Reimagined West End Museum Reopens to Public

A thoroughly reimagined West End Museum welcomed the public back for the first time in more than two years on Thursday, May 24. “We’re so proud to have it open, and to be able to show this space, and to be able to bring these pieces of the old neighborhood out of the archives in a way we haven’t been able to before,” Sebastian Belfanti, the museum’s executive director, told this reporter following the ribbon-cutting for the newly renovated museum last Wednesday and one day ahead of its reopening to the public. “If you saw the museum before, you haven’t seen the space now.”

Bob Potenza the West End Museum’s archivist, curator, and historian (center), is seen with, left to right: Trivium Interactive’s Maria Trias, Jill Domenicia, Kate LaPine, and Alex Beuscher.

The museum is now undergoing a  $1.4 million,  two-phased transformation, following a sprinkler check-valve rupture on the fourth floor of West End Place on Jan. 15, 2022. Besides flooding around 30 units on that building’s bottom four floors, the adjacent West End Museum and its office space was also inundated with water in the incident. More than two dozen large images, which made up about half of the museum’s main permanent exhibit, ‘The Last Tenement,’ were damaged to some extent. But in all, only around 50 items were lost in the flood – around 40 of which the museum had duplicates of – while some other documents had already been scanned. Just two or three photos were completely destroyed. The erstwhile ‘Last Tenement’ exhibit has been completely reimagined and vastly expanded as ‘Rise, Fall, Rebirth: Stories of the West End’ during the $1 million first phase pf the project. This new permanent exhibit tells the West End’s story from when the neighborhood first comprised fields, farms, factories, and a few mansions around Bowdoin Square, though the immigrant era and the demolition that came with urban renewal, and up until the modern age (and beyond). But Belfanti added that he’s proud to be involved with a museum that tells the story of not only the West End neighborhood but also of the city itself. The newly designed space is laid out in a such way that makes it easy for visitors to move easily through the exhibits as they trace the evolution of the neighborhood. On display now, Belfanti said are “little things” from the old neighborhood, including “very personal items,” such as naturalization documents and archives from the West End House, along with arts and crafts that children made in school. “They show you what a neighborhood it was,” he added. The new exhibit was also  designed specifically for the space of this museum space, said Belfanti, as opposed to old exhibit, which was designed for a different space before moving to the West End Museum. (‘The Last Tenement’ exhibit was originally installed in 1992 at the Old State House by the Bostonian Society through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was relocated to the West End Museum in 2006.) The $400,00 second phase of the museum’s renovation will include the development of two new films  – one focusing on abolitionists in the old West End (and now Beacon Hill) and another exploring the experience of displacement from the West End. An interactive map will also be developed as part of this second phase. Asked about the reimagined museum welcoming the public back again after such a lengthy closure, Duane Lucia, a longtime West End Museum board member, quoted Bob Potenza the museum’s full-time archivist, curator, and historian, who said, “It’s been a long road.” Lucia has watched the museum evolve from he described as originally not much more than a “collection of sandwich boards”; through to the reinstallation of the original ‘Last Tenement’ exhibit and the rotating exhibits, which he helped curate  for about 11 years; through to today following its extensive renovation. From the very beginning, though, Lucia said he expected the museum would grow into what it has become today. “I always knew that every time a new director came in, there was going to be a transformation,” he added. Lucia said the work that Belfanti and Potenza have done to reimagine the museum and tell the history of the neighborhood is “just another chapter in the West End saga.” In described the old West End, Lucia called it a “working-class community,” where some residents strove to reach the middle class while others were just content to live in a neighborhood “where people got along and helped each other.” “Things weren’t presented to them on a silver platter.,” he said. “They had to work for things.” Of the old West End, Lucia added: “It created a lot of great institutions like the West End House, the Elizabeth Peabody House, or some of the schools that were here, churches that were here, or the community group as well. It takes community to do that.” Lucia said he now wants to see the West End Museum become an institution that will still be around in another 100 years, like the West End House. “This chapter still isn’t done so we’re working on strategic planning to make sure this particular location and what we’re going to be doing here sustains itself into the future and for future generations,” said Lucia. “We want the story to perpetuate itself, and who knows – there’s a story unfolding right now in the West End. There’s a community that’s developing. We’re now going to have a community center location. We’re now going to have a neighborhood center that has a permanent home for the West End Civic Association, so that’s a big part of the story as well.” Lucia also acknowledges that he now has his eye set on the Last Tenement building at 42 Lomasney Way, located directly across from the museum, when it comes to expansion. He points to the success of the Tenement Museum in New York City, which could serve as a model for Boston’s own tenement museum. “It would be an incredible acquisition,” said Lucia. While he believes further expansion of the museum is inevitable, Lucia cautions that it has to be done in a “fiscally responsible way.” “This chapter still isn’t done so we’re working on strategic planning to make sure this particular location and what we’re going to be doing here sustains itself into the future and for future generations,” he said. The West End Museum is located at 150 Staniford St., Suite 7. For more information on the museum, and to contribute to its ongoing renovation costs, visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.