Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blacksmith Shop to Auto Garage to Teen Center

New Life and an Old Story at 40 Aspinwall Avenue
40 Aspinwall Avenue before and after
40 Aspinwall Avenue before and after its conversion to the Brookline Teen Center
Brookline’s 2014 Preservation Awards ceremony took place last November at the Brookline Teen Center on Aspinwall Avenue. The Teen Center itself was one of the recipients, recognized for its adaptive reuse of a nearly century old garage. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a gem, inside and out, a tribute to all who worked on it: founders Paul and Saskia Epstein and their community supporters; the architects and builders; the staff; and the Brookline teens who helped design it.

Their efforts have given new life to an old garage built in 1916 for Frank Turner, a blacksmith and horseshoer who may himself have arrived in Boston as a teenager, a stowaway from Northern Ireland on a British cargo ship in 1883.

Turner was born Francis Turner in Drumnavaddy, near Belfast, in 1866, the son of a weaver and his wife.  It can't be said for certain when he arrived in Boston, but the only immigration record matching his name, age, and birthplace was that of a Frank Turner, 17, one of four stowaways on the S.S. Illyria arriving from Liverpool in October 1883.
Turner ship's manifest
Frank Turner, age 17, is the last of four passengers marked "Stowaways" on this 1883 ship's manifest
By 1892 he was living in Boston’s South End and working as a blacksmith near Castle Square.  He was the co-owner of the Turner & Lyons blacksmith shop on Ferdinand Street (now the southern part of Arlington Street).

Listing for Frank Turner in 1899 Boston Directory
Listing for Frank Turner in 1899 Boston Directory
He married another Irish immigrant, Nora Cronin, a dressmaker, in 1901 and became a U.S. citizen in 1902.

Nora and Frank Turner
Nora and Frank Turner in an undated studio photograph
Photo courtesy of Ronald Turner
The Turners had moved to Roxbury by 1906. That year, Turner’s partner, Joseph H. Lyons, died and Turner came to Brookline to work in the blacksmith and horseshoeing shop of P.J. Burns in Brookline Village.

P.J. Burns blacksmith shopAd for P.J. Burns blacksmith shop

The Burns shop stood at 152 Washington Street next to the firehouse at the foot of High Street. It moved down the street to 87 Washington when the current firehouse was built on the site in 1908.

Four years later, Turner was in business for himself again, and he and his wife and their son Harold became Brookline residents. In January 1912 they purchased the 42 Aspinwall Avenue home of blacksmith T. W. Burlingame and the wood frame blacksmith shop behind it.

Turner home with sign in alley
Frank and Nora Turner’s home at 42 Aspinwall Avenue (right) with the alley leading to the wood frame blacksmith shop at #40. The sign says “Frank Turner. Scientific Horseshoeing. Carriage and Wagon Repairing.” (Photo courtesy of Ronald Turner)

1913 Frank Turner, Horseshoer ad
Advertisement from the 1913 Brookline Blue Book directory
Construction notice for 40 Aspinwall Avenue garage
Notice in The American Contractor, February 26, 1916
By this time the automobile was rapidly replacing horse-drawn wagons and carriages. In 1916 Turner replaced the wood frame shop with the brick auto garage that houses the Teen Center today. The architect was George Nelson Meserve, a prolific designer of commercial and residential buildings in Boston, Brookline, and elsewhere.

The garage, known variously as Turner’s Garage and the Aspinwall Garage, offered automobile storage and repairs and sold Socony (Standard Oil Co. of NY) gasoline.  Manufacturers and private owners also offered vehicles for sale and lease through the garage, as seen in the ads below.
Ads for Turner's Garage
Ads from Boston Post (left), 1919, and Boston Globe (right) top to bottom 1917, 1917, 1919
Frank and Nora Turner sold the house and garage in 1924 and moved to 29 Auburn Street. Frank then worked as an auto mechanic at the Hinchcliffe Motor Car Co. (900 Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline), New England distributor for Jordan automobiles.

Nora died of pneumonia in 1926. The following year, Frank moved to California with his two sons. He owned an oil well in southern California with his son Harold for a time. Frank Turner died in 1944 at the age of 78.

Dexter Garage ad, 1932
Brookline Directory ad, 1932
The garage passed through two owners in five years after Turner before being purchased by Frank S. Dexter in 1928. He would own it for a decade and a half. Dexter was also the first proprietor of the garage who did not live in the house in front of it at 42 Aspinwall.
Later businesses in the garage building included the B&B Corrugated Box Co. after World War II; the Hayes & Shea auto service company in the 1960s (they tore down the house in front of the garage); and International Tire in the 1980s. Brookline Auto Body and Kenmore Auto Sales were the most recent occupants before the conversion to the Teen Center.

Ads from businesses at 40 Aspinwall Avenue

Frank Turner and his successors may be long gone, but the Teen Center renovation has retained several links to the building’s past in place (below), including an “Auto Body Repairs” sign on one wall, an original steel beam (hanging over the “Auto Body CafĂ©”) with the inscription “From the A.L. Smith Iron Works, Chelsea”, and yellow parking space lines on the floor by the pool table.

Auto repair sign in Teen Center
Steel beam in Teen Center

Parking spot lines on Teen Center floor
(A version of this article appeared earlier in the Brookline Historical Society members newsletter)