Echoes of the Past: A Musical Journey Through the West End’s Rise, Destruction, and Rebirth

By Grace Clipson

In 1950, Boston chose the West End for demolition under Title I of the Housing Act of 1949, despite the neighborhood exceeding the standards for demolition. In 1958, fifty-four acres of the neighborhood were seized and destroyed; fifty streets and over 800 residential buildings were razed, forcing 12,500 people to leave their homes.

Historically, the West End neighborhood included part of what is now the North Slope of Beacon Hill, reaching up to Pinckney Street. When demolition began, the destruction reached up only to Cambridge Street, sparing the North Slope. The North Slope was incorporated into the Beacon Hill neighborhood in 1963, a year after Beacon Hill was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The West End’s story, however, is not solely one of destruction. Prior to demolition, it was a vibrant and tight-knit community – an Urban Village, to borrow sociologist Hebert J. Gans’ phrasing. By 1950, it was Boston’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood, with people identifying themselves within more than 30 ethnic and racial groups.

Following urban renewal, in the mid-1980s, displaced West Enders began to reconnect and advocate for their lost community: the West Ender newsletter began publication; the West End Historical Association formed to protect the memory of the old neighborhood; the Old West End Housing Corporation fought for and won space for displaced West Enders in the new West End; and The West End Museum opened in 2004, founded by displaced West Enders. From the ashes of the destroyed West End rose a new one, with community organizations in place to protect the interests of current residents and to preserve the memories of displaced West Enders.

The West End’s story is also one that has not been forgotten. Claudia (Kelty) Edgell (1918-2002) and Stephen Edgell (1915-1981) became actively involved with the West End in 1959, when they learned of the neighborhood’s impending demolition as part of an urban redevelopment project. Claudia’s father, Henry M. Kelty, had lived in the West End as a young boy with his family before moving to the suburbs. The Edgells took almost 2,000 photographs of the neighborhood, before, during, and after the demolition. In March of 2023, their son, Stephen Edgell Jr., donated an extensive collection to the West End Museum, including records, art, ephemera, and, most significantly, 1,700 photographs that his parents took during the West End Project. The West End Museum also holds the collection of Charles Frani, who took hundreds of photographs of his changing West End neighborhood over the course of two decades.

As a tribute to the destruction and rebirth of the neighborhood, and to the power of photography, the West End Museum, in collaboration with Crescendo Productions, presents an unforgettable musical experience. Violinists Heidi Braun-Hill and Renée Hemsing, violist Andra Voldins Dix, and cellist Guy Fishman will respond to the West End Museum’s poignant photographic collection through live musical performance.

Join the West End Museum for an artistically moving experience as they project photographic images from the Museum’s Edgell and Frani Collections alongside a live performance of two of classical music’s most emotive string quartets, Samuel Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, op. 11 and Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, opus 18, no. 4. Both possess tonal qualities that convey the ideas of transformation and explore the complex social dynamics that underpin both the destruction and rebirth of the West End neighborhood.

The program, “Destruction and Rebirth: Barber and Beethoven at the West End Museum,” takes place on Saturday, March 30, at 6:30 p.m. in the Hub on Causeway Community Room.  Tickets are $15 each and can be purchased through the events tab at the West End Museum website ( or on Eventbrite.

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