Gary Beasley: A Look Back At The Career Of A Good 'Neighbor'

Gary Beasley: A Look Back At The Career Of A Good 'Neighbor'

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 If you look at some of the buildings and neighborhoods in Watertown, there's a chance Gary Beasley had something to do with it.

"I would hate to see it lost to the community, these buildings are really a point in time that should be preserved," Beasley said.

Beasley, who's retiring as Neighbors of Watertown's executive director, has been preserving buildings and homes in the community for close to four decades. 

He joined the nonprofit in 1979 as its program director. Back then, the organization was part of the Watertown Urban Mission. 

In 1983, Neighbors of Watertown went out on its own and Beasley became its executive director. 

One of the first buildings the nonprofit acquired to create affordable apartments was the Burdick building. Although it looks nice now, it was much different when the organization started renovations.

"It had no plumbing throughout the building, they were sleeping rooms only and a couple of central laundry tubs where people got water and did their laundry and bathed all at the same time," he said.

The work on the Burdick building took several years and because there wasn't much funding, a lot of the work was done by the Neighbors of Watertown staff and their families. 

In 1990, incentives from the state came into play and the organization started preserving many buildings in Watertown. The former Brighton Hotel became the Brighton Building housing 36 affordable apartments. 

The Marcy Building now offers 58,000 square feet of office space. The Franklin Building was renovated to hold up to 12 businesses.

The one that Beasley says he feels made the biggest difference was Emerson Place. Renovating the historic row house and the surrounding neighborhood did so much more than just create better living spaces for people in the community.

"Neighborhood watch was created at that time, Watertown never had a neighborhood watch, the community policing, work with the city council on getting site control of the landlords that were really slumlords."

Add up all the projects and it's quite a portfolio -- with all the credit given to Beasley.

"The organization started out with Gary, a half-time employee and $20,000," Neighbors of Watertown board of directors President Mark Gebo said. "The total impact of Neighbors over those 38 years and direct investment is over $90 million."

Now that Beasley is retiring, Reg Schweitzer, Neighbors of Watertown's deputy director will be taking over the organization. Schweitzer says he's got some big shoes to fill.

"Having built the organization into what it is today is an extremely lofty position," he said.

Beasley says he would like to see Neighbors of Watertown continue on the same direction it's been on.

"We've stayed relevant over the years, we've shifted gears from time to time," he said, "and yet we've maintained our core mission of the affordable housing."

Beasley says while he's ready to retire, he's also sad to leave the organization. He says he'll miss his staff, the residents in Neighbors of Watertown's apartments and most of all, preserving Watertown's historic buildings.  

"I like the historic, I like the tin ceilings, I like the character," he said. "It is just so much different than new construction ever will be."

Whether it's a neighborhood off State Street, apartments on Court Street, or store fronts on Franklin Street, there are many places in Watertown that have Gary Beasley to thank for bringing them new life.

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