By Pete Stidman
In one of Dorchester's darkest periods - the
1970s - neighborhood activists knew the name George
V. Wattendorf well. He was known as a "notorious
slumlord" by some and a victim of "bad tenants" by
For those that still remember him, a recent
press release from the Attorney General's office
sparked a few memories. George V. Wattendorf and
his East Boston construction company G.V.W. Inc.
were arraigned last month for allegedly violating
the state's prevailing wage, overtime and record
keeping laws, said the release.
This was not Dorchester's infamous Wattendorf
though, but his son, George V. Wattendorf Jr. His
company G.V.W. Inc. has held several contracts in
Amesbury, Andover and elsewhere, working on
libraries and other public buildings.
Prosecutors say the company and Wattendorf
failed to pay some electricians as electricians, as
is required on public contracts. Instead they
allege they were paid as laborers or omitted from
the payrolls altogether. Three other employees were
allegedly not paid overtime. The company will also
be arraigned on two counts of perjury for
misrepresenting its eligibility on an annual
recertification application to the state's Division
of Capital Asset Management.
"Like father like son," said long-time Dot
activist Lew Finfer in an e-mail to the Reporter.
Finfer remembers only too well George V. Wattendorf
Senior, a man who inherited hundreds of properties
in Dorchester back in the old days, and let many of
them fall into disrepair and become eyesores.
"When his mother owned a great deal of
Dorchester properties, it was run well, in the '30s
and '40s, but when she died [George] just
started milking it," said Jim Canny, who led the
Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association in the late
'60s and early '70s. "They just became slums and
the people at Edison Green became very upset about
Martin O'Donnell, who still lives on Edison
Green, where senior housing has replaced a number
of Wattendorf's three-deckers, remembers it
differently. "The trouble is he got bad tenants,"
he said. "They came from Puerto Rico and other
places but they only paid the first rent, that was
all they paid, so they went out of business and the
city took them over. But I don't remember all the
details of it."
Similar stories of urban neglect and landlords'
alternate explanation for it were playing out in
the Bronx in New York City, in Baltimore, in St.
Louis, and in other cities across the nation.
Residents of Wattendorf Sr's buildings and other
activists organized the Dorchester Tenants Action
Council (DTAC), and many stopped paying rent when
repairs to their apartments went undone.
In late 1971, Wattendorf Sr. brought a lawsuit
against DTAC and the city using a statute
originally enacted to give newly emancipated blacks
protection from discrimination at the hands of
reconstruction politicians in the 19th century. The
suit named Mayor Kevin White, Frank Gens from the
Inspectional Services Department (ISD), and a
laundry list of other city workers and tenants.
In the lawsuit, Wattendorf's attorneys pointed
accusingly at the ISD for inspecting 85 properties
and coming up with over 5,000 complaints; and asked
for $5 million in damages, an end to tenant
organizing and an end to Mayor White's nasty
comments about Mr. Wattendorf (reports at the time
had White using Wattendorf's name in campaign
By that time Wattendorf had already retired to
Florida. He left his son-in-law, Joe Tibbets, to
run things, another name immortalized in the press.
In a column called "Pass the plate for Joe's rents"
in the Boston Globe, October 1972, columnist Ken
Hartnett quoted Tibbets asking the Globe to take up
a collection to fix a broken beam in one of his
tenants' floors. The floor had reportedly exhibited
a "sickening sag" for over a year.
The lawsuit went nowhere and many of
Wattendorf's properties were sold or deteriorated
to a point where the city had to tear them down
(often at the taxpayer's expense). Some are "urban
wilds" today, such as the Bellevue Urban Wild in
the Bowdoin Geneva neighborhood. Others have since
been built over with elderly or other low-income or
market rate housing.
When the Reporter reached George V. Wattendorf
Jr. for comment, he acknowledged the charges
against him and the "junior" suffix on his name,
but denied knowing anything about a George V.
Wattendorf Senior. "His name was Frank," he said of
his father, at first, and then referred to him as
George, but "a different George." A quick check
with the state's Registry of Vital Records and
Statistics revealed that his father was indeed
George V. Wattendorf Sr., a real estate man.
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