbia Point (CP).  By the mid-1960s, however, blue-collar workers moved out and were replaced by the urban poor.  At the same time the Boston Housing Authority began to neglect Columbia Point; maintenance of the property was virtually nonexistent, rules were no longer enforced, and the social fabric of the community disintegrated.  By the 1970s Columbia Point had become plagued by crime so severe that even ambulances refused to enter the project without a police escort.

The turning point came in 1984 when the state turned the property over to the private development firm Corcoran, Mullins, Jennison (CMJ).  CMJ razed the old Columbia Point apartments and built the Harbor Point Apartment Community in their place. The new management worked with local police to bring crime in the neighborhood under control and strictly enforced all aspects of tenants’ leases, evicting those who caused problems or engaged in illegal activities.  Harbor Point also opened 883 of the 1,283 units to market-rate renters, creating a mixed-income community.  A new health club, swimming pool, tennis courts, and ample parking appealed to people from all ethnic backgrounds and social classes, further ensuring the diversity and stability of the revitalized community. Today Harbor Point is viewed as a successful model of urban revitalization and has been studied by city planners and developers across the country.

A comprehensive history of the area can be found in A Decent Place to Live: From Columbia Point to Harbor Point.



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 WWII, is built on the north side of the peninsula.

1954 - Columbia Point housing project opens and the first tenants move in.

1966 - The Columbia Point Health Center, the first community health center in the country, opens.

1966 - Construction of the Bayside Mall begins.

1971 - Construction of UMass Boston begins.

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 Kennedy Library 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, begins.

1998 - Harbor Point achieves a 99% occupancy rate and celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Scope and Content

This collection documents the growth of the Columbia Point housing project and its transformation into the Harbor Point Apartment Community.  There is also peripheral information regarding neighboring institutions, such as UMass Boston and the JFK library.

The records have been arranged into four series:
I.          Source material for the book A Decent Place to Live
II.         Interviews and oral histories
III.        Miscellaneous articles and reports
IV.        Books, videotapes, and photographs