Memories of Green Street in the 1920s

Memories of Green Street in the 1920s

Although Green Street was subdivided as early as 1851 for stores, factories and houses it was not extensively developed until the late 1870’s with construction continuing until the early 1900’s. The Bowditch School was completed in 1892 and early in the 20th century the United States Post Office moved from its location on Call Street at Woolsey Square to its new location at the corner of Green and Cheshire Streets. With the construction of the Boston Elevated Railway to Forest Hills with a stop at Green Street and Woolsey Square, and the surface cars out of Park and Dudley Streets, Green Street flourished as a commercial center for the at home residents and for commuters as well.

The word “shopping” in the early days of the present century was used almost exclusively to designate a trip to Boston to the big stores for clothing, furniture, etc. Locally one went to the store or with the children they did the errands. Food for big families was bought on a daily basis. Mothers took over early in the day, wheeling their baby carriages to the market. When school closed at 3:30 pm the children did the errands for mothers, grandmothers and neighbors. There were some enterprising young boys who took phone orders for meats and groceries and delivered them. The truck that carried the supplies was often loaded at home and for $3.00 or $3.50 a week the boys made deliveries after school and on Saturdays.

The residents of Jamaica Plain were served by many businesses on Green Street in the 1920’s. There were:

5 Barbers, 3 Tailors, 4 Cobblers, 2 Chinese Laundries, 3 Independent Grocers, 6 Chain Grocery Stores, 2 Garages, 2 Real Estate Offices, 2 Bakers, 2 Florists, 1 Painter, 1 Carpenter, 1 Electrical Contractor, 1 Music Teacher, 1 Tea and Coffee Shop, 1 Drug Store, 4 Meat Markets, 2 Delicatessens, 2 Fruit Stores & Ice Cream Parlors, 1 Hardware Store, 2 Dry Goods Stores, 1 Fish Market, 2 Auto Repair Shops, 1 Plumber, 1 Dentist, 1 Dress Shop, 1 Dress Manufacturer, Jamaica Plain Floor Co., Buff & Buff, and Surveyor Instruments.

The labor movement had been well established in Boston and unity was the in thing. However in the 1920’s we see a shift to businessmen as Michael O’Keefe, John T. Connors and Ginter, all three with stores on Green Street merged and became the First National Stores. This made it easier for them to compete with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P).

It was fun to do the errands as a child, and one became friends with the shopkeepers and could call them by their first names. Also one became knowledgeable and knew which shopkeepers had built a reputation for quality products. We knew that Nr. McNutt at # 81, who worked in his store in a wheelchair, had the best beans and brown bread in the area. Mrs. Oswald at #177 ran a delicatessen and catered to the German trade. Her potato salad was uniquely her own and she could not keep up with the demand. It would be some years before the secret of German potato salad would make it into the American cookbooks.

The A&P at #111 did a flourishing business, due in large part to “Blondie,” the manager. He had a pleasant outgoing manner, was quick and efficient. When he would say pleasantly, “Now YOU are next” the first three or four items of the order would be given to him. While the coffee was grinding he would get items from other parts of the store, quickly. Sometimes they would be on shelves eight feet high and could be lowered only with the use of a long handled hook, which deposited the item directly onto his hand. When the order was assembled he would get a brown bag and the cost of each item was listed on it. He could add faster than any person I have ever met in my life. Customers watching it stood in awe of his speed and accuracy.

Early on Saturday morning rabbits, fur and all, would be on display at the Manhattan Market at #122. Henry, the handsome young butcher, would appear wearing a straw hat and long white coat, his outfit the year round. He would carry a pail of water with flour mixed in it and also a brush. The specials of the day would be listed on the window of the market in his beautiful script. Some of those watching were interested in the price of the specials, but many others marveled at this talent, and the attractive appearance of the window when he was finished.

Immigrants who opened business on Green Street were of tremendous interest to the residents. Karl Brown, from Bohemia, now Czechoslovakia, opened a show repair shop at #120 and did very well. He was joined a little later by a fellow countryman, Paul Sivaceck, who opened a tailor shop at #116A. Both spent their entire working lives in the area.

Men wore stiff collars and shirts that had to be washed, starched and ironed at the Chinese laundry. Yee Sam at #125 knew only a few words of English, but was a good businessman. Once you delivered the shirts and collars to him he would give you a slip with Chinese characters on it. He evidently made a similar slip for himself and when you called for the laundry he would match the slips. Looking back on it now I realize Yee Sam had it all together. There was never a mix up. My father always got his own collars back.

Albert Hesseleschwerdt had a tea & coffee shop at #95 and he also made deliveries of fresh eggs and butter to his customers. Ethel, his daughter, opened a music studio at the same address and brought her musical talents and culture to the community.

In 1874 Joseph Mao began business as a tinsmith at Centre, corner of Green under the firm name of Thomas Mayo & Co. In 1886, Thomas Mayo with Sewall D. Balkam advertised their hardware store at 149 Green Street. Balkam dropped from the name in 1891 and Mayo continued the business alone. The store served the needs of the carriage industry, blacksmiths, builders, homeowners and everyday citizens. It had everything to delight a child; i.e. sleds, skates, hockey sticks, bikes, express wagons, etc. It remained at the same location under the same name until 1969 serving the community longer than any other retail store on Green Street.

Mrs. Doroff’s dry goods store was at #160, at the corner Brookside Avenue. Children’s clothing and adult’s clothing were available. Many of the simple little gifts given by children at Christmas were bought there. Gone from the scene are the caps we bought for mother and grandmother to wear as they prepared breakfast. Also, the pretty arm garters we bought for father, grandfather and uncles to keep their shirtsleeves in place are no longer in vogue.

The delicatessen at #201 was owned by Mr. William Glazer. The great attraction in this store for children was the 25 or 30 lb. pig, head and all, that was displayed in the window each week. It was a puzzle to children with no German background why the pig who was not alive had an apple in its mouth, which it could not eat.

Change on Green Street manifested itself early. The passage of the Prohibition Act took its toll on some businesses. The Jamaica Plain Trust Co. opened at 675 Centre Street in 1911 and Woolworth’s opened at 678 a few years later. The Post Office moved again to new quarters on Centre Street at the corner of Myrtle about 1919, and little by little Centre Street in the vicinity of Green Street began to grow.

The well-established A&P had vacated the street by 1930 due perhaps to the establishment of two First National Stores on Green Street. The Bowditch School closed in 1981. The closing of Mayo’s removed the last vestige of Green Street’s importance as a commercial area.

By Mary Glynn


Boston Directory Boston Landmark’s Commission, Phil Bergen, Bostonian Society, Isabel Martino, Roslindale Branch, Boston Public Library, Henry Keaveney, Jamaica Plain Historical Society, Rita O’Brien, Jamaica Plain Historical Society, Frank Hanafan, Roche Brothers, Thomas Flemming, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Reprinted from: From the Archives, Fall 1990, a newsletter once published by the Archive Committee of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.