The Roxbury (Boston) Boys Club / by Jason Turgeon

On my walk with the dog this morning, I noticed the “Boys Club of Boston” at the end of Dudley Street across from O’Aces barber shop.

A quick trip to Google shows that this was the original Roxbury Boys Club, founded in 1910, which merged with the Boston Boys Club in 1932 and eventually became the Boys and Girls Club of Boston in 1981.  This venerable institution now has 10 clubs around Boston and serves over 14,000 boys and girls.

This picture from the club’s history page for Roxbury shows the building about the time of the name change.

Boys Club about 1932

You can see that before the urban renewal campaigns of the 1960s, the Boys Club building used to be in the middle of the block, with parking to the east and more buildings beyond those.  All of that was torn down around the time of the Madison Park destruction in 1966, and now the building abuts the Shawmut Avenue extension.  The club left in 1968 for its current home on Warren Street after the BRA notified club management that they would be taking the building by eminent domain.  Fortunately, the destruction stopped just short of this building.

The Roxbury clubhouse didn’t officially open until 1916, but the building was far enough along in construction to appear on the 1915 Ward Map.

Happily, the building has been restored and today carries on as a center for young people as the home of the Roxbury branch of the Youth Advocacy Department.

The current club management has an excellent history compiled from old board meeting minutes.  The original (.doc) version is here, but I’ve taken the liberty of copying the text below in case that ever disappears.

Roxbury Club: An Early History

The roots of today’s Yawkey Club of Roxbury can be traced to the merger of three smaller organizations dedicated to getting boys off the street, under the leadership of James B. Stewart. In a series of room within the People’s Institute at 1173 Tremont Street, Mr. Steward provided entertainment, recreation and a variety of industrial arts, and on certain afternoons, admitted girls to the Club.

As in Charlestown, the young boys of Roxbury were eager to become part of an organization that was designed especially for them. Membership swelled, and in June 1900, the Institute moved to newer, larger headquarters at the corner of Ruggles and Tremont Streets. Provided by Robert Paine, the same benefactor who had offered the rooms on Tremont Street, the new Club was a three-story brick building.

Although the Institute helped to alleviate some of the issues faced by Roxbury youth, it was obvious that additional facilities were needed. Judge Nathan A. Williams succeeded in enlisting the interest of a number of prominent Roxbury citizens, and at a meeting in the Roxbury Courthouse on January 24, 1910; he suggested that a Boys’ Club be formed in Roxbury. 

With the support of the citizens group, rooms were secured at 2373 Washington Street, and a new Boys’ Club opened. After several months, however, the Club’s directors decided to sell the furniture, tools and other equipment and close the doors.

Later that same year, another meeting was held, and Mr. Stewart proposed that the Roxbury Boys’ Club be merged with the Boys’ Institute of Industry. After some discussion, a new name was chosen for the merged group, the Roxbury Boys’ Club.

Soon the problem of space once again became a major concern. A committee from the new group purchased the Jackson estate on Dudley Street, and a campaign was organized in 1914 to erect a new building large enough to meet the needs of all the boys of Roxbury. During the campaign, pledges amounting to $75,000 were secured. In 1916, the new Club at 80 Dudley Street went into full operation. By 1917, there were 2,500 boys enrolled.

On January 21, 1925, at a meeting of the Directors of the Roxbury Boys’ Club, it was proposed that this Club should combine with the Boys’ Club of Boston, Inc., so that both of these organizations, which had similar purposes, might serve the youth of Boston more effectively. Committees were appointed from both Clubs to study the proposal.

At a meeting on January 28, 1927, the committee presented its proposal, calling for “the advisability and expediency of closer relations.” They voted unanimously to accept “closer cooperation between the two Clubs” and “common management through common officers.”

George Bramwell Baker was elected as the first President of the combined group, Harris G. LeRoy, was named the first Executive Director, and a Board of Directors of 28 men was formed.

The final step in the merger occurred on March 30, 1928, when the Supreme Judicial Court authorized the Roxbury Boys’ Club to transfer its property to the Boys’ Club of Boston. The addition of another unit necessitated another name change, and, on April 18, 1932, the organization became known as The Boys’ Clubs of Boston, Incorporated.

During 1940, 1,656 families moved out of Roxbury as a result of Federal Housing developments, greatly effecting Club membership. However, the Roxbury Club provided an important function during the next few years, as Army and Navy units received swimming instruction in the pool.

By 1963, the Club’s programs extended from the early classes in woodworking and printing to classes that taught carpentry and sailing. Early programs in simple gymnastics evolved into extensive physical fitness programs that featured trampoline, basketball, swimming, bowling, hockey and other outdoor activities. 

At the same time, Boston was being revitalized by urban renewal and an ever-changing skyline, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) notified the organization that the land on which the Roxbury Club was located might be taken for the building of a regional school. As planning progressed, the BRA offered a site on Warren Street for a new Club adjacent to the proposed new Roxbury government center. For most of this decade, negotiations with the BRA continued as numerous permitting delays plagued the project, and estimated construction costs kept rising.

In 1966, a detailed construction plan was finally approved, including “adequate classroom and library facilities to meet the direction that education programs are taking in the future.” Construction began in the fall of 1966, and The Boys’ Clubs of Boston held its Annual Meeting at the Roxbury Clubhouse on April 30, 1968. The Club building became fully operational and was dedicated in June 1968.