The yellow three-decker at the end of Hendry Street once loomed over Bowdoin-Geneva, a symbol of the blight and violence that riddled the neighborhood just a few years ago.
With a new owner, though, the house at 37 Hendry St. marks a departure from days of boarded-up windows, drug gangs, and gunshots.
“This house right here? I hated this house,” said Boston Police Superintendent William Gross to a laughing crowd of residents gathered on the street Saturday. “Every time I look at this house from now on, this is a positive thing, showing what you can do when you work together. This is going to be my trophy house now.”
Banners of world flags strung between homes fluttered in the breeze at Saturday’s fourth annual neighborhood block party. The sky was a rich, clear blue, the pavement hot on the feet of dozens of children chasing balls and showing off their new face paint: a Minnie Mouse here, a Hello Kitty there.
The mood was one of joy unburdened by worry, a dramatic evolution from the palpable anxiety there just a few years ago.
“They were putting dead pitbulls in people’s trash,” said Jeanne DuBois, executive director of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit. “They were ordering murders on their cellphones. It was the scariest street ever.”
Grass-roots efforts by concerned residents, combined with local, state, and federal funding, have transformed the area once rife with foreclosures into a tight-knit community. A combination of funds helped purchase and/or renovate 14 properties, containing 41 units, in the area. Police shut down two drug dens and said they have arrested 27 alleged drug dealers. Home values have increased.
‘It was awful. I didn’t feel safe to come outside . . . Now, things are pretty quiet.
“Day by day, we keep fighting to make it strong and peaceful,” said Agnaldo Monteiro, the new owner of the yellow house. “We changed this street. Now we live in peace.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh gave a short speech, calling the transformation “remarkable.”
“This is huge. This street, many years ago, was a tough street that residents rallied around, and really turned the street around,” Walsh, who grew up nearby, said in an interview. “If you have residents like this in every neighborhood that has problems, you will see a transformation in Boston.”
Again and again, residents spoke of how far the neighborhood has come. It’s quiet now, they said, and neighbors wave to each other as they walk past. The days of intimidation, of gang members occupying their porches, of having to keep their mouths shut and their heads down, are gone.
“It was awful. I didn’t feel safe to come outside,” said Manny Correia, 19, who spent his younger teen years in the neighborhood. “A cop used to be here 24/7. One by one, they all left. Now, things are pretty quiet.”
The Rev. Richard “Doc” Conway of St. Peter Parish said the street was once “the worst street in the city of Boston.”
“It’s all changed,” he said. “It’s a symbol in this neighborhood, that if this street can change, we can change any neighborhood, really.”
Seeing so many children playing in the streets, zipping around on scooters and shrieking as they splashed in the dunk tank, brought Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Joseph Harris back to his Dorchester-Roxbury childhood.
“This is how people get to know each other,” he said. “Four or five years ago, this place was pretty much deserted . . . So the transformation over the last few years has been great.”
In 2011, the Globe published its “68 Blocks” series, chronicling the joys and sorrows of Boston’s Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood. People called the yellow three-decker the cancer house. Its owner had fled to Rwanda, behind more than $150,000 in mortgage payments. Some building tenants’ records included selling crack on Hendry, carjacking, and possession of a sawed-off shotgun.
Tony Van Der Meer, a Clarkson Street resident who helped organize the block party, lauded homeowners who remained in the neighborhood through those tumultuous years.
“We’re talking about folks who took fear and turned it into courage and helped transform this neighborhood,” he shouted into the microphone.
Walsh’s presence was a good sign, said a 55-year-old resident of Clarkson Street who declined to be named.
“I kind of like what he said, but he could be a little more hands-on, a little more uplifting for folks in these neighborhoods,” he said. “But I’m glad he came out.”
There is more to be done, such as boosting education and employment, he said. But for now, in the exquisite summer afternoon, music thumping from the speakers, it was enough to reflect on what good has already been done.
“It was a different world,” he said, remembering the sound of gunshots that used to punctuate the summer nights. “Now, the kids running around in the morning? It’s like birds chirping.”Claire McNeill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @clairemcneill.