3D model courtesy of Feldman Land Surveyors’ Pro-Bono 3D Laser Scanning Program: Scanning Historic Boston:
Reopening the Shamrock Shutters:
E.P.I.C. Pedagogy and Virtual Curation
at the James Michael Curley House,
Nowhere in the Boston landscape is the power of politics and place more resonant with regard to Curley’s legacy than the former mayor’s mansion at 350 Jamaicaway in Jamaica Plain. Commonly known as the “House with the Shamrock Shutters,” this neo-Georgian style brick home was built in 1915 during Curley’s first term as mayor. Construction began, fittingly, on St. Patrick’s Day, 1915 and soon the stately mansion, designed by rising-star architect Joseph McGinnis and incorporating a dining room from Henry Rogers’ estate in Fairhaven, began to rise. Eventually, the elegant mansion filled with crystal chandeliers, marble fireplaces, and intricate woodwork would have over 21 rooms and be over 10,000 square feet in size, enough room to accommodate Curley’s rapidly expanding family. The window shutters adorned with shamrocks proclaimed Curley’s financial and political success as the son of impoverished immigrants.
Curley and his family remained in the Jamaicaway house for the rest of his political career. Although his opponents had him barred from succeeding himself as mayor, he was re-elected at three different intervals from 1922-26, from 1930-34, and from 1946-50. In 1934, based on a campaign of “work and wages” and his unfailing support of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Curley reached the pinnacle of his career when he was elected Governor of Massachusetts. Aside from a sojourn in congress in the 1940s and a brief stint in jail for fraud, Curley lived in the Jamaicaway mansion until he sold it to the Oblate Fathers in 1956, two years before his death. The Oblates lived in the house until 1988, when the City of Boston bought it, and today it remains a testament to the Curley legacy.
Because of its iconic status, when the house came on the market in the 1980s, the City of Boston purchased it via the George Robert White Fund with the hope that it could be preserved for community use. To date, however, that hope has gone unfulfilled. This historic and prominently located house has remained without a tenant—and a purpose—for over twenty years, and its fate remains uncertain.
The future of the James Michael Curley House thus remains a problem with political overtones for the people of Boston. Yet at the same time it presents a real-world, local issue that has proven to be the ideal vehicle for a new mode of pedagogy that is being developed at Wentworth Institute of Technology: E.P.I.C. Learning. E.P.I.C. Learning is defined as externally-collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary curricula for learning, and it promotes undergraduate education by encouraging students of various majors to work in teams on projects that motivate off-campus collaborations. With these pedagogical goals in mind and having been informed of the Curley House’s plight by our colleague, Larry Overlan, in the fall of 2013 we decided to utilize the Curley House issue as a focus for our new studio course in Media, Culture, and Communications Studies. The goal of this studio is to explore issues in the humanities through the use of innovative digital techniques. Thus we decided to develop an interdisciplinary course, taught by an English professor and an archaeologist, that could combine our goals of promoting E.P.I.C. Learning, introducing students to digital humanities, and prompting new ideas for the Curley House’s future. From this nexus, the James Michael Curley Virtual Museum project was born.
Christopher Gleason, Ph.D.
Professor, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston
Jody M. Gordon, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston