It was a full house last night at the Fenway Community Center at 1282 Boylston Street where Burning Greed was screened. A second screening will be held tonight at the Capitol Theatre, in Arlington....more
Burning Greed is a documentary produced by Sonia Weinhaus covering the arson-for-profit ring operating in The Fenway in the late-1970s.
Fires broke out on a regular basis along Symphony Road and other streets for a series of years in the 1970s - at least thirty buildings burned. Residents - white, Latino, and black families, the elderly, and a good number of gays and lesbians - knew something was going on but faced ambivalence and skepticism from the city and state. One fire official said he believed the residents were setting the fires, that arson was something only kids and pyromaniacs - and, "angry ethnics" were capable of. That official also suggested that the gay men in the neighborhood could be responsible.
The neighborhood organized, driven by pride - and, necessity, since many did not have the means to move elsewhere.
Things got worse before they got better; four people died in a single fire, and, in 1976 a four-year-old infant was killed.
Fenway residents created "Symphony Tenants Organizing Project" and, joining with some nearby Northeastern University students, started looking for answers. This was in the days before anything was available online, so they had to pour through paper records to attempt to figure out what was going on.
Neighbors including Jack Wills and David Scondras, and dozens of others, worked feverishly to find connections between all the fires, finally uncovering an arson-for-profit ring, where real estate speculators were buying and selling properties at inflated prices, eventually burning the buildings to the ground in order to collect insurance proceeds.
Angry ethnics, indeed.
With the help of then-MA state representative Mel King, residents' cries for help were finally heard. Attorney general Frank Bellotti and assistant attorney general Stephen Delinsky got involved and, when a surprise participant turned state witness - eventually started prosecuting land owners.
Eventually, more than 30 individuals were charged - and found guilty - of arson-related crimes, including a member of the city's arson squad(?!) and a state fire marshal(?!).
The documentary covers a lot of this, and more. An hour long, it's worthy of a trip to Arlington to see it tonight, or follow Burning Greed on Twitter for future showing information.
(The 1970s arson breakout was followed up in the early 1980s by another one. Incredibly, residents were again blamed for setting the fires ... but who was doing it, and why, was a shocking surprise.)
To learn more about Boston's arson-for-profit ring in the 1970s, check out these links or search "Symphony Road Fires" online.
56-72 Symphony Road garden renovation
Computerworld profile of STOP and David Scondras:
Boston on Fire, by Stephanie Schorow:
WGBH Ten O'Clock News (B-roll video):
More on arson for profit, including a lot about Boston