Skip to main content

Hynes, John B., 1897-1970


Biographical Note

To John Bernard Hynes, city service was more a dedication than a career. During his forty years in municipal employ, he rose from junior clerk to become the city's forty-third chief executive, serving the entire decade of the pivotal 1950s.

Those were the times when the new concept of urban renewal was emerging to help American cities combat blight and decadence. Federal aid, however, was modest for such undertakings.

One of the major legacies of the Hynes administration is Prudential Center. He had the vision and laid the groundwork for plans to turn the bleak, blighted Back Bay trackage area into one of the anchors for Boston's intown revitalization. Although construction of the giant complex started under his successor, it was Mayor Hynes who acted on a Back Bay real estate man's development idea and did the early hard work to launch the project.

After his death in January, 1970, the former mayor was given his city's tribute with the naming of the John B. Hynes Memorial Auditorium at Prudential Center.

As a mayor, he was recognized for his love of Boston's traditions, his battle to hold down a spiraling tax rate, and his warmness. He was a lawyer and had a gift for composing poetry. As a former career employee, he found it difficult to phase out jobs and personnel when family breadwinners were involved.

John Hynes first experienced the responsibilities of mayor for five months in 1947, when, as city clerk he was designated to fill in as "temporary mayor" for Mayor James Michael Curley who had been sentenced to a federal institution. A chance remark by Mr. Curley upon his return to City Hall set the stage for John Hynes' challenging him and winning the next mayoral election in 1949.

Mayor John Hynes won again in 1951 when the new Plan A, "strong mayor" form of government, took effect. In 1955 he defeated State Senate President John E. Powers in a bitter fight.

Using powers of the new charter, Mayor Hynes during his tenure reduced the number of city departments from thirty-eight to twenty-six, and reorganized the Assessing, Fire, Library, Welfare, and Planning Departments. He also coordinated inspections among the Building, Fire, and Health Departments and established the Auditorium Commission and Government Center Commission to plan and erect the new City Hall.

He launched a building demolition program in an attack on blight, constructed the first incinerator in the city, established a new housing code, installed Univac in the Auditing Department, reclassified job titles in city service, and established the city's first Complaint Department.

The Boston Christmas Festival, a tradition that brings more than a million visitors each Yule season to Boston Common, was founded by Mayor Hynes.

In urban renewal he inaugurated a pilot rehabilitation project in Dorchester and saw the start of the New York streets commercial renewal development, South End, and the West End residential redevelopment.

A self-made man, John B. Hynes early charted his road to success. He went straight from grammar school to work as an office boy with the telephone company. After service in the Air Corps in World War I, he began his city employment as a Health Department clerk. He went to the Auditing Department and then as chief clerk in Mayor Curley's office. He went to law school nights and won a law degree from Suffolk University in 1927. Two years later he became assistant city clerk, and after service in World War II as a lieutenant colonel, became a city clerk in 1945.

As mayor, he served the longest continuous period in the office in Boston's history. As a "dean" of big city mayors, he was recognized in Washington on his trips for federal aid and as national president of the mayors' organization. He was also named the Democratic national committeeman for Massachusetts.

After leaving old City Hall, Mayor Hynes set up his law office a short distance away at 73 Tremont Street. He was shortly afterward named state Commissioner of Banks and Banking, and was elected a life trustee and treasurer of Suffolk University.

Throughout most of his municipal career he lived in a modest home at Druid Street, Dorchester, and retired there, dying at age seventy-two.

Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.

Found in 1 Collection or Record: