Hale Howard

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Background

These remarkable late 1960s Hale-Howard neighborhood photographs were donated to the Center for Lowell History by Marina Schein, daughter of Tyrrell Schein, the photographer. The at-one-time mostly Jewish neighborhood was demolished under a city-imposed urban renewal plan. Schein, born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1936 died in 1974. With a Dartmouth University degree in Electrical Engineering and an MSc in Physics from Brown University, he was working at RCA’s Aerospace Systems Division in Burlington, MA when he took the photographs.

Martha Mayo, former director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Lowell History notes that Schein was Jewish and had married a young woman from Germany. Owner of a German-built car, one of the few garages able to work on it was in the neighborhood. So, when he came to get work done, he also took lots of photos.

H-H was an older city neighborhood and still very Jewish—3 synagogues and multiple kosher shops—at the time of demolition. Low income and immigrant families had begun to move into the area in the 1960s. The demolition of Hale-Howard forced many in the Jewish community to leave the city.

What Happened to the Neighborhood?

Hale-Howard, occupying an area of the city near the current Lowell Regional Transit Authority hub, suffered the same fate as the city’s French Canadian and Greek neighborhoods. A Jewish neighborhood for nearly seventy years, its name was derived from two perpendicular streets—Hale and Howard—running through the area. The streets contained numerous institutions and stores that defined the neighborhood, including two Synagogues, several bakeries, and delicatessens. Personal descriptions provide a wealth of understanding and insight into the area. Robert Malavich, the long-time Lowell city planner, recalled Hale-Howard: “There were a lot of Jewish people in that neighborhood … And we’d drive by these tenements and I had friends who lived in some of those and knew that—you know, in hindsight I knew that they were bad, but while I was there and visiting, it was just like anybody else’s house.” For Malavich, the essential element was that the people living in what became the demolished area had their lives changed forever.

In the 1970s, Lowell’s City Development Authority (CDA) controlled renewal projects. It cleared designated parts of the city, turning them into industrial parks and commercial centers. A 1972 CDA publication focused on citizen participation in renewal projects. Before Hale-Howard: “The experience of the past is that very little citizen participation occurred in the renewal projects of the city, and, in fact, very few community organizations were in operation in Lowell at that time. The outcome was that project area residents were not formally involved in the decision- making process, and development plans may or may not have reflected the values and goals of area residents.”

Neighborhood relocation started on March 12, 1971, when the CDA received authorization to dispense benefits to 158 families living in the target area. They also had to find housing for low-income families being displaced in a city already pressed to find housing for its residents. Large families encountered considerable trouble finding adequate housing. Ultimately, the CDA moved 104 of 158 families from the neighborhood. Forty families moved to apartments across Lowell, ten families moved into public housing, and 31 homeowners found new homes. Relocation assistance included help with leased housing and rent supplements. Payments averaged $10,600 per family, $4,400 below the $15,000 maximum allowed. The CDA paid that sum in addition to fair market value to all homeowners forced from the neighborhood.

In going forward with the demolition, city officials argued that the neighborhood had experienced too much neglect to be turned around. To be sure, the working class neighborhood was not in good shape, yet the demolition planning created a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the Lowell Sun documented, conditions deteriorated rapidly from the time the neighborhood’s fate was first discussed in the early 1960s through the first demolitions eleven years later in 1971. According to Frank Phillips, over the years, “People moved out, tenement houses became abandoned, and the once old proud neighborhood became a slum area, almost a ghost city by the turn of the decade.” At first, the Lowell Housing Authority had agreed to build 100 new housing units on 3.5 acres of the neighborhood set aside for the purpose. However, the housing component disappeared. In early June 1972, the Lowell Sun reported that the CDA had declared the 3.5-acre site inappropriate for residential use and, in a move that alienated many early supporters, the cleared site was to be ‘all-industrial’.

Other factors influenced the decision to move to an all-industrial zone, including that the public from outside the neighborhood supported the job creation mission. Former Lowell City Councilor Armand Mercier, in an oral history, suggested another reason for support—racism. According to him, visions of low-income housing had Lowellians, “visualizing people coming in from Roxbury,” nearby Boston’s sizeable African-American neighborhood.