Saturday, May 12, 2018

Old Roads, New Names: Where Are They?

In May 1719 the citizens of Brookline voted to lay out a new road providing better access for "the north end inhabitants" of the town to the meeting house (now First Parish). The road, which came to be called the New Lane, would "be a more convenient way to ye meeting than they now enjoy."

Voted that the afore sd way granted to the north end inhabitants shall run from watertown Road across the Land of mr Thomas Cotton and so across the Land belonging to the children of Caleb Gardner late of Brooklyn into Sherbourn Road near to the Lower end of the new stone wall by an old white oak tree —

All of these roads —"watertown Road," "Sherbourn Road," and the New Lane — still exist though their names have changed. Do you know what they are today?

The two maps below, taken from maps created for the Brookline Historical Society in 1923, show the roads in question in 1693, 26 years before the New Lane was laid out, and in 1746, 27 years after it was created. (Click on the maps for a larger view.)

New Lane maps 1693 and 1746

Sunday, February 4, 2018

An Echo of S.S. Pierce in Coolidge Corner

Like many people, I was curious — and a little concerned — in the summer of 2016 when Walgreens announced it was closing its store in the S.S. Pierce Building in Coolidge Corner.  What would take its place in the most recognizable of all buildings in Brookline, an iconic structure that has stood at the heart of the town's busiest intersection since 1898?

I'll confess I wasn't thrilled when I heard it was going to be another bank. Banks already occupied two of the four corners at the intersection of Beacon and Harvard Streets: Bank of America in a 1930 building on the southeast corner (originally the Boulevard Trust); and Capital One's coffee shop/bank in a 1950 building on the southwest corner. But at least this was going to be a local bank with long and deep connections to the community.

The S.S. Pierce Building in 1906
The S.S. Piece Building in 1906. The original tower was damaged in a storm in 1944 and replaced the following year.
The work being done inside the former Walgreens was hidden from view for months. But the bank gave an indication of its appreciation for history and quality by hiding the construction behind high-gloss color photos of the building and the neighborhood (replacing the brown paper that had covered the windows after Walgreens left). They also added the bank's name in gold letters flanking the name of the building above the entrance, much like what had been there in the days of the S.S. Pierce store.

Corner entrance to the S.S. Pierce Building in 1906 and 2017.
Corner entrance to the S.S. Pierce Building in 1906 and in 2017.
I finally got a look at the interior when the bank opened in the summer of 2017. The colors, lighting, and openness of the space were impressive. But it was the elliptical shape, topped by a brightly lit rotunda ceiling that really caught my attention. It makes a grand space out of a relatively small footprint, more than fitting for its iconic location. I was very pleased.
Brookline Bank, Coolidge Corner
Brookline Bank, Coolidge Corner. (Photo courtesy of Torrey Architecture)
Months later, my appreciation for the design grew even stronger. It began with a serendipitous discovery in the microfilm of the Brookline Chronicle newspaper on the lower level of the Brookline Library. While researching something else entirely — ice skating in Brookline, if you must know — I came across a 1949 advertisement for S.S. Pierce with three views of the interior of the store. I don't think I'd ever seen interior views of the S.S. Pierce store before that.

The quality of the images on the microfilm was very poor. But one thing was very clear from the middle of the three photos: the central space was round with a rotunda ceiling. It's apparent in the shapes of the ceiling, the wall, and the counter in the photo.

Rotunda of the S.S. Pierce store as seen in a 1949 advertisement in the Brookline Chronicle
Rotunda of the S.S. Pierce store as seen in a 1949 advertisement in the Brookline Chronicle
Was the design of the new bank a deliberate homage to the historic design of the old Pierce store? Had the architect been aware that there had been a rotunda there in the past, either through plans or photos or existing architectural elements of the space itself?

To find out, I wrote to David Torrey of Torrey Architecture who designed this space (and many others for Brookline Bank). David was surprised (and as delighted as I was) to learn that there had been a rotunda in the space in the past. "I only saw the empty Walgreens space with its field of columns when I arrived at the site with Brookline Bank!," he wrote.

The former Walgreens space before its conversion to the Brookline Bank
The former Walgreens space before its conversion to the Brookline Bank (Photo courtesy of Torrey Architecture)

He then gave me this detailed description of "how I coincidentally came to design my version of a rotunda in that same location."

The program from Brookline Bank was to welcome customers into a friendly lobby with all the bankers visible to the customer on arrival. We shaped these glassy offices and teller line to allow this visual interaction to occur, and to provide a glimpse from the sidewalk at the activity inside through the art gallery facing Harvard Ave. But I also wanted to create a sense of arrival and grandeur, evoking the Brookline Savings Bank’s original lobby on the corner of Washington and Boylston in Brookline Village. (The bank let go of this building as their headquarters when we redesigned 131 Clarendon Street in Boston as the Brookline Bancorp headquarters.)

My challenge in redesigning the pivotal retail space at the S.S.Pierce Building was to carve out an open area for a lobby out of the field of columns which had to remain for structural reasons. This was done using a central ellipse surrounded by another elliptical ring that incorporated three columns and allowed an ambulatory corridor for access to the offices. But a plaster ceiling would be too loud for acoustical privacy, and I was aiming for a quiet library-like feel. So a plaster ceiling was out of the question, and a standard rectilinear acoustical tiled ceiling with downlights or even a surrounding cove would be a disappointment within an ellipse. 

So for acoustics and lighting we specified a stretched fabric ceiling, this one from Newmat, a European system being introduced recently in the USA. We built the rotunda coffer, lined it with acoustical batts spaced between rows of LED lights and the result is a daylit, quiet space in a modern deco-inspired composition giving the feel of a dome but made with flat surfaces and stepped plaster rings. My inspiration was also the still-standing Roman Pantheon with its central oculus open to the sky.

The Pantheon in Rome and the former Brookline Bank headquarters
The Pantheon in Rome (left) and the former Brookline Bank headquarters (right) in Brookline Village (now a medical marijuana dispensary) were both inspirations for David Torrey in his design for the new Coolidge Corner branch of the bank.

Coolidge Corner is going through a lot of change of late. Several businesses have closed their doors, including Pier One, Lady Grace, Vitamin World, Radio Shack, Panera Bread, and others. (Panera is being replaced by the Gen Sou En Japanese tea house. I'll have more about that space in a later post.)

Amid all this change, it's nice to know that the most iconic space of all has found a worthy replacement.

NOTE: Brookline Bank is not taking up all of the space in the S.S. Pierce Building formerly used by Walgreens. Oath Pizza moved in on the Harvard Street side even before the bank opened. It joins Paris Creperie and Coolidge Corner Opticians, both longstanding tenants on that side of the building. The newest addition, Allium Market on the Beacon Street side, is another echo of the building's past. It sells high-end specialty foods much like its predecessor S.S. Pierce (and even like the Coolidge & Brother store that stood in a different building at this location before that.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Billboards of Brookline

The new movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens today at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. But did you know there were once billboards right outside the Coolidge Corner Theatre?

In fact, it was 50 years ago today—November 17, 1967—that Town Meeting passed a measure giving the town control over billboards. Prior to that only the state's Outdoor Advertising Board could regulate the large advertising signs. Four years later the Town banned billboards altogether.

Lengthy lawsuits tied up the new measure and it wasn't until 1975 that the signs were removed after the State Supreme Court upheld the right of Brookline and other municipalities to ban billboards from their communities. Until then billboards were common in Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, and other parts of town

This night view from 1956 shows a huge billboard advertising "GAS HEAT" looming over the marquee of the theater.  (The Disney movie Westward Ho, the Wagons, starring Fess Parker, and the adventure film Manfish, starring Lon Chaney Jr., were showing that night.)

Coolidge Corner Theatre at night, 1956, with billboard

In the wider view below you can just make out another, unlit, billboard with a clock on it across the street, just above the neon sign for Jack and Marion's deli. (Click on the image for a full, zoomable version at Digital Commonwealth.)

Coolidge Corner at night 1956

Below are other views of Brookline billboards before the ban. Click on each image for a larger, zoomable view.

Washington Street (Route 9) looking toward Boston, 1937
Washington Street (Route 9) looking toward Boston, 1937
Route 9 looking west
Route 9 looking west, 1956. Gulf Station is between entrance to Riverway and Brookline Avenue
Coolidge Corner 1950s
Coolidge Corner, 1950s
Coolidge Corner, 1940s
Coolidge Corner, 1940s
Hearthstone Plaza under construction with inset showing close up of billboards on top of one-story buildings
Hearthstone Plaza (where Washington Street meets Route 9) under construction with inset showing close up of billboards on top of one-story buildings
Washington Street (Route 9) looking east, 1930s
Washington Street (Route 9) looking east, 1930s
(Photos from the Public Library of Brookline and the Brookline Historical Society)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Brookline Police Department, circa 1878

The hirsute and very serious looking men pictured here are the officers of the Brookline Police Department in or around 1878. Only three of the men are positively identified: Chief Alonzo Bowman is third from the left in the front row sitting between Sergeant Harris Head and Deputy Chief Patrick H. Cusick.

Police department c1878

We have a good idea who the other men, all patrolmen, are too (though we can’t match the names to the faces), thanks to a detailed report produced by Chief Bowman that year (and other years that he led the department). Additional research through local newspapers and other sources fills in more details about some of these men.

Chief Alonzo Bowman
Alonzo Bowman was born in Vermont in 1832 and came to Massachusetts at the age of 17. After several years working at a Boston grocery store, he entered the express business in Brookline. (Express companies delivered packages via horse-drawn vehicles and later by rail.) Bowman served in the Union Army during the Civil War, first in New Orleans and later in Virginia. He worked in the weighing department of the Custom House in Boston after the war until joining the Brookline police department in 1871.

Bowman became chief of the department in 1876 and served in that capacity until his death in October 1899. (The photo of Bowman at left appeared on the front page of the Brookline Chronicle that month.)

Little is known about the other two officers who have been identified in the group photo. Harris Head, who was also born in Vermont, came to Brookline in the early 1870s. He apparently had only a brief career as a policeman and later ran a provisions store near the corner of Harvard and School Streets for many years. He died in 1906. Nothing more is known about Patrick H. Cusick.

Later pictures, in photographs and sketches, of three of the 1878 patrolmen are shown below as they appeared in the Brookline Chronicle. Can you match the images of them as older men to their younger selves in the earlier photo?

Charles B. McCausland was born in Vermont and came to Brookline at an early age, living with two uncles in town. He enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 21 in 1861 and was badly wounded at the battle of Fredricksburg. After the war he worked as a mason in Brookline before joining the police force in 1875. He was a member of the mounted patrol who, according to the Chronicle, "was, while in his prime, undoubtedly the finest equestrian in the police force of Boston or its immediate vicinity." McCausland was promoted to sergeant in 1879 and lieutenant in 1892. He died of head injuries suffered in a bicycle accident in 1895.

Albert S. Paige was born in Wellfleet in 1846 and educated at the Phillips School in Boston and in the Brookline public schools. He worked as a clerk in a provisions store and in the wholesale business before joining the police force as a patrolman in 1876. Paige rose to the rank of captain in the detective bureau and was interim chief after the death of Alonzo Bowman. He retired in 1909 and died in 1910 at the age of 64.

George Franklin Dearborn was born into a Brookline farming family in 1840. He joined the police force in 1870 and served at various times as a mounted officer and a truant and probation officer. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and retired in 1905. He died in 1921.

Other patrolman in the group photo include:
  • Mears Orcutt, a member of the police force from 1872 to 1885 after which he served for more than 20 years as janitor of the public library. He was born in Jamaica Plain in 1825 and came to Brookline in his 20s. He drove a stage between Brookline and Boston and later was in the express business before serving in the artillery during the Civil War. After the war, he worked on horse cars in Brookline before joining the police. He died in 1912 at the age of 87.
  • William W. O'Connell, a member of the force from 1874 to 1890. He was born in Ireland in 1844 and came to the U.S. at the age of one and to Brookline two years later. He was educated in local schools and worked as a mechanic before the Civil War. After serving in the artillery during the war, he joined the U.S. Cavalry as a scout and soldier in engagements against Native Americans out west until returning to Brookline and joining the police department. He worked as a carpenter for the town after leaving the force, and died in 1926 at the age of 82.
  • Thomas J. Murray, a policeman from 1873 to 1887 when he was badly injured while chasing down a wagon driver who had run down a child in Brookline Village and had to leave the force. Murray was a Brookline native who was born in 1846 and was educated in the public schools. After leaving police work, he ran a hardware store and roofing business in the Village. He died in 1901 at the age of 55.
A full list of the department in 1878, as shown in Chief Bowman's report of that year, is shown below.

(Note: This article first appeared in Brookline Patch as part of a biweekly series of historical images of Brookline from the Brookline Historical Society and the Public Library of Brookline. A larger, zoomable view of this photo and two others from the exhibit is available on the Digital Commonwealth site.) 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Birds & Birdhouses at the Library, 1914

The current building of the Brookline Library was less than four years old when the photograph below was taken in April 1914. It shows a room on the lower level of the library (where the Children’s Room is now) filled with a display put together by the Brookline Bird Club with help from the town’s Forestry Department.

(Note: This article first appeared in Brookline Patch as part of a biweekly series of historical images of Brookline from the Brookline Historical Society and the Public Library of Brookline. A larger, zoomable view of this photo and two others from the exhibit is available on the Digital Commonwealth site.) 
Birds and birdhouses in the library

The Bird Club itself was new, having been formed one year earlier at a meeting in the library. The club organized walks, lectures, round table discussions, and exhibits on bird life. It welcomed both adults and children.

A special Junior Department, described in a centennial history of the club, offered "birding-by-bicycle in Brookline and Cambridge, lessons in drawing birds and conducting a bird census, field contests in naming birds, and visits to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the recently opened aviary at Franklin Park Zoo.”

The library exhibit featured an arbor made of trees limbs with various kinds of nesting, feeding, and shelter boxes attached to them. Many of these were made by club members and staff of the Forestry Department. There were others made by students in the Manual Training School. Some of these, reported the Boston Globe, were made from ordinary boxes, tin cans, or old flower pots “to demonstrate how cheaply a bird house or box can be made."

Simple and complex birdhouses and birdfeeders

The exhibit also included bird eggs, nests, photographs, charts, and a variety of stuffed birds. Many of the latter were from a collection of Edward W. Baker, the longtime Town Clerk and the president of the club who, noted the Brookline Chronicle, was “a man who long ago learned that it is better to hunt birds with opera glass and the camera and who consistently devotes his energies to the spreading of that gospel.”

The club’s interest in birds had an economic, as well as aesthetic and scientific purpose. The town’s trees had been devastated by insect infestation. “Brookline has been as hard hit by the work of the gipsys, brown-tail, leopard moths and elm beetle as any of her neighbors,” the club’s vice president Charles B. Floyd wrote in American Forestry magazine in 1915. “In 1908 the town was the worst gipsy moth infested district in New England. Today the gipsys are well under control and due recognition of the work of the birds is made.”

Charles B. Floyd (left), one of the original officers of the Brookline Bird Club, did much to share news of the club and its activities through articles in publications like American Forestry and Bird-Lore, the predecessor to today’s Audubon magazine. He was later a longtime Newton alderman.

(Photo credit: Blackington, Alton H. Charles B. Floyd, bird expert, ca. 1930. Alton H. Blackington Collection (PH 061). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries)

Although the club was unsuccessful in establishing an official bird sanctuary in town, it did persuade owners of several large estates to post signs prohibiting shooting on their property. Officers of the Forestry Department helped enforce the prohibition.

Brookline Bird Club logo
The Brookline Bird Club rapidly expanded beyond Brookline, attracting members from throughout Massachusetts and beyond and organizing trips throughout the eastern part of the state and further afield. Today, the connection to Brookline is largely in name only, but the 1100-member club is the largest and one of the oldest of the many bird clubs in Massachusetts.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A House for Sale and a Mystery in Its Past

Financially-ailing Wheelock College is looking for a buyer (according to news reports) for the Victorian house at 295 Kent Street that has served as home to the college's presidents since 1963. I decided to look into the history of the house and, as is often the case, my research led in unexpected directions.

295 Kent Street
295 Kent Street
The house, built around 1872, has had only three owners. Wheelock purchased it from the estate of hotel executive J. Linfield Damon who lived there from 1901 until his death at the age of 95 in 1963.

But it was the original owner of the house, S. Dana Hayes, whose story proved the most interesting. The house was built for him and remained in his family from the time of its construction until its sale to Damon in 1901. But Hayes himself disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1880 and was never heard from again.

Globe headline on Hayes disappearance
Boston Globe headline, January 30, 1880.

Samuel Dana Hayes, who went by S. Dana,  was born in Roxbury in 1840. His father, Augustus Allen Hayes, was a chemist and one of Massachusetts state assayers of ores and minerals. The younger Hayes studied at his father's alma mater, Norwich University in Vermont, although he did not graduate, and by the 1860s had followed in his father's footsteps as a chemist and state assayer.

The state assayer's office was established by the legislature in 1846. Assayers — there could be more than one  — were to certify the chemical composition of ores and metals submitted to them. They were to be paid "a reasonable compensation by the person securing such assay to be made." Assayers were later given the added responsibility of ensuring that "spirituous and intoxicating liquors [were] of a pure quality, and unadulterated with any mixture, or noxious or poisonous substance."

Hayes quickly established a reputation as one of the leading assayers in the country. He lectured and wrote on chemical properties, testified in court cases (including cases of suspected poisoning) and developed a successful private business certifying the composition of a wide variety of products, including:
  • baking powder
  • mineral water and ginger ale
  • vinegar
  • yeast
  • cocoa
  • whiskey
  • lager beer
  • skin care treatments ("The Queen's Toilet")
  • mineral oil
  • fertilizer
  • cookware and silverware
Advertisements for many of these products in newspapers across the country included endorsements from Hayes, usually noting his official role as a Massachusetts state assayer.

Newspaper ads with Hayes' endorsement
Newspaper ads with product endorsements from S. Dana Hayes. Left to right: Pearl Baking Powder, in the Black Hills Weekly Pioneer, Deadwood, South Dakota; Gaff, Fleischmann & Co. Yeast (yes, it's that Fleischmann's Yeast) in the Boston Post; and Heublein's Lager Beer in the Hartford Courant. (Click image for a larger view.)
One ad, for Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer, noted:

When a discoverer of any scientific subject, asks the co-operation of the learned in science, to test the merit and truth of his discovery by severe tests and practical results, and then to indorse [sic] and recommend it, it is fair to presume it is valuable for the purpose intended. Such has been the course pursued by Mess'rs. Hall & Co., proprietors of Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer. And all those who have tested it (among whom we may mention Dr. A.A. Hayes and S. Dana Hayes, Chemists and State Assayers of Massachusetts ... assert it is the best preparation in use for all cutaneous diseases of the scalp.

Hayes had married a Scottish woman, Margaret Gibson, in Scotland in 1860. In 1877,  few years after moving into the Kent Street home, they adopted a little girl. Three years later, in January 1880, Hayes left Boston for New York and attended to some business for a law firm in a patent infringement case.  That was the last time he was seen or heard from.

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times reported two weeks later that before disappearing Hayes had made a careful examination of his business, paid all his debts, arranged for his wife to have power of attorney, and left her a note saying he would not be returning but that she would be informed of his whereabouts in the event of his death.

Friends and acquaintances, including his brother, attributed the odd behavior to a temporary "aberration of mind", perhaps brought on by the death of his mother a few months earlier. Business troubles were dismissed as a possible cause, as his business was in good shape. They expected to hear from him shortly.  The Globe correspondent, however, reported that "domestic troubles are really at the bottom of the matter." In any case, he did not return.

Margaret Hayes placed an ad in the New York Herald in August 1881 looking for word of her husband. (It was reproduced in the Boston Globe.)  In the ad, which the Globe titled "Where Is S. Dana Hayes?", she noted that he had "gone West in April last" so perhaps she had obtained additional information since his disappearance 19 months earlier. But there was no new news.

Where Is S. Dana Hayes
Boston Globe, August 4, 1881
Hayes' father Augustus died in June 1882. His will left one third of his estate to S. Dana and his heirs, provided he came forward (or was proved dead) within three months. Otherwise his share would be divided equally between his brother and sister. The family placed a personal notice in a New York paper, reproduced in the Boston Post, urging him to come forward but there is no record of him having responded.

Ad placed after Hayes' father's death
Boston Post, September 14, 1882

Margaret Hayes lived in the Kent Street house on and off until selling it in 1901. (She rented it out and lived elsewhere in Brookline when not living there.) She died some time after 1910. The Hayes' adopted daughter, Hope Beatrice Hayes, graduated from Smith College in 1899, married a florist, and was a school teacher in Pittsfield, Newton, and Pelham, New Hampshire. She died in 1929 at the age of 54.

Product advertisements citing Hayes' stamp of approval continued to appear periodically for years. An ad in the Washington Post for the Forest Glen resort in North Conway, New Hampshire promoting "the purest water in New Hampshire" noted that "S. Dana Hayes, State Chemist of Massachusetts, said this is a remarkably pure and excellent water." That was in 1906, more than a quarter century after Hayes disappeared.

Monday, June 19, 2017

1898: Devotion House Saved from the Flames

One-hundred and nineteen years ago today (June 19, 1898) sparks from a barn fire across Harvard Street threatened the Edward Devotion House in Coolidge Corner. Firefighters were able to douse the flames, saving the then 158-year old house, one of the oldest in town.

The fire began in the new barn on the farm of William J. Griggs, adjacent to the Griggs house at 330 Harvard Street. By the time it was spotted by a boy passing along the street a little after 7:30 in the morning it was too late to save the barn and the Griggs house itself was smoldering in several places.

Devotion House and Griggs farm, 1897
This 1897 map shows the Willliam Griggs house, just below Shailer Street, across the street from the Devotion School and Devotion House. The new barn that burned a year later was built adjacent to the house.

Strong winds carried embers onto the roofs of several nearby houses, including the Devotion House. Neighbors used garden hoses, pails, and fire buckets to fight the fires until firefighters arrived. The Griggs house was saved, and firefighters were stationed at the Devotion House to make sure it did not suffer major damage. (The Town had recently allotted funds toward the preservation of the historic structure.)

Edward Devotion in 1895
The Edward Devotion House as it appeared in 1895, three years before the fire that briefly spread to the house from across Harvard Street

William J. Coolidge
William J. Griggs
Brookline Library photo
Click for larger view
William Griggs (1821-1906) whose family farm occupied the site for many years, lost everything that was in the barn, including four horses, three cow, and five dogs, as well as carriages, wagons, harnesses, a bicycle, and several tons of hay.

Griggs and his brother-in-law David Coolidge founded the Coolidge & Brother store, operated by David's younger brothers William and George, in 1857. The store's location, at the intersection of Harvard and Beacon Streets, became known as Coolidge's Corner and, later, as Coolidge Corner.