About James Ostis

Ph.D candidate in Public Policy. Avid Lowell volunteer. Lowell Heritage Partnership President. Assistant to the Mayor.

Peter Aucella wins National Award

A proud day for Lowell National Historical Park and Lowell’s own Peter Aucella The recently retired Deputy Superintendent received the prestigious Distinguished Service Award from the Secretary of the Interior today in Washington, DC.

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Secretary of the Interior David Berndhadt said of Peter, “Now, as you may know, our department has sometimes been referred to as the department of everything else due to our broad portfolio. But even so, when most people think about the department, they may overlook the work we do in urban areas. For 32 years, Peter served in multiple roles with the department to make national historic landmark preservation district in Lowell, Massachusetts, a model of conservation and restoration for an urban park.”

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Peter retired in February after seeing Lowell National Historical Park rise to prominence and celebrate its 40th anniversary just last year.  It is another national  recognition for the park which is featured throughout the country on a U.S. quarter this year.

Lowell High School Remembers the Victims of 9/11

Many of the Lowell High Students who participated in Tuesday’s remembrance ceremony were not even born yet on September 11th, 2001.  For their predecessors eighteen years ago, including myself, Headmaster William Samaras was one of the first voices of authority to try to comfort a shaken community.  Mr. Samaras returned to Lowell High on Wednesday for the annual ceremony in remembrance of the day that no one will ever forget.

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2019 City Hall Cookout!

 

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Bernie Lynch in 2012 (Room 50)

In 2012, then City Manager Bernie Lynch hosted first annual Employee Appreciation Cookout as a chance for the manager and the administration to thank the hundreds of employees from various departments that help keep city government on a day to day basis.

That tradition continued first under Lynch and then under subsequent city managers and has since grown to include a super competitive Cornhole tournament.

On Tuesday, September 10th, the various departments came together to enjoy an afternoon of burgers, hot dogs, and public service camaraderie.

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Eric Slagle and Chris Samaras: The Buffalo Bills of City Hall Cornhole (3 time runners up)

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Marking History in the Mayor’s Office

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It was the Mayor’s 30th birthday.

No, not Mayor Samaras–I wasn’t really around for his 30th birthday.

May 10th, 2012 was the 30th birthday of Mayor Patrick Oisín Murphy, who just a few months earlier had become the youngest Plan E mayor in Lowell’s history.

It also was the first time that I had signed the historic Mayor’s guestbook.

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That day, I joined a couple other fellow friends of the mayor and went to visit him in Room 50 on his birthday.  He wasn’t there, but one of my mayor’s aide predecessors, Greg Page, invited us to sign the guestbook while we were in the office.

With a few strokes of the pen, we joined a long history of guests registered in a the leather bound “City Hall Visitor Register”.  106 years, 7 months, and 3 days after Mrs. Mamie Perkins and her husband, Frank from Lake City, Colorado visited Lowell and signed the very same guest book.

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This was well before my own time working in the mayor’s office (I was at the State House then, for my first stint–as it turned out, in case you haven’t heard the recent news).  But from that day on, I had a great appreciation for this simple, yet profound connection between Lowell’s past and present (and future!).

The Mayor’s office itself is home to a lot of history and unique items and artifacts.  But the guestbook is special in that it has allowed literally thousands of people, Lowellians and visitors alike to leave a simple mark of their time at City Hall.

A few months after my first encounter with the book, Jen Myers helped share some of that very special history with one of the most lasting blog posts in the Original Room 50 Blog.

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“Hollywood Greats signed Mayor’s Guestbook” recaps the times that legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bud Abbott, and Lou Costello came to Lowell and signed the book.

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Visitors Register.jpgUnlike other important historic registers such as the records kept by the Clerk, there appears to be no set and fast rules on who signed and on what occasion.  Some guests feel they should only sign it once, while others chose to mark multiple special occasions.  For guests from far away, it may be their only ever visit to Lowell.  For mayors, city managers, and city staff they may be in the building every day.   Common sense usually dictates when to sign, but I have encouraged all who pass through the doors to sign at least once.  After all, we all are a part of Lowell’s history.

I personally signed the book several times between my first visit in May 2012 and beginning in the Mayor’s office in May 2017.  There was March 13th, 2013 when my Public Matters class met with City Manager Bernie Lynch and then again on December 6th, 2016 when I introduced the guestbook and its history to Yun-Ju Choi when she signed it for the first time at the annual City Hall Holiday Open House. My most recent signature came on May 30th, 2017 marking my start as the Assistant to the Mayor, signing one line below my immediate predecessor Celine Gettings.

Since that time, over 400 signatures have been added to the register.  Each name marking a moment in the city’s history for posterity.  Together with this blog, the guestbook serves as a time capsule and record of some of the events and visits big and small over the past terms.

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Former Lowell Cultural Council co-chair Van Pech signs the guestbook in June 2017

Councilors Karen Cirillo and Vesna Nuon both signed during the 2017 election year prior to capturing (or recapturing) their seats on the City Council.

Members of the Angkor Dance Troupe signed after performing in the Council Chamber.

City Historian Emeritus Mehmed Ali signed the book on his wedding day.  AliWeddingSignature.JPG

Colleen Brady holds the distinction of being the first person to sign the guestbook during the mayoral term of Mayor William Samaras when she added her name to the register on January 8, 2018.

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Despite being the longest serving city manager of the modern era, Bernie Lynch signed the mayor’s guestbook for apparently the first time on January 29, 2018 during a visit with the newly elected mayor.

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You can see the history of events being planned.  In June 2018, the Mayor’s Office co-hosted the first of two Citizenship Clinics during Mayor Samaras’s terms.  On March 29, 2018, Melanie Torres and Erik Finn of Project Citizenship both added their names to the register.

So far no United States presidents have signed the guestbook (Jen’s research was inspired in part to see if John F. Kennedy had signed it during his visits to Lowell.) But there is a signature by someone who got very close.

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Governor Dukakis

KittyMikeDukakis.jpgFormer Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis signed the book on May 23rd, 2018 while participating in a town hall discussion regarding the North-South Rail Link.

A few weeks later, a high profile diplomat joined the ranks as former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford visited Room 50 shortly after participating in the first ever Pride Flag Raising at Lowell City Hall on June 1st.

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June 2018 truly was a month with an world wide flair as a group of international students signed the book.  On June 7th, Lowell welcomed students from South Korea, Myanmar, Kenya, India, and Taiwan.  A week later those signatures were joined by the Consul General of Japan, Rokuichiro Michii visiting following a key to the city presentation.

They were far from the only international visitors.  We’ve had an ambassador from Cape Verde, a visiting law enforcement delegation from Argentina, an environmental activist based in Cambodia, a Ghanaian member of Parliament, a tour group from Germany, the director of the Learning City initiative in Cork, Ireland, and many others.

The guestbook contains many family stories.  My aunt, Anne Gallagher, looked (to no avail) for a signature from her father former City Manager and Councilor Charles Gallagher before signing the guestbook herself on May 5th, 2018.

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Professor Sophal Ear of Occidental College visited in March 2018, and brought his family back in July to sign the guestbook!

Sarah Foster and her husband Geoff signed the book on the night she was recognized as a finalist for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.  Her uncle and father signed it two years later during a special mayor to mayor visit of City Hall by the Mayor of Coralville, Iowa.

Looking through the past years, the annual Mayor’s Holiday Reception has been a key date for signature gathering.  2018 was no different with December 11th filling an entire page in the book and several people signing for the very first time.

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Saoran Roueth signed the book the next day (December 12th, 2018), but then returned a few weeks later on (January 3rd, 2019)to earn the honor of being the first person to sign in 2019, joining 113 others who kicked off the year as the annual initial signature.

The guestbook is open to all.  Whether you’re a college student on an internship or a member of Congress making an official visit during your first 100 days in the United States House of Representatives.

 

The guestbook is a truly priceless piece of Lowell history, but at over 110 years old, it is showing some wear and tear.   The Lowell Heritage Partnership and the Lowell Historic Board have begun a collaboration on digitizing the contents of the book with the hopes of eventually presenting a digital exhibit.  From the establishment of Plan E to the celebration of the new millennium, there are stories to be unlocked within these pages.

And the stories continue to be made at City Hall.  So next time you’re in the building, consider making your own mark in the visitors’ register.

Spinners to play for NYPL Championship

LowellSpinnerss.jpgThe Lowell Spinners have had a storied history since then-city manager Brian Martin helped bring them to the Mill City in 1996.  Now this, the 24th season of Lowell Spinners baseball is shaping up to be the most successful on the field season yet.

As the New England Patriots and the greatest quarterback of all time prepare to lift a sixth banner at Gillette Stadium tonight, LeLacheur Park will play host this afternoon, September 8th, to its first ever New York Penn League championship game as the Spinners take on the Brooklyn Cyclones in Game One of the deciding series. Game Two (and Game Three if necessary) will take place in Brooklyn.

The Spinners advanced to the championship in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to defeat the Batavia Muckdogs in three games, winning both games two and three at home in dramatic walk off fashion.

The first pitch will be at 1:05.

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The Switchboard of History

During a recent visit to the Mayor’s office in Room 50, former city manager Brian Martin spotted a familiar sight.

Resting on the windowsill was a large rectangular marble slab with a 24 slots and buttons that once served as the original Lowell City Hall switchboard.

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Martin immediately recognized the historic artifact and recalled uncovering the switchboard during an extensive cleanup effort of the City Hall attic in the early 1990’s while he was the assistant city manager.

“I couldn’t get off the elevator.  Files and debris were piled to the door. I had to climb over everything,” Martin described in a 1992 brochure for an exhibit entitled “A Light in the Attic: Treasures of Lowell City Hall” at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center.

Martin similarly recounted his experiences last week in describing the cluttered nature of the attic and the need for a coordinated effort to organize and preserve Lowell’s hidden historic documents and items.

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Brian Martin shares stories of the City Hall attic with Mayor’s office intern, Sevy (who was a student at LHS during his time as Head of School)

CharterIn addition to the switchboard, Martin pointed out that the original charter establishing the town of Lowell in 1826 was once buried in a nondescript box in the attic.  Rediscovered in the cleanup effort the document was restored and framed at the Lowell Gallery and is now one of the first items on display next to the doorway when you enter the mayor’s office.

The 1992 Mogan Center exhibit featured a wide array of historic documents and photographs from the city’s records including annual reports, payroll sheets, antiquated items like “records of Married women in business (1881-1910).

Military records were a key aspect of this examination, which is fitting in part because the city’s veteran services office used to be located in the time period prior to the attic being closed off to the general public and repurposed for storage only.

LightintheAtticAt the time the attic stored the hard copy records of City Council proceedings dating back to Lowell’s incorporation as a city in 1836.  In a sign of how times have changed, the exhibit’s brochure notes that just earlier in that year on April 14, 1992, did Lowell City Council meetings begin to be televised.

“The next generation of scholars will study videotape,” the brochure notes.

Another generation took another stab at the original stuff in the early 21st century.  In 2014, Mehmed Ali was named the official City Historian by a vote of the Lowell City Council.  Ali used that volunteer role to dig even deeper into the records of the City Hall attic, with a particular focus on the 10 years that Lowell spent as a town from 1826 to 1836.  

PreludetoProminenceA 2015 exhibit at UMass Lowell, Prelude to Prominence: Documenting the Town of Lowell from 1826 to 1836, was the result of Ali’s work with students at the university as they poured through over 400 documents from Lowell’s earliest days.

The exhibit includes some routine town business as well as major milestones such as a reproduction of the charter that saw Lowell’s transition to a city in 1836.  Among the key figures in that transition was Luther Lawrence, the second mayor of Lowell, whose portrait remains prominently displayed within Room 50 (both the blog and the office itself).

The City Historian led a team of volunteers to continue organizing the records in 2015 and estimated at the time that the attic was home to “millions” of records, and not just of the municipal kind either.

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A photo contact sheet from Coalition for a Better Acre’s Acre Clean Up Day featuring Rosemary Noon found in the attic in December 2018

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Looking through records in the Clerk’s office prior to going to the Attic

Last December, City Councilor Dave Conway and I took a trip up to the attic to look for photographic records relating to a former school committee member from the 1950’s who had recently passed away.  Although the City Clerk’s office contains a register with signatures of all city councilors elected since the 19th century, school committee records were not kept in the same way.

Ultimately the records Councilor Conway sought weren’t found, but the ability to get lost in the history and the mystery of the City Hall attic was still very much intact.

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In addition to the interesting history inside, the unique views out of the attic can’t be beat.

But back to the switchboard…

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The historic artifact might have first been rediscovered in the 1990’s but as of 2010 it was back in the attic.  That’s where it was when then-Lowell Sun reporter Jen Myers came across it during a visit to the hallowed space on the 4th floor of City Hall hosted by then-City Manager, Bernie Lynch.

“Amazing doesn’t begin to describe the depth of history in the attic,” said Lynch who in 2010 was in the midpoint of his term as the longest serving city manager of the modern era.

Among the unique items cited during the visit were “emergency drinking water from the Cold War, a leather football helmet and immigrants’ passports.”

And yes, the switchboard.

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City Hall switchboard Circa 2010

Her photos from that visit recently resurfaced in some facebook groups specializing in historic Lowell photos.

Two years later, Jen found herself back at City Hall in a new role, as the assistant to Mayor Patrick Murphy. During another visit to the attic, the aide showed the new mayor the unique piece of City Hall’s past.  Mayor Murphy promptly flung the bulky stone item up on his shoulders and carried it down to its new home during his term.  Room 50.

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Room 50 during the term of Mayor Patrick Murphy, notice the switchboard on the windowsill

Sometime after Murphy left office, the switchboard found itself tucked away once again.  This time in the Mayor’s office “vault” or storage area which is used to house old documents, office supplies, and the many flags used during city flag raisings.

It wasn’t until an office redecoration under Mayor William Samaras that the switchboard would see the light of day again.  Restored to its earlier location on the windowsill, the item would receive some context to its display courtesy of the Lowell Historic Board’s Steve Stowell.  

Looking through the building’s photo archives, Stowell came across a photo of the City Hall messenger’s office that clearly shows the switchboard in its original use (now the outer section of the City Manager’s office).

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City Hall Messenger’s Office Circa 1894

Today, that photo is displayed in a frame alongside the switchboard to provide the historic context for guests to the office.

Last October, the switchboard, and Lowell City Hall itself, turned 125 years old and the City Council recently approved a motion by Mayor Samaras to establish a Bicentennnial Commission in anticipation of Lowell’s 200th anniversary in 2026.  (Celebrations will begin with anniversaries of the precursor events such as the establishment of the Merrimack Manufacturing company in 1821).

Sharing the history of the building and making it accessible to the public is one of the most important and fun aspects of working in the Lowell Mayor’s office.  The Mayor’s Guestbook is undoubtedly one of the primary examples of this role.

It truly is an honor to work in such a historic place and occasionally get to sneak a peak at the hidden history locked away up above.  But there is still one unique place in City Hall to which I have yet to make the trek…

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Stay tuned…

Breaking New Ground in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District

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One of the very first motions Bill Samaras filed as a freshman city councilor in 2014 was to ask about the status of the parking garage in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District.  He wasn’t the first to ask, nor was he the last.  But as of Tuesday, August 27th, there can now be a definitive change in the status.

Ground Broken.

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Mayor Samaras joined the city manager, Lowell National Historical Park superintendent Celeste Bernardo, and many other key stakeholders at a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of the 900 spot garage.  This key development has gone through several obstacles over the past decade, but Tuesday marked the surest sign of progress yet.

Nearly $38 Million dollars was appropriated to design and construct this facility. Construction began this July, and will be complete in fall 2020.

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The garage project required significant coordination and partnership with our federal partners. Several years ago, the United States Congress passed federal legislation to allow the National Park Service and City to swap property in the district.

Superintendent Celeste Bernardo noted that with over 98% of the 5.3 million square feet of former mill space renovated, many figured LNHP’s role as a partner in Lowell’s downtown revitalization is effectively over.

“Let me tell you something, we are not done yet,” the Superintendent noted, while stating that the park agreed with the city that the surface parking lot on federal land was not the highest and best use of the key downtown parcel.

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When finalized, this land swap will allow commercial development on two large HCID parcels facing Dutton Street.  LNHP will be allocated parking spots in the new garage to make up for the loss of the surface lot.

“This land swap will happen.”

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Future site of the HCID garage

This investment works in conjunction with other infrastructure projects either started or about to start, including:

This is the first major city led construction project in the HCID, and ultimately will be the most significant.  As the first new construction project to break ground,this project will set the standard for future buildings the City Council, the city’s department of planning and development, residents and other property owners are looking to see in the district.

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Public outreach through the design process was important to the success of the project. The needs of residents were important to the original HCID Master Plan. DPD and our Construction Manager, Shawmut Design and Construction have held public meetings to ensure that neighbors were aware of all progress on the site.

The garage will see a lot of activity on the first day it opens its doors: WinnDevelopment is building a mixed-use project right across the Lower Pawtucket Canal. Their project will feature 125 units and 5,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space. The Lowell Justice Center continues to move forward and will attract anywhere from 1200-1500 trips a day to the area. The City committed to provide 300 spaces for the Judicial Center. This garage will also allow for development on the surface parking that currently serves the now fully occupied 110 Canal St.

Throwback to the Original Room 50: Hamilton Canal District Taking Shape

Eyeful Beauty celebrates 10 years, new location

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It was two celebrations in one on Tuesday for Lowell’s premier beauty salon.  Eyeful Beauty which recently moved to a new location within the same Middle Street building also celebrated its ten year anniversary.  Mayor William Samaras stopped by the festivities prior to the City Council meeting and helped cut the ribbon on the newly expanded space.

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C I T A T I O N

Be it hereby known to all that
the City of Lowell in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
hereby offers its sincere congratulations to

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In recognition of their re-location and in celebration of their 10th anniversary in business

Megan Harrah first served her country as a member of the United States Air Force, deployed in Iraq running convoys with U.S. Army personnel and training newly selected Iraqi police officers.

Returning to the U.S., she made a home in Lowell and found another way to serve the community – by helping people become their most beautiful, making big city quality hairstyling and make-up accessible and affordable in an old Mill City.

In addition to making the people of Lowell more beautiful, Megan and her team have become part of the fabric of the community – establishing an annual fundraiser that has raised thousands of dollars in the fight against cancer and supporting many local causes, events and non-profits including the Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race.

 Relocating to this larger space will allow the Eyeful team to offer more services and products to their clientele and hopefully remain in the City of Lowell for many decades to come. It is businesses like Eyeful Beauty and business owners like Megan Harrah that make Lowell a wonderful place to live and work.  

Now, therefore, I, Mayor William J. Samaras, hereby offer all the best to Megan and the team at Eyeful Beauty upon this momentous occasion. The entire City of Lowell is proud to honor you for your part in making our city a better place.

Given this 27th day of August, 2019.

William J. Samaras

Mayor

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Here are a few shots from the celebration held at the newly expanded space courtesy of Jen Myers.

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Liberian Flag Raising

The Liberian Flag Raising at Lowell City Hall is held every August in recognition of the adoption of the Liberian flag.  Last year, the Liberian community reached out to the office of Mayor William Samaras about establishing a monument to their community similar to the other monuments in the JFK Plaza and earlier this year, the city council unanimously approved the mayor’s motion.  Although the mayor was unable to attend this year’s ceremony, Vice Mayor Vesna Nuon presented a proclamation on behalf of the city and he was joined by School committee candidate Ben Opara in delivering remarks to the local Liberian community.

Ping Pong Ball Day

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This blog is not a political one, so there won’t be much coverage of the ongoing City Council election.  But today is one exception.  The (almost) biennial drawing of the ballot order for the preliminary election ballot.

20 candidates qualified for the city council election this year, but only 18 will make it to the general election ballot.  The drawing on Friday, August 23rd, determined the order in which the candidates will be listed on the September 24th preliminary ballot.

Candidates who wished to draw their own numbers were allowed to do so in the council chamber.  Those candidates who were not in attendance had their numbers drawn by two volunteers not affiliated with the city’s election commission–and it just so happened that the mayor’s office had two interns to be drafted into this important role on their last day in the office.

The process was overseen by interim Elections director Elliot Veloso.

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Drawing

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