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Carrying the momentum forward

Sandra Larson | 3/7/2012, 11:34 a.m.
Mayor Thomas Menino cuts the cake after the March 3 groundbreaking ceremony. (L to R) State Rep. Byron Rushing, City Councilor Tito Jackson, Menino, pastry chef Julius Johnson, State Rep. Gloria Fox, architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architects. Sandra Larson

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Mayor Thomas Menino cuts the cake after the March 3 groundbreaking ceremony. (L to R) State Rep. Byron Rushing, City Councilor Tito Jackson, Menino, pastry chef Julius Johnson, State Rep. Gloria Fox, architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architects.

Rain fails to dampen Ferdinand groundbreaking celebration


In a ceremony punctuated by standing ovations, Mayor Thomas Menino marked the official start last Saturday of construction on the Ferdinand site in Dudley Square.

The $115 million project will create a new headquarters for the Boston Public Schools with sidewalk-level retail space to increase economic vitality in the area.

As rain pummeled the large tent set up behind the old Ferdinand building, more than 250 community members, city officials and elected officials crowded in to hear the mayor speak.

“By breaking ground at the Ferdinand today,” Menino told them, “we are cementing the comeback of Dudley Square.”

He praised a “great team,” acknowledging the city’s planners, the project design team, the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force and the many city and state elected officials present.

“And the neighborhood is here,” he added, to prolonged cheers and applause.

“Our goal is simple: to bring more people and economic life to historic Dudley Square,” Menino said, “unlocking the potential of the Ferdinand as a catalyst for continued redevelopment of this area.”

The groundbreaking came exactly one year after Menino announced the project that could finally breathe new life into the long-abandoned Ferdinand site. The new building, a mix of modern design and preserved historic facades, is expected to bring some 500 new people daily to Dudley Square.

State Rep. Gloria Fox called the pouring rain a sign of good luck and God’s blessing. She stressed that the new building is one step in a chain of events to complete Dudley Square’s revitalization.

“I’m happy to be part of this today,” she said, “and will continue to work so we can see the landmarks refurbished, and the programs and services back in Dudley —because we deserve it!”

City Councilor Tito Jackson reflected on the symbolism of relocating the School Department to Dudley Square.

“Someone who once walked these streets named Malcolm X said that education is our passport to the future,” he said. “I think it’s only fitting that the education complex —the place where those passports are given out — will be here in Roxbury, in the geographic center of the city. As goes Dudley, so goes the city of Boston.”

Along with excitement about the new, nostalgia arose at mentions of the old elevated Orange Line, the safety and bustle of long-ago Dudley, and bygone businesses.

“How many people remember Freddy Parker Chicken?” asked Dudley Task Force co-chair Catherine Hardaway, who introduced the day’s speakers. Claps and guffaws showed that quite a few people did.They quickly began recalling the fried chicken, fries and onion rings.

The rain paused just in time for Menino, Fox, Jackson and a dozen other officials to toss the symbolic first shovels of dirt.

At the post-ceremony reception, the centerpiece was baker Julius Johnson’s meticulously crafted cake in the shape of the new Dudley Municipal Center —windows, bricks, blue “Ferdinand’s” sign and all.

A long line of guests marveled at the cake, exchanged greetings and hugs, and chatted in positive terms about the new building.