Allston Residents Debate Renaming Historic “Barry’s Corner”

Allston residents disagree on what to name the intersection of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue, an area destined to be the retail and residential hub of Harvard’s development in Allston over the next ten years.

While many refer to the intersection as “Barry’s Corner,” the Allston Square Association, led by local landowner Reynold M. McKinney, is pushing to rename the area “Allston Square.”

According to McKinney, who has lived in Allston for 44 years, “Allston Square” more appropriately defines the location and identity of the neighborhood.

“It is about time the Metro-Boston area calls us by the name we were given hundreds of years ago in honor of Washington Allston,” McKinney said, referring to the American painter and poet after whom the neighborhood of Allston is named. Allston graduated from Harvard College in 1800.


McKinney has posted petitions around the neighborhood to record support for the name change. He said he has received almost 200 signatures. The petition is one step of the official renaming process determined by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Department of Transportation, McKinney said.

Other Allston residents said that changing the name of the intersection is an affront to the important history of the neighborhood.

“Through the generations, it’s always been Barry’s Corner to us,” longtime resident Tom Lally said, adding that the name Barry’s Corner can be found on maps that date back to the early 1900s.

Allston residents called the history of the neighborhood named Barry’s Corner one of the “tragedies of urban renewal.” During the 1960s the residents of Barry’s Corner, a tiny neighborhood in of 52 structures and 71 families, fought to remain in their homes despite the City of Boston’s decrees that the neighborhood buildings were blighted and must be demolished. Families were evicted one by one over eight years until a squadron of over 50 Boston policemen were required to remove the remaining holdouts amidst a protest of over 100 Allston residents in 1969.

According to Rita M. DiGesse, a Harvard-Allston Task Force member and resident of Allston for over eight decades, retaining the Barry’s Corner name is an important reminder of the perils of urban renewal.

“All these poor people got thrown out of their houses,” said DiGesse, who knows current Allston families who had been evicted from Barry’s Corner over four decades ago. “It shouldn’t happen again.”

Lally echoed the importance of preserving a local neighborhood name, especially in the face of Harvard’s expansion into the area.

“Washington Allston is a Harvard person,” he said, adding that the whole Allston neighborhood is named after the 19th-century painter.

The intersection will be the site of extensive Harvard development over the next decade, including a project named “The Barry’s Corner Retail and Residential Commons,” spearheaded by University-hired firm Samuels & Associates. Last April, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved the Commons, which will contain 325 housing units and 40,000 square feet of residential space. Harvard’s ten-year Institutional Master Plan for development in Allston calls for a number of other projects near the site.

Local residents said the dispute over what to name the intersection represents the tension in North Allston between a rich history and a rapidly approaching future.

“There’s a hope for a new future in that part of Allston,” Brighton resident Kevin M. Carragee said. “But I don’t think that runs counter to keeping the name.”

Despite the fact local residents have rallied around either “Barry’s Corner” or “Allston Square,” the official name of the intersection is Anthony J. Vaccaro Square, according to a Department of Transportation spokesperson quoted in The Boston Herald.

In the end, some residents said that regardless of the official name, locals will continue calling the intersection what they have been for decades.

“Names are stubborn things,” said James Madden, project manager at an affordable housing nonprofit that operates in Allston. “Anyone who wants to call [Barry’s Corner] something else will have a tough slog at it.”

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.