In 1906, a group of immigrant boys from the densely populated West End neighborhood of Boston banded together to form a club dedicated to the advancement of its members. They met on the Boston Common, in alleyways and in abandoned buildings to exercise, study history and literature and to forge friendships that would ensure survival in their tough urban neighborhood. Philanthropist James J. Storrow, for whom Storrow Drive is named, was so impressed by their motivation, unity and strength of character that he funded a clubhouse, which became known as The West End House Boys Club.
For over 60 years, the Club served as the cornerstone of the West End neighborhood, serving immigrant boys from Russia, Poland and other European countries. Under the leadership of the first executive director, Mitchell Freiman, and later Jacob “Jack” Burnes and Allie Coles, West End House played a pivotal role in the lives of generations of young men, many of whose family members remain involved today.
Move to Allston-Brighton
In the 1950’s, the West End neighborhood underwent urban renewal. A plan developed by the Boston Housing Authority involved leveling a 46-acre portion of the West End that housed 2,700 families, and replacing it with only five high-rise buildings. Despite the valiant efforts of residents to save the West End, by 1960, the neighborhood ceased to exist as it once stood.
Although there was no one left to serve in the West End, our leadership was determined to live up to the West End House motto: The Spirit of the House Will Never Die. The Club commissioned a study that revealed Allston-Brighton as home to the largest population of immigrant children and families in need of services.
In 1971, thanks in large part to the efforts and advocacy of Hon. Norman Weinberg, West End House moved to our present location.
In 1976, the Club proudly became one of the first in the nation to include girls as full members and changed its name to become
West End House Boys & Girls Club.
21st Century Renovation
As West End House moved into the 21st century, its 30 year-old building and programs were in great need of an update. Thanks in large part to the commitment of a core group of board members and the generous contributions of Alan Lewis, Hank Lewis, and Jim Gordon, West End House completed a $7.5 million campaign to renovate and expand its space to host many of the program areas that currently exist today—visual and performing arts rooms, an education center with a computer lab, a commercial kitchen with dining space, and teen leadership spaces. At the completion of the campaign in 2002, the renovated facility was named the Lewis & Gordon Center and featured the Louis I. Kane Youth Leadership Center.
We are now poised to further expand our innovative and responsive programs for more than 1,500 youth from across Boston. Our current programs reflect a strategic transition to greater expectations and outcomes—we moved from an emphasis on swim/gym to full-body fitness, from hot meals to nutrition and education, from arts & crafts to arts mastery, and from summer jobs to career readiness. While we once focused on dropout prevention, today we prepare our youth for high school graduation and college completion. As our programs have evolved, so too has the population we serve:
- Our total weekly attendance has increased from 1,185 to 1,380 over the past four years.
- Youth come from all parts of the city—approximately 60% of youth reside in Allston-Brighton, and 40% live in other Boston neighborhoods, such as Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.
- More than half of our members are ages 13 and older, placing West End House in the top 2% of Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. The pathway of teens into the West End House has changed as well—while 66% of teen members today have been with us since middle school, a growing trend is that teens join during high school.