The October, 1973 Chelsea Fire marked the lowest point the city reached in its modern history.
Not even the social, moral and economic collapse of the city in the early 1990’s, and the receivership that followed, can compare.
In fact, the fire set in motion the ultimate demise of the city and brought it closer to collapse than ever before.
What had remained of old Chelsea after the fire, the city that was built during the great years of European immigration, was swept away, literally, without a curbstone remaining in some parts of the city to remind us about what had come before.
In the final analysis, the 1973 Fire marked the point where the city hit bottom.
Everything that followed has been positive – and now – the city shines in a way it has not shone in decades.
What is shining?
The business community here is more robust than probably at any time in the city’s history.
There are fewer factories and fewer manufacturing jobs but in all, there are more jobs and more companies and more ideas being processed here in offices everyday than the city has known in its entire history.
The business community is growing.
Even in the down economic time, fighting recession, the city’s major employers remain solvent and business is lively.
Government has changed.
Chelsea’s municipal government today is an example instead of a negative exception as it used to be.
In the years following the Chelsea Fire, government held on to its history and its leanings, to its prejudices and to its ineptness.
This would continue until the catastrophe in the 1990’s – when the public schools were going to close because it couldn’t pay its teachers; when government here had been reduced to an exercise in political and municipal corruption; where the quid pro quo style of government had gone so far out of whack that right could no longer be discerned from wrong.
The receivership straightened out the issues of municipal corruption and economic bankruptcy. It also brought to the city a legion of qualified managers and number crunchers.
Then a succession of gifted receivers culminating with Jay Ash who is the single person at city hall most responsible for giving the city the favorable public face it wears today.
He isn’t just the city manager. He is the city developer. The quintessential Chelsea businessman – and he is the heart and soul of the city’s persona of being a place that cares about all kinds of people.
Chelsea is more inclusive than it ever before under Ash – and to think, all of this began with the Great Fire of 1973.