Union Square East
The eastern side of Union Square houses a mix of diverse populations and service-oriented businesses, including a number of automotive and industrial uses. The area is roughly bound by McGrath Highway, the Fitchburg Railroad line, Prospect Street, and Washington Street. Redevelopment efforts associated with the Union Square Revitalization Plan, the extension of the Green Line to Union Square, and plans to de-elevate the McGrath Highway are expected to dramatically alter the neighborhood.
Like Boynton Yards, much of the southeastern part of Union Square was originally part of the Miller’s River. Maps from 1852 show the area east of Prospect Street and south of Somerville Avenue as undeveloped marshland. In 1872, the Cities of Cambridge and Somerville established a board of commissioners to devise a plan for draining and abating the public nuisance caused by the municipal and industrial waste in the Miller’s River. The commission’s final report recommended that the City of Somerville construct a main sewer that would drain into the Mystic River in Charlestown and fill with clean gravel “all the channel, flats, and basins of Miller’s River.” The filling of the river basin began by July 1873. By 1884, no trace of the Miller’s River remained, and more local real estate owners were attempting to develop the no-longer-marshy lands along its banks as a residential neighborhood.
Beginning in the 1920s, the land now located near the Prospect Street bridge evolved rapidly into an industrial area occupied by scrap metal yards and a used automobile parts business. The former Kiley Barrel company operated an industrial site for cleaning, storage, and re-use of barrels for approximately 60 years until 1989. Soils below the site were contaminated by heavy metals, petroleum-related compounds, and chlorinated solvent. As part of redevelopment plans, the City of Somerville conducted environmental clean-up of the site.
Several architecturally significant buildings can be found in the area including the old Post Office at the base of Prospect Hill, the former Union Square Fire Station (now SCATV), and several other properties which are being evaluated for designation by the City as a Local Historic District. One intact example is the tall and narrow masonry commercial/residential building at 216 Somerville Avenue, which dates from 1896. It has a façade dominated by a broad, full-length three-story window bay composed of galvanized iron. Next door at 218-218B Somerville Avenue is a 1926 two-story commercial block designed in the Colonial Revival style. The ground floor storefronts were occupied by Rafaele D. Vasta’s fish store and Salvatore Ciano’s grocery. This property is clearly tied to the early Italian community in Union Square, with two of the occupants working for the meat packing industry that is long associated with this part of Somerville.
More recently, the neighborhood east of Union Square has experienced stabilization and resurgence due to local community advocacy and financial investment. Linden Street, for example, had long suffered from encroachment by industrial and retail development. In 2002, the Somerville Community Corporation reclaimed this urban enclave for community-oriented living through the construction of the Linden Street Apartments, which consist of 42 energy-efficient affordable rental units and a centralized play area.
One street over, a vacant lot at 30 Allen Street, which had a history of illegal dumping, was cleaned up and turned into the Allen Street Community Gardens. Opening in 2007, the community garden offers a small oasis where area residents have a place to relax and grow flowers and vegetables.
The neighborhood is also home to several community organizations. The Walnut Street Center on Charlestown Street provides support to adults with developmental disabilities including day programs, employment training programs, residential programs and individual support services. The Community Action Agency of Somerville runs a Head Start program out of the Jack Hamilton Center on Allen Street.
In 2009, the Board of Aldermen adopted transformational new zoning for Union Square and nearby Boynton Yards designed to capitalize on the Commonwealth’s upcoming investment in rapid transit. Specifically, the Prospect Street corridor between the future Green Line stop and the heart of Union Square was rezoned for transit oriented development, including the Kiley Barrel parcels and the Public Safety Building.
Plans are now moving forward to redevelop the corner of Somerville Avenue and Prospect Street, with new buildings that are scheduled to be completed along with the opening of the Green Line MBTA station in Union Square. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation also announced a long-term plan to de-elevate the McGrath Highway along the eastern edge of the neighborhood. The project will involve removal of the elevated segment of the highway and conversion of the roadway into a boulevard. It is anticipated that removal of the overpass will result in significant new development and reconnect Union Square with the Brickbottom neighborhood.
"Determination of Significance Report: 4 Milk Place." (July 2014), Somerville Historic Preservation Commission
"Brownfields Success in New England: 30 Allen Street." (Dec 2007), Environmental Protection Agency
"Somerville, Massachusetts: Area and Site Guide" (Sept 2008), City of Somerville.
Image: Linden Street Apartments, Somerville Community Development Corporation
Image: 218 Somerville Avenue, once occupied by Rafaele D. Vasta’s fish store and Salvatore Ciano’s grocery.
Image: McGrath Highway/McCarthy Overpass. Photo courtesy of Union Square Main Streets.
Image: 30 Prospect Street, a local landmark due to the stockpile of salvaged radiators outside, will be redeveloped as part of the D2 block.