John B. Cruz III (right) welcomed Bruce Bolling (left), Kenneth Guscott (second from left), John Christian and a host of other friends and family members into his Jamaica Plain home on Sunday for the Cruz family’s 30th annual holiday open house. (Don West photo, www.donwestfoto.com)
|(From left): John Christian, John B. Cruz III, Barbara Cruz and George Cramer celebrate at the Cruz family’s 30th annual holiday open house, held Sunday at their home in Jamaica Plain. Friends and family members gathered to reminisce and kick off the Christmas season. (Don West photo, www.donwestfoto.com)
|(From left): Sonny De Silva, Liz Pergram, Barbara Cruz and Vanessa Fontaine sing Christmas carols at the Cruz family holiday open house, held Sunday in Jamaica Plain. (Don West photo, www.donwestfoto.com)
The sounds of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” could be heard from the street outside the Cruz family home in Jamaica Plain, and the atmosphere inside was equally boisterous as John B. Cruz III and his wife Barbara hosted their 30th annual holiday open house on Sunday afternoon.
Guests gathered around a towering tree festooned with lights and nibbled shrimp toast, reminiscing as a projector displayed photos of parties past on the living room wall.
“Even if we didn’t send out invitations, people would show up because they expect it,” joked Cruz, president of Cruz Construction, a prominent minority-owned local construction firm. “It’s grown to be a Cruz family tradition and a tradition with a lot of people that come. It starts off the season.”
Cruz, dressed in a black blazer set off by a deep red ascot, strolled through the halls greeting guests. Among them was former Boston City Councilor Bruce Bolling, who was the council’s first African American president.
“Bruce and I go back,” Cruz explained. “We grew up two doors from each other.”
Both Cruz and Bolling had fathers who were pioneers in their respective domains. Royal L. Bolling Sr. served for 20 years at the State House, while John “Bertie” Cruz Jr. established Cruz Construction as a carpentry business in 1947.
Bertie Cruz passed away in September at the age of 89. Both men noted that his absence tinged this year’s celebration with a note of solemnity.
“Thirty years …” Bolling said to Cruz. “We’re all blessed to be here.”
“This year, there is some looking back on the people who aren’t with us, including my father,” Cruz added. “It’s not really a sad feeling, but [that he is] missed.”
Bertie Cruz was born into a large immigrant family from the Cape Verde Islands that settled in New Bedford, Mass. John Cruz III still has fond memories of the Christmas holidays of his youth, spent with his grandparents.
“Both [my mother’s and father’s] families were poor, but there was a lot of happiness and joy at Christmas,” said Cruz, who describes himself as a Catholic-born Baptist convert who is now Buddhist. At Sunday’s party, he emphasized the spirit of goodness that prevails during the holidays.
“We didn’t have stuff, but we had my grandmother’s wonderful pies and preserves and getting together and singing,” he said. “Now, every year, I feel like I’m extending my grandmother’s Christmas house all over again. With my father’s passing, I think more of the blessings of having him around for as long as I did and the role model he was for me.”
Cruz joined his father in the construction business after graduating from college. Next year will mark 30 years of general contracting work for the business, and 62 years since Bertie Cruz founded the company.
Over the years, Cruz Construction has become known as a neighborhood pillar for its contributions to the community, offering employment opportunities to minorities, building and managing affordable housing units, and working on projects like the Boston Police Department Headquarters and the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center at Roxbury Community College.
Still, the company is feeling the effects of the economic downturn.
“We’re like everybody else, struggling and treading water, and about one of the worst businesses you can be in right now is construction and real estate development,” Cruz said. “But we’ve made it through other recessions and we’ll make it through this one.”
In the meantime, Cruz capitalized on the festive mood to offer a few humorous anecdotes from years gone by. Like the tale about the first holiday party, held 30 years ago, when the Cruz family had just moved from a two-bedroom apartment to their sprawling home on the edge of the Emerald Necklace. They were worried that they wouldn’t have enough furniture to accommodate their guests.
That same year, their 13 year-old babysitter, Anne Kelley, “got into the wrong punch,” Cruz said with a smile.
“We walked her around the block because we didn’t want her to go home with alcohol on her breath,” he added. “We thought her folks would say, ‘You’re never going to those black folks home again! They get you drunk.’”
Kelley, who now lives in Walpole with her husband and three sons, has maintained close ties with the family.
“We come every year the Friday before to help decorate the tree,” she said.
Kelley and her three sons joined in as Barbara Cruz led a spirited rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore,” they sang. “Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.”
The sun dipped past the trees lining Jamaica Pond and the lyrics seemed especially poignant as a picture flashed onto the living room wall — a smiling Bertie Cruz, gazing beatifically at the cheerful faces gathered below.
Many others found success staying in Roxbury. John Cruz III, who
hung out with the Angels, went on to build his father’s construction
business into a formidable player in the local development scene. Cruz said the mentality of his peers growing up in Roxbury helped shape who he is. More »
Many others found success staying in Roxbury. John Cruz III, who hung out with the Angels, went on to build his father’s construction business into a formidable player in the local development scene. Cruz said the mentality of his peers growing up in Roxbury helped shape who he is. More »
Tourism, and the growing clout of members of the Cape Verdean diaspora in the U.S. and Europe, have increased land values and led to a development boom in the country. Boston-area entrepreneurs like developer John Cruz III and architect Cesar DaSilva are getting in on the action, bringing needed expertise and capital. More »
Former Senator Royal L. Bolling Sr.'s legacy was immortalized when his name was emblazoned across the entrance to Mattapan’s Harvard Commons, a housing development on the old Boston State Hospital grounds. The dedication was particularly poignant because the developer is longtime family friend John B. Cruz lll. More »