If you’ve been following Boston 2024’s quest to bring the Olympics to town, you know one thing: A lot is riding on Widett Circle, the 83-acre parcel where organizers want to build the stadium that would be the centerpiece of the Olympiad.
But even as Widett Circle stands on the brink of global fame, mystery reigns at home. Most locals have no clue about for whom it’s named, how it’s pronounced — Why-det? Widit? Wih-dett? — or even where it is.
That includes people standing right in Widett Circle.
“Never heard of it,” said Rick Franson, a veteran truck driver, shouting to be heard over his 18-wheeler as it idled on . . . Widett Circle.
“I didn’t even know there was a Widett,” Ed Paris, a lieutenant with the Boston Fire Department, said as he and his menpicked up veal from one of the area’s meat wholesalers.
“Sixty-one years here in Boston,” he said, “I don’t think about any names.”
And so it went in late June, a few days after Boston 2024 released its updated bid proposal, a document with a cover rendering showing Widett Circle looking verdant and inviting — unlike the Widett Circle of today.
With its rusty and abandoned truck cabs, discarded tires, and lots filled with dirty puddles and flattened cigarette boxes, Widett’s 2015 vibe is less “Chariots of Fire” than “The Sopranos.”
If Boston is chosen as the Olympics host city, Widett could play a role on the world stage. It’s already important locally, though few know it. With its meat and seafood wholesalers, city tow lot, road-salt sheds, and rail yards, Widett helps Boston run, but in a back-office, invisible way.
Finding a new home for the businesses that make up the New Boston Food Market has surfaced as an early challenge for Boston 2024. Mayor Martin J. Walsh wants the companies, which employ almost 800 people, to stay in the city.
On a recent midday the circular streetscape was populated by truck drivers, a snow-jacket-clad worker who emerged from a frozen-meat locker into the hot summer sun, and two power walkers from Southie.
“The beach is too crowded,” one of the walkers said, not smiling, not breaking stride.
Where is Widett, exactly? Google Maps shows it between the South End and South Boston, adjacent to the Southeast Expressway, just about a half-mile from the Andrew Square Dunkin’ Donuts.
Organizers plan to rename the area “Midtown,” a nod, they say, to its location in the “heart of the city.”
But perhaps a more emotionally accurate description comes from Nicole Barrett, a 22-year-old Bryant University graduate who somehow ended up working in Widett Circle.
“It’s just random,” she said, describing Widett’s whereabouts.
“You kind of have to go back, over, and then around to get here,” she said. “I had an Uber pick me up and he had no idea where he was.”
With her Lilly Pulitzer straw belt, Kate Spade handbag, and ballet flats, Barrett seemed out of place in Widett Circle. Yet, heading out on a midday break, she was the only person approached by a reporter who knew the circle’s backstory.
“I’ll get in trouble if I don’t know,” she said, explaining that she works in marketing for one of the area’s seafood companies.
Widett Circle was named for the late Harold Widett, a lawyer who fought to relocate his meatpacking company clients when they were forced to leave Quincy Market in the late 1960s to make way for the future tourist attraction.
When the city laid out the circle in 1967, it named the roadway after Widett in recognition of his advocacy.
Although Widett is relatively unknown today, he was a prominent figure. As his obituaries reported, he was consul general for Ecuador, chairman of the board of trustees of the Retina Foundation, a trustee of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and a fellow of Brandeis University, among other positions.
Widett was known affectionately as “HW” and was quite dapper, according to his longtime administrative assistant, Miriam Yorks. He died in 2000, at the age of 90, so his thoughts on the circle’s shot at Olympic fame will never be known.
But a lawyer who worked with him on the meatpackers’ behalf at his Boston-based law firm, Widett, Slater & Goldman, said his late boss would have mixed feelings about renaming his namesake Midtown.
“Widett Circle was his pride and joy,” said Richard Stein, now a partner at Nixon Peabody, and still counsel to the food wholesalers.
“Many times in the winter, the city of Boston would forget that it was a public street, and it wouldn’t be plowed. He’d get [then-Public Works] Commissioner Joe Casazza on the phone and tell him ‘Get a truck there.’ He took it very personally,” Stein recalled.
“In a sense, he’d be a little sad” at the circle’s potential name change, Stein said. “It was a tremendous accomplishment to get this done. But on the other hand, in fairness to him, as the guy who put it together, he understands the world moves on.”
Whether the world moves to Boston in 2024 remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: It’s “Wih-DETT.”
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