Roxbury building renamed in honor of Bruce Bolling, a pioneer

Bruce Bolling Jr. (third from left), Royal Bolling Jr. (at right), and other family members and city dignitaries were on hand for the unveiling of a plaque honoring Bruce C. Bolling on Tuesday.
Bruce Bolling Jr. (third from left), Royal Bolling Jr. (at right), and other family members and city dignitaries were on hand for the unveiling of a plaque honoring Bruce C. Bolling on Tuesday.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

For the Bolling family, the Ferdinand Building was once an aspirational place — the spot where the family matriarch purchased a living room set, took it home, wrapped it in protective plastic, and forbade her 12 children from entering the "pretty room" where she displayed the furniture.

On Tuesday, the family returned to the former furniture store and helped christen it as a tribute to the late Bruce C. Bolling, the first African-American elected president of the Boston City Council, and as a symbol of the city's hopes for a revitalized Dudley Square.

"Finally we're at a point today where we've realized not only Bruce's dream but the dreams of many people who are not here today," said Bolling's brother, Royal Jr., at a dedication ceremony in the building's lobby.


"Now we have a monument really to Bruce, but it's a monument that's shared by many other people who really fought the good fight to bring downtown uptown," he said.

The 215,000-square-foot Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building is the new home of the Boston Public Schools, with about 500 staffers occupying the upper floors. It also has retail space.

The dedication drew an audience and speakers representing several generations of Boston civic life, including Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Angela Menino, widow of former mayor Thomas M. Menino, and current and past councilors.

Bolling grew up in Roxbury and was elected to a citywide council seat in 1981. Two years later, the city established district representation and Bolling became the first councilor elected from District 7 in Roxbury, a seat he held for four terms.

He became council president in 1986 and held the post for two years.

Bolling's political career ended in September 1993 when he finished fifth in the preliminary mayoral election. After losing, Bolling founded the Massachusetts Alliance for Small Contractors, which connected minority business owners with government contracts.


He died in 2012 at age 67.

It was standing room only during the official naming ceremony.
It was standing room only during the official naming ceremony.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Bolling's ascension in Boston politics helped pave the way for others, like Tito Jackson, who holds his former seat on the City Council, and Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley.

Jackson recalled being 8 years old when he met Bolling in 1983.

"He gave me the ability to dream as an 8-year-old . . . skinny little black boy with funny glasses from Roxbury that he could someday grow up to be an unapologetic black man in a suit, sharp, intelligent, smooth, well-spoken . . . who loved his community and showed it," Jackson said.

He said he keeps a copy of the Boston Residents Jobs Policy in his desk. The ordinance sponsored by Bolling has developers set aside a portion of construction jobs for city residents, including percentages for minorities and women.

For the redevelopment of the former Ferdinand building, Jackson said more than 45 percent of the jobs went to Boston residents. More than 48 percent of the positions went to minorities and nearly 10 percent went to women, he said.

"That is to me one of the most important pieces of legislation that he led and passed," Jackson said in an interview. "I refer to it on a regular basis not only for what it says but for what it means to the city."

Pressley said Bolling and his wife, Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, encouraged her to run for public office.

"I would characterize Bruce as an idealist, but a pragmatic one. And as much as it is possible, I've tried to model myself in that way," she said in an interview. "In every meeting, any community meeting, any debate my first and last question is always the same: 'What can I do?'. . . Bruce was so thoughtful. He was so progressive. He was such a visionary."


Bolling's son, Bruce Jr., 20, a political science major at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, told the audience he plans to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Councilor Tito Jackson occupies the same seat as my dad once did. One day I'm going for it," he said to laughter and applause.

Jackson told Bolling Jr. he would keep the seat warm for him.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

Related coverage:

90-year-old developer reflects on Dudley Square's renaissance

New mixes with old at Roxbury's Bolling Building

Dutch architect's design brings light to Dudley Square

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.