Oral History: Janice Murray

The following interview was conducted with Janice Murray by Charlie Rosenberg on April 10, 2004.

CR:    Thank you for joining me today and agreeing to tell me a little bit about your experience growing up in Jamaica Plain. Why don’t we start with you telling me about where you lived, your family, and your early memories of Jamaica Plain?

JM:    My name is Janice Murray.  My maiden name was O’Hara.  I was born in 1957 in Dorchester, and in 1960, my parents bought a big Victorian up at the corner of St. Rose Street and the Arborway, overlooking the Arboretum – not right at the corner, one house in.  The man who built the big Victorians there, his name was Leonard, I believe.  It was a huge 17-room house, he built a series of them – if you look along that strip, there are three houses that are almost identical. 

So we lived there until – I don’t remember what year we moved out.  I was probably, I’m guessing I was probably eight when we moved out, just simply because for that time, as soon as my parents would get finished doing something to the house, the house was so big, it was time to start doing something all over again; and they had six kids.  It was just a huge house to heat at the time, and I think my mother said, for a 17-room house – probably not very well insulated because it was built before the turn of the century – I think my father used to pay about $200 a winter to heat it.  My mother said he used to wonder how he was going to get the money together to heat a house for $200. - for the whole winter!  That was big money then and he was pretty young then with six kids. They decided to get something that they didn’t have to keep working on.

I’m pretty sure they paid $22,000 to $27,000 for the house in the early 1960s.  It was on the market a few years back for about a million dollars. When they bought the house, there was a beautiful – I can remember this pretty vividly – there was a beautiful reception area when you walked through the front door with the big leaded windows. There was a big staircase straight ahead that went across like a mezzanine, and one of those really beautiful, really nice old Victorians.  But the staircase was painted that old bottle green color.  And I can remember my mother saying she stripped every bit of the bottle green off of that staircase and the hand rails.It was a big sweeping staircase, a grand staircase, all painted in bottle green.  When she stripped it all, it was that beautiful golden oak.  She did it all by hand.  So anyway, they did stuff like that, and then they decided, “We’ve had it.”

So they bought a house up on Moss Hill, off of Pond Street.  I just drove through the neighborhood, and I think right now the school at the end of the street is called the Showa Institute. I went to part of my grade school in that school. It was owned by the Archdiocese of Boston when I was a kid.  It was called Holy Childhood; it was an orphanage for Catholic kids called Nazareth, run by the Sisters of Charity.  So we moved up to Moss Hill.  My father passed away about 13 years ago.  My mother held onto the house for awhile but it got to be too much for her and she sold it. 

I went to kindergarten at the J.P. Manning School which is located behind the Faulkner Hospital.  That school was built, I believe, for the politicians and for the lawyers and all, for the people up in the Moss Hill area.  The school was built with political money, so that their kids could have a school up there.  Off we went to the J.P. Manning School and I hated attending school there.  I didn’t care for the kids.  [chuckles]    So I only stayed at the Manning School a couple of years and then I ended up going to Holy Childhood which was at the bottom of the street I grew up on.  I grew up on a street that is parallel to Pond called Woodland Road. 

The problem with Holy Childhood was that they were going through a period of unrest.  I think there were funding problems.  It was owned by the Archdiocese. So maybe things were starting to brew back then?  I ended up at St. Thomas Aquinas, which was a great school, great teachers.  It was an old Victorian school, and kids from Moss Hill went there; kids from behind the Faulkner went there; kids from the Forest Hills area went there.  All up and down South Street, up as far as probably not quite Hyde Square, because those kids went to Blessed Sacrament – but up and down Carolina Ave., those neighborhoods, everybody went to St. Thomas.

I left there after the 8th grade and went to a private high school in Brighton because that was, you know, that was the time around busing and a lot of the school unrest.  I got out of there, took a couple of years off, and went to art school for a year.  I actually majored in architecture and decided I hated it, and went on to being an art history major at Simmons.

CR:    What did you and your friends do for recreation? Where did you “hang out”?

JM:    At that time, growing up here, there weren’t a lot of neighborhood groups nor a recreation hall you could go to with the exception of Curtis Hall. Kids would go swimming up there or go to the library.  When I was in high school, they started a kind of after-school program at the new Agassiz School.  Teenagers could go there.  They had music lessons, and you could play basketball, and meet your friends.
We also went to a summer day camp where the MSPCA is now; it was The New Boston Athletic Association.  It was a summer camp funded by the City of Boston, and lots of kids went there.  All the kids from Hyde Square went there.  My cousin who lived off Hyde Square went there. Kids from all over Boston went there.  That property was called Monsignor O’Brien Seminary, I think, at the time.  It was a Catholic seminary, and then eventually the archdiocese sold it to the MSPCA.  It’s been that for at least 25 years that I know of but it was a seminary when I was growing up.  I had a cousin that was at that seminary for a while.

I took boating lessons at the Jamaica Pond.  There was a little program down there for Boston kids to learn how to sail a boat.  And we used to go into the Arboretum all the time.  We used to play hooky instead of attending Sunday Mass at the Arboretum when the weather was nice.  We wouldn’t go to Mass; we’d go to the Arboretum, and wait around for Mass to get over.  We’d get home and we’d get quizzed on what the Gospel was that day.  So we’d have to check with our friends, but it was fun. 

CR:    Tell me about where you and your friends might go when you were dating.

JM:    I had a boyfriend who grew up behind that furniture store, the name escapes me.  Was it Jamaica Furniture that was right there, across from J.P. Licks where the health center is now?  I think it was Jamaica Furniture.  He lived on that little dead end street right there, last house on the left. 

Dating here?  There was nowhere around to go.  It was like if you dated here, you maybe hung around with some of your friends here.  You’d go to their house but if you were going out for fun, you went into Boston, where you would go out to the movies or something like that.  I mean the only ice cream store in JP was Brigham’s.

CR:    Did you have a job during high school?

JM:   Yeah, I worked all during high school at C.B. Rogers Pharmacy and my sister worked there too.  My (future) brother-in-law worked there.  Both my brother-in-law’s parents worked there.  My sister married the boyfriend she met there.   It was a good place to work.

I think it was the second oldest pharmacy in the city of Boston still in existence at that time.  It was a beautiful old pharmacy all lined with beautiful carved oak cabinets, and it had a soda fountain at one end.  It was kind of converted into a cosmetic counter.  But I think at the time, some years prior to that, it was a soda fountain all lined with apothecary jars with the old gold leaf labels on them, and carved owls at the top of it.  It was beautiful.  It was workmanship you just don’t see nowadays.  That was a sad day watching that get liquidated, it really was.  It had the old paddle fans and a tin – I’m trying to think, did it have a tin ceiling? 

CR:    The Bukara Indian restaurant is located in that building now.

JM:    Is that the name of the Indian restaurant?  It is right at the corner of Burroughs and Centre Street.  The old Agassiz School was right behind it.  That was probably there until maybe 1970, and it got torn down.  I think there’s a municipal parking there now. We used to sit on the steps there after school; it was vacant for a long time and then the city tore it down which was sad.  It was a nice old Victorian building.  So that was right behind Roger’s Drugstore.

CR:   What do you remember about some of the other businesses that were on Centre Street?

JM:   Starting down at the Monument and coming up, there was a Lil’ Peach there and next to it was the driving school.  I took driving classes there.  My brothers took driving classes there too.  Before it became Lil’ Peach, it was a drug/variety store, I think.  At one time, it might have been an A&P, and then it turned into a Mayflower grocery store (where the appliance store is now). And then there was a hair salon on that block. The Dunkin’ Donuts was next door.  Erco, a toy store owned by Mr. Eric Cohen, was located right after Blanchard’s.  It was one of these little tiny stores compared to the stores now, just full to the rafters, up to the ceiling with stuff.  You’d used to have to sign a paper if you’d buy airplane glue.

Anyway, then you’d go down by Mr. Cohen’s store, and there was another hair salon, I believe, which was around where the Laundromat is located.  And there was Sammy’s Variety Store, Costello’s Bar.  Then there was Pearl’s Candy Store.  I don’t know what it is now.  It was a good-sized storefront though.  I think an Army Navy Store went in there later because we used to go in there to buy our jeans and everything when we were growing up.  Then when you went a little further, I think it was an insurance company, a little storefront insurance company.  Then C.B. Rogers was on the corner of Burroughs and Centre Street.

There was a nice old store, it was like an old ladies’ type of store called Jones’ Camera and Gift Shop, and they had cards and you’d go in and buy film; and all the old ladies worked in there, you know, with the blue hair.  But that’s where Ted’s Shoe Repair was (next door), but he ended up moving down by Curtis Hall because I think the rents got too high.  He was an older man too, so I’m sure that his family sold the business and he retired.  But we used to love going to his store because he had one of those Automatons that was a cobbler repairing a shoe with a hammer.  It was working all the time, and it was in the front window.  Then there was like a man’s smoke shop, that’s what it was called, like “Somebody’s “Smoke Shop, and girls never went in there.  It was like a guy’s shop.  They’d buy cigarettes and cigars and girlie magazines and stuff like that.
Then there was Shawmut Bank, which is now that Fleet Bank.  And then the next block is the one that we walked by earlier.  George’s Shoe Store – I have to think about what was on that block.  The art supply store that used to be down the street (near the Monument) moved up here. I bought my art supplies there when I was in college - it moved up next to J.P. Licks, that corner shop to the left of J.P. Licks. 

The thrift store was right there then, but I don’t even know if it’s in existence any more, the Boston Thrift Store.  There was a fish market next to Mr. Pavrone’s dry cleaning business.  That’s all they sold there - fish; it was an old-fashioned fish market. Let’s see, Kennedy Butter and Eggs was in that block and a plumbing supply place.

There was a hardware store there also, a little small hardware store with creaky wooden floors. There was a dry cleaners there called Sparkle. There used to be a bowling alley upstairs too, on the second floor, because you could be in the shops down below and hear the balls rolling over your head.

There was another pharmacy on the corner of St. Joseph’s Street, a nice old pharmacy.  We used to go in there and spend all of our money on penny candy when we were supposed to spend it on milk or lunch, but everybody did that.  The guy who owned it was a cranky old guy, too – Mr. Farrell. 

There was a barroom across from the Projects and we used to call it “The Chapel.”  Everybody called it “The Chapel,” but it was a barroom.  It was a crummy barroom too.  I don’t know why it had that nickname. 

CR:    When we spoke previously, you mentioned about how some people saw Jamaica Plain as being on the wrong side of the tracks during those years.

JM:    Oh yeah, when we were growing up, I went to high school in Brighton - I can remember I was going to high school with kids from Winthrop and Cambridge. For some reason, they had a perception that Jamaica Plain was the wrong side of the tracks. I have no idea why it was considered that way.  When I was growing up, Jamaica Plain was mostly blue collar.  There was a pocket of attorneys and other professionals, but for the most part, it was your average working stiff. 

CR:    What was the ethnic composition Jamaica Plain at that time?

JM:    Where I grew up – I grew up on Moss Hill – it’s unfortunate because I think in these books little is written about that, and it was kind of an interesting background because at one point, I don’t remember this but my mother remembers going up to Moss Hill when she was a young woman.  She’s in her eighties now, and you could only go so far up into Moss Hill; the road just stopped, and now it just goes around. It was a predominantly white area, a lot of Irish people, Italians, Jewish people.  My best friend growing up was a Jewish girl. All different types but not people of color. 

In the Centre Street area and South Street area there were lots of Irish and some Black people.  We had Black kids in our school. I didn’t spend a ton of time in Hyde Square, but there were Irish and Germans living there . I believe there were also  Puerto Ricans, Cape Verdeans, and Cubans as well.

Some merchants were Irish, such as the owners of the Galway House. An Irish American man owned C.B. Rogers. There were Jewish and German merchants. The Pavones are Italian Americans, I think, so there was a diverse group of merchants here.

CR:    What was your father’s occupation? Did your mother work outside of the home?

JM:    He was a Boston Police sergeant and retired at 65.  My mother never really worked until we were in high school and then she ended up going out and getting a part-time job.  She worked at Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill until her retirement when she was in her 70s.  She commuted from Weymouth after she sold her house in Boston.  She liked it so much; she worked there for 25 years.

CR:    Was your father ever stationed in Jamaica Plain?

JM:    No, my father headed up the traffic division in Kenmore Square, that was his general thing, for years and years.  Then when he got older, he ran the booting and towing division on Albany Street in Boston.  He did pretty good for himself, you know, for a kid that just came out of Roxbury and didn’t have a lot of education – much the same as a lot of other youngsters from immigrant families, I would imagine.

CR:    Your father was born in Roxbury?

JM:    He was born here, yeah, but his parents were immigrants.  My grandmother’s family was from County Cork, I believe; and my grandfather’s, County Mayo.  But they lived off of Washington Street in Roxbury. It was by the St. Francis De Sales Church in Roxbury and my grandfather was a Deacon.  My father came from a huge Irish family.  I think there were 13 kids in his family.

CR:    When did you leave Jamaica Plain?

JM:    I’ve been out of Jamaica Plain probably 20 years now, since 1980 or 1982.  My mother lived in Jamaica Plain, but most of my siblings were out of Boston by that point.

CR:    Leading up to the time when you moved away from Jamaica Plain, what were the changes that you saw happening?

JM:    I remember once I worked at a real estate development firm in the Back Bay, and I can remember reading an article in the Phoenix that was about Jamaica Plain.  It was at the time that Jamaica Plain had a lot of influx of people that hadn’t grown up there and there was some resentment from people who had because what was happening was that the real estate prices were escalating so high that we couldn’t keep up with the prices in order to buy property here ourselves. I’d like to use a word softer than resentment, but it probably was resentment because people were getting displaced all over the place.  They just were.  Apartments were being turned into condos and things like that, and that was just the way it was.

CR:    What do you remember about crime in Jamaica Plain?

JM:    There were pockets of drug problems in Jamaica Plain, and I say that because it’s one of the deciding factors why C.B. Rogers closed. People would come in and try to pass fake prescriptions. There were also a couple of hold-ups.  One of the pharmacists got shot. It was all drug-related. The pharmacists were behind glass, and he eventually ended up having a security guard at the door. In my crowd, no one was doing heroin but pot use was pretty widespread.

CR:    Were there any special holidays that you remember?

JM:    I can remember Lilac Sunday in the Arboretum being a big deal, and I think of growing up in our first house on the Arborway. If my mother had the window open, you could smell the lilacs across the highway, across the Arborway.  You’d look out the windows and it would just be a sea of purple; it was just beautiful.

CR:    Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really enjoyed it.

JM:    It was my pleasure.

© Copyright 2004 Jamaica Plain Historical Society