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The West End Museum reopens after two-year closure because of flooding

The museum, which celebrates and honors the history of the West End, returns with a newly renovated space and a new exhibition.

The new entrance of the West End Museum, which reopens Thursday, May 23.Henry Bova

On Jan. 15, 2022, it started raining inside The West End Museum.

At least that’s how Sebastian Belfanti, executive director, described the moment that shut down the compact museum on Staniford Street for more than two years, when a pipe burst and flooded the space, ruining the building’s infrastructure and main exhibit, “The Last Tenement.”

Now, after two years of reconfiguring the entire museum, the grand reopening is slated for May 23.

First opened in 2004, The West End Museum focuses on the rich and diverse history of the Boston neighborhood, telling the stories of immigration, industry, and urban redevelopment that have defined the area in the past and still resonate today.


The closure took a toll on Belfanti, both emotionally and physically, he said, explaining that during 2022, he worked six days a week attempting to piece the museum back together without having certain financial backing for much of that period. There was “a lot of hoping,” he said.

Sebastian Belfanti in August 2022 standing in the main room where water was raining from the ceiling. The museum suffered severe water damage from a broken overhead pipe flooding the space. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/file

But the flood also presented a unique opportunity for the museum to pause and overhaul its entire experience, from the physical space — which now includes display cases and a room for video screenings — to the story of its exhibit, renamed “Rise, Fall, Rebirth: Stories of the West End.”

“It’s a whole piece now,” Belfanti said of the museum. “Front to back, it’s put together with intention.”

Upon entry, a large TV screen, outlined with a map of the West End, greets visitors, and from there, they’re taken chronologically through the neighborhood’s history, which includes English settlers arriving in 1630, the Industrial Revolution, and the neighborhood’s infamous destruction in the late 1950s, when approximately 7,500 residents were displaced because of demolition, their homes and storefronts replaced by high-rise luxury apartments.

“We really wanted you to take away this was a community destroyed in this way that was wrong, and those issues are still present today,” he said.


The most evident new features are multiple interactive touchscreen exhibits, which Belfanti is thrilled to include, noting they allow museumgoers to engage more deeply with specific topics.

“Maybe you’re interested in politics, or maybe you’re interested in displacement, and you can follow those lines within the interactive,” he said. “It’s really built to let people really kind of explore.”

The whole exhibit is presented as permanent but modular, allowing the museum to switch out the items and stories it displays. In a neighborhood Belfanti says is defined by its diversity, he’s excited for the museum to be more fluid and flexible.

“The West End is still changing, and we want to be able to reflect that,” he said.

The West End Museum reopens at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 23. 150 Staniford St., Suite 7, Boston. For more information, visit thewestendmuseum.org.

Henry Bova can be reached at henry.bova@globe.com.