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 others.
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 it."
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 speeches).
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.