Richard Goolsky's 1940's Jamaica Plain (Part 3)

Times Have Changed

 Curtis Hall from a postcard published by The Metropolitan News Company, Boston, 1905.

Curtis Hall from a postcard published by The Metropolitan News Company, Boston, 1905.

The wife and I flew back to Massachusetts from our home in New Mexico last May. After the compulsory visits to relatives and friends, we put aside some time to visit our old neighborhoods. Carol grew up in Dorchester Lower Mills, near the old Bakers Chocolate Mill.

Things there were pretty much the same as they were nearly fifty years ago - new names on the old storefronts, more traffic congestion, but easily recognizable. We drove to Jamaica Plain by way of Walk Hill Street to Forest Hills. That’s when I started to notice the changes. If it weren’t for the overpass to the Arborway, I would have missed the exit to South Street.

The El (elevated train) that used to go through Boston and on to Everett was gone. I looked to my right, and the MBTA yard that used to be the starting point for the streetcars that ran to West Roxbury, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Huntington Avenue was an empty field. On South Street, the project that used to be the turn- around point for the Dudley Street streetcars was still there. I was so busy trying to drive and look around that I didn’t even notice if the old tracks were still there.

Things hadn’t changed at all for the next few blocks. Curtis Hall was still there; we used to go swimming in the pool in the basement. We called it “the tank.” No bathing suit for the guys, but the girls wore city-issued one-piece suits. I’ve been told that the bigger the girl was, the smaller the size suit she got, and vice-versa. The monument area didn’t look too different either. Gone of

When we came to Burroughs Street, I remembered the drug store on the corner, but I remembered even more the Hanlon’s shoe store that was above it. You had to climb about forty old wooden stairs to get to it, but what a great smell of leather - no man-made materials back then. A new pair of penny loafers to go with your dungarees cost you $6.95.

   The Children’s Museum at 60 Burroughs St. Photogaph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. Photograph by Walter H. Marx, Jr.

 The Children’s Museum at 60 Burroughs St. Photogaph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. Photograph by Walter H. Marx, Jr.

My thoughts also ran down Burroughs Street to the Children’s Museum. What a great place that was. They had stuffed birds and animals and displays on the Southwest and other sections of our country. They took us on nature walks and bird watching hikes to the Arnold Arboretum and around Jamaica Pond. How great it is to have a rural setting so close to downtown Boston.

One of the exhibits was of mounted animals from Africa and Australia; they even had a small baby elephant. The story is that the school kids of Boston around 1914 saved their pennies, and with them the city purchased three baby elephants for Franklin Park. They called them Molly, Waddy and Tony. That was Molly in the display - she died of pneumonia a few months later. I think I spent every Saturday there from the time I was seven until I was a teen. I heard that the museum still exists in Boston, near the waterfront. I wonder if they go for nature walks along the Big Dig?

Across from Burroughs Street was my first bank, The Boston Five-Cent Savings Bank. I think the big clock in front was still there, but that could be wishful thinking. Next door to the bank was Harvey’s hardware store. It was a small turn-of-the-century store with bins for the nails and screws, the kind of place that you can only see at the Smithsonian now.

Gone also was Woolworth’s on the corner of Seaverns Avenue. The old fire station that was across the street had moved and the Mohigan Market on the corner of Green Street was gone. What caught my eye was the kaleidoscope of colors of the storefronts: the reds, oranges, yellows and purples. Most of Centre Street looked about the same as it always had until I got to the Mary E. Curley School. The only change there was new windows, but across the street on the corner of Spring Park Avenue, the Wolffel Brothers Shell gas station was an empty field.

  Pictured: Photogaph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. From a postcard published by Mason Brothers and Company.

Pictured: Photogaph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. From a postcard published by Mason Brothers and Company.

The Mobil Station, and the A&P Super Market, where I had my first job, was also just a passing memory. Looking down South Huntington Avenue, as I continued down Centre Street, I first became aware that the streetcar tracks weregone. I know that the tracks had been ripped up on lower Centre Street in the 1940’s, but not seeing them on South Huntington was my first real notice of change since the last time I was in Jamaica Plain maybe forty years ago.

Continuing down Centre Street, the Connolly Branch Library was still there. Interestingly, although owned by the City of Boston, it was started when Monsignor Connolly of the Blessed Sacrament Church died and willed his vast book collection to start a local library. From Hyde Square down to the Roxbury line was, well, like I was driving down an unfamiliar street. Gone were the Jamaica Theater, The Hyde Square Bowling Alleys, and Braun’s German Deli.

The First National Super on the corner of Day Street, O’Donnell’s Packy, Woody’s Record Store and Pino’s Barbershop and further down the block Sawyer’s Drug Store. What a great place to have a frappe! Walking through the door was like going back to the 1890s - a marble counter, ceiling fans and the old wooden and wire tables and chairs. On the opposite corner used to be the Pelham Spa, another hangout for the kids from the square.

Callahan’s Clothing on the corner of Forbes St. was a very classy men’s store in its time. The place that really makes my old memories salivate, Elsie’s Bake Shoppe, was next door. After Sunday mass, the ritual was to get a dozen jelly donuts or cinnamon coffee rolls. Now I’m not talking about today’s donuts and rolls, I mean donuts and rolls the size of your hand, I mean so big that only a half a dozen would fit in a foot square box, and the price was only 60 cents a dozen. And the taste? Let me put it this way. Sit back and think, think of your first real meaningful passionate kiss. Not the kiss from your Grandmother, or your fat Aunt Sophie with the moustache. I mean the kiss that you will remember until your dying day. I bet you haven’t thought about it in years, until now. That’s how I remember those baked goods. There’s much to be said about Blessed Sacrament Church and the old Cheverus School, but I’ll take up the almost ten years I spent there in grammar school in another chapter.

Morgan’s Creamery on the corner of Westerly Street, the Busy Bee Spa on the corner of Wyman Street, and Moe’s Meat Market on the other corner had vanished. Someone had told me my street, Mozart, was now one way coming up from Lamartine Street, so I turned down Wyman to go around the block. What struck me was that there weren’t any parking spaces. The houses hadn’t changed at all, except for different coats of paint. The First National on the corner of Mozart and Chestnut Ave., and the Pioneer Food Store on Mozart and Armstrong, were gone. I would have liked to park the car and walk around, but there were no spaces.

A playground still stands where the John Holland playground once was. Turning back onto Centre I expected to see the old Plant’s Shoe building. I gave a yell asking one of the locals, “Where did it go?” After a strange look and a short pause came the reply, “It burned down.” It must have been some fire; that place was huge. Most people don’t know much about it, other than that a lot of separate businesses were located there. Alpert’s Furniture, Bernet’s Yarn, Garland Sweaters, and Blocks Leather Jackets - where my mother worked as a Stitcher - were among the many tenants.

A wealthy industrialist, Thomas Plant, built the Plant Shoe Factory in the 1890s. His family came from Canada, by way of Maine. When built, the whole building housed his company that specialized in women’s shoes. The Great Depression took a toll on his business and he had to subdivide the factory. What is little known about the nine-story building, situated on thirteen acres, is that Fredrick Law Olmsted designed it. Olmsted designed Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Necklace that runs from the Charles River through the Fenway, Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum to Franklin Park.

At the Plant Shoe Factory, there was also a nice little park with trees and bushes and benches. It was a kind of oasis. This disappeared around 1950 when a Stop & Shop was built on the corner of Walden Street. The last couple of blocks towards Jackson Square were also devoid of my childhood places. The Madison Theater and Hoffman’s Bake Shop were both gone.

On the corner of Wise Street, I expected to see Kelly’s Bar Room, an old joint that must have been there over a hundred years. I wanted to stop in and ask what ever happened to the old crowd. However, when I got there, in its place was an empty lot. A street fair or flea market was in progress but I didn’t stop. I guess it’s inevitable that things change, but in my head I still think about the cinnamon rolls the size of your hand and the guys pulled up to bar stools at Kelly’s.

Richard Goolsky can be reached at 912 Canvasback Rd., Rio Rancho, NM 87124 or by e-mail to: RDGOOL1@peoplepc.com 

Reprinted by permission of the JP Bulletin. November 2002.