Dreary, worn down and a poor reflection of the neighborhood’s vitality were just a few of the phrases used to describe Mount Vernon Street, the main access road of Columbia Point, in a neighborhood survey.
The peninsula, best known as the home of Harbor Point and UMass Boston, has an expansive history. In 2016, students from UMass Boston’s College of Public and Community Service, led by professor Joan Arches, worked with local community organizations to apply for a Love Your Block mini-grant, offered by the mayor’s office. The group wanted to beautify Mount Vernon Street while capturing the neighborhood’s history and diversity, and planned to paint a mural somewhere along the street.
“I realized how tight-knit the community is and how they want that to continue for the next generation of people who live, learn and work in Columbia Point,” said Laura DeDonato Wiatt, the artist who designed and completed the mural, in an email.
Drawing inspiration from a vintage postcard, the mural on the side of the McCormack Middle School invites spectators with a simple message, “Greetings from Columbia Point!”
Important places in the community are painted within the letters, including UMass Boston, the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center, St. Christopher’s Church and the JFK/UMass MBTA station, among others. The scene of the postcard-themed mural is a community picnic.
“It was clear to me that a common denominator across all ages was the connect of coming together and enjoying food with their family and friends. So, a picnic setting was obvious to me,” said DeDonato Weitt. Important figures in the community’s history are present at the picnic—Father George Carrig, Dr. Geiger, Mr. Denney and Queenette ‘Queeny’ Santos.
The original Columbia Point housing project is an important part of the mural. Built in 1954, the public housing development fell into disrepair throughout the 1970s. By the early 1980s, less than 300 families remained in the 1,500-unit project, and the neighborhood had earned a notorious reputation as dangerous and crime-ridden.
Corcoran-Mullins-Jennison Corp. signed a 99-year lease with the city of Boston for a mixed-income development in 1986, and razed the old project. Harbor Point, its successor, was completed in 1990.
While some older residents have seen the positive transformation of Columbia Point and still call it home, many younger residents are unaware of the neighborhood’s detailed past, and DeDonato Weitt hopes the mural will inspire them to start conversations about the history of the area.
Samantha Lopez, a junior at UMass Boston and a Harbor Point resident, has lived in the complex since she was 7 years old.
Noting that it has always been a safe home for her, she said she found it “odd” that the mural uses the name Columbia Point, as opposed to Harbor Point. However, she’s beginning to understand how the peninsula’s past has shaped her community into what it is today.
“I don’t really have many memories of Columbia Point, I’ve always been here since Harbor Point,” said Lopez. “But I thought the mural was beautiful… whoever did it, did a great job. I love how there’s little parts of our neighborhood incorporated in it.”