The windows were the first things to go, the frames pushed out, exposing yellow tufts of insulation that looked like a bad haircut.
The demolition of Gate of Heaven School in South Boston began in earnest Monday morning. It was a sad thing to see.
Kevin Lally was one who resisted the urge to go up the street and watch it crumble.
“I’ve said all along, I’ll shed a tear when it comes down,” he said.
Lally led the opposition in his South Boston neighborhood to plans to convert the old school into high-end condos because, as most of the people who live along the narrow streets of letters and numbers in Southie will tell you, the last thing they want are more big-money condos.
Lally and the others who opposed turning the school into more homes for the rich wanted it to become a charter school, or, failing that, housing for the elderly. Instead, it will become a parking lot.
There is no better example of the current state of the quality of life in Southie today than the fact that tearing down a school to make way for a parking lot is considered something of a victory. Somewhere, Joni Mitchell is singing that tune and thinking, “I told you so.”
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
It wasn’t paradise. It was just a school. But like at a lot of the city’s parishes, it used to be that the school and the church at Gate of Heaven had a symbiotic relationship. For many, it was a circle of life. You got baptized at the church. You met lifelong friends at the school. You got married at the church. You baptized your kids at the church and sent your kids to the school. And you got buried out of the church.
Lally is philosophical about it all.
“The two main reasons people are moving out of South Boston are parking and schools,” he said.
He would have preferred the latter, but at least they got the former.
Gate of Heaven School closed in 2009, in the middle of the condo-building boom that transformed Southie from a neighborhood of many three-deckers housing families that had lived there for generations to one of many two-bedroom apartments and condominiums occupied by newcomers.
Following the school’s closing, the main focus of Lally and others, including the Rev. Robert Casey, the pastor at Gate of Heaven, was to save the church, a beautiful structure, but one that eats energy and costs a lot to maintain.
The Gate of Heaven Neighborhood Association, which Lally leads, sued to block a condo project, and eventually the archdiocese decided the steady income from renting out parking spaces was preferable to transforming the school into something else.
“This will bring in a quarter of a million in income for the church every year,” Lally said. “It’s not the perfect solution. I still think we needed a good charter school there.”
The 40 extra parking spots, meanwhile, easing a tightness on the neighborhood’s streets, will feel like loosening a belt after a huge meal. It will do nothing for the wider angst in a neighborhood that has changed so much so fast.
Lally has coached CYO basketball in Southie forever, and very recently a kid he coached about 25 years ago got back in touch. It was good to catch up, but then the guy got to the point: He was now working as a developer and offered Lally $2 million for his two-family near Dorchester Heights.
Lally turned him down.
“Where am I going to go?” Lally asked. “I married the girl seven houses down from me. My brother lives next door. My mother-in-law is in Marian Manor. This is my home. And I love it here.”
The demolition crews were hitting the old school on both sides, on East Fourth Street and East Fifth Street. Just down I Street, at the corner of East Broadway, the friendly, enthusiastic staff at American Provisions, a farm to table store, puttered around, stacking shelves and making sandwiches. The Challerhocker, an aged cheese from Switzerland, was going for $32.95 a pound.
Across the street, the Capital Residential Group was offering a four-bedroom rental just off Broadway at $5,000 a month. There’s a three-decker on M Street on the market for $2.3 million, and if you had your eye on that two-bedroom condo at the corner of East Sixth, you’re too late: It just sold for $936,000.
Back at the school, the crew from JDC Demolition was using a yellow piece of heavy equipment to puncture the walls. Bobby Eggers stood there on the sidewalk on East Fifth Street, dragging on a cigarette. He lives around the corner, on Colebrook Street.
“I used to play street hockey in back of the school,” he said. “I went to public school, but I had a lot of friends who went here. It’s sad to see it go. A piece of the old neighborhood.”
Two years ago, a car plowed into him in the South End, and now Eggers, 39, walks around with a leg held together with pieces of metal. He can’t work construction anymore, and he’s trying to figure out his future.
Every day, he sees his past melt away.
“There’s very few real Southie people left,” he said. “There’s 19 houses on my street. Less than half of them are original Southie people.”
Bobby Eggers disappeared around the corner. And then, at noon, the bells at Gate of Heaven tolled.