Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy 80th Birthday Coolidge Corner Theatre!

The Coolidge Corner Theatre opened on this date in 1933 after years of opposition that kept Brookline theaterless long after movies had come to neighboring communities.

Read more about the 20-year fight to keep motion pictures out of Brookline in this two-part post from 2009.
Ad for opening of theater, 1933
Ad in Brookline Chronicle, December 21, 1933

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ghost Building #3: Brookline Baptist Church

The Brookline Baptist Church on Beacon Street was the fourth building to serve as home to the Baptists, Brookline's second oldest congregation. Designed by architect Julius Schweinfurth, the church was built in 1907.

It was demolished in 1973, a few years after the Baptist Church merged with two other congregations to form United Parish.

As with all of the "Ghost Buildings of Brookline" in this series, a part of the original building remains. In this case, there are two pieces of the building to be found: one on the original grounds of the church and another nearby.

Do you know where and what they are?

Brookline Baptist Church

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ghost Building #2: Sights (& Sounds) of the Past

When NYNEX, successor to New England Telephone, replaced its 1916 building on Marion Street with a new one next door it left something behind.

The entrance to the old building was preserved and now serves as a gateway to the residences at 25 Marion Street.

Marion Street telephone exchange , 1916 building

Gateway to 25 Marion Street, formerly the entrance to the telephone exchange.

History was made in the old building, the first automated exchange in New England. It was where the sounds of the dial tone, the ring signal, and the busy signal were first introduced to Brookline and the region.

The article below, first posted here in 2009, tells the story.  

Check back tomorrow for another "Ghost Building of Brookline."

Photo: An early dial telephoneBefore smart phones, before cell phones, before keypads and answering machines and area codes, before much of what think of when we think of telephones today, Brookline played a part in the introduction of a major innovation in telephone technology.

At midnight on the night of July 14, 1923, some 1,800 customers of the Aspinwall exchange office on Marion Street become the first in New England to be able to make calls themselves without having to speak first to an operator.

The customers had been supplied with new dial telephones (like the one at left). Phone company representatives visited people's homes to show them how to use the new devices, and instructions were distributed in flyers and through the newspapers.

The method is very simple [according to instructions published in the local paper]. You remove the receiver from the hook and listen for a steady humming sound known as the dial-tone, which is the equivalent of the operator's "Number, please?" After hearing this dial-tone, which comes on the line almost as soon as you place the receiver to your ear, you place your finger in the hole through which the first letter of the central office designation appears and turn the dial around to the finger stop. Then remove the finger and let the dial return to rest.

The newsreel below shows how the dialing method was explained to customers in another city several years later.

Direct dialing was made possible by new automated switching technology installed in the Marion Street exchange office. Prior to the change, callers would tell an operator the number they wanted to call, and the operator, plugging jacks into switchboards, would manually make the connection for them.

Automated switching equipment was available as early as 1896, but the dominant Bell System resisted the change. Bell's first dial phones were installed in Norfolk, Virginia in 1919, four years before Brookline. The new equipment spread slowly to other parts of the country. The last non-dial phones in the U.S. were not converted to dial until 1978.

Further Reading

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ghost Building #2: Telephone Exchange Building

This building of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company was constructed 1916-17. In 1923, it became the first telephone exchange in New England with automated equipment letting people place calls without having to speak first to an operator.

Boston Globe photo of New England Telephone & Telegraph exchange building
Brookline Chronicle, June 9, 1923

The building was torn down more than 20 years ago but a piece of it, visible in this 1923 newspaper illustration, remains.  Do you know where it is?

Check back next week for the answer and for another "Ghost Building of Brookline."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ghost Building #1: What Remains Today

Last week I asked what part of the old Courthouse and Police Station, torn down in 1963, remains and where it can be found.

Former courthouse and police station

The remaining piece is the architectural element seen above the entrance in the black and white photo of the courthouse above. You'll find it today, a couple of blocks from its original location, in the little triangle at the intersection of Washington and Harvard Streets.

Architectural element from old courthouse

Tomorrow, another "ghost building" of Brookline, a long-gone edifice that's left a little bit of itself behind.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What's That on the Town Seal?

I was asked, at an event at Town Hall last night, what the squarish or diamond-shaped object at the lower right of the town seal might be.

Town Seal with Unidentified Object

I could identify all of the other objects on the seal, mostly agricultural implements reflecting the town's origins and its still largely agrarian nature in 1848, the year the seal was designed and adopted. 

But what was that object containing what looked like 12 square holes?

A clue to the answer was found in a 1951 brochure, "Town and City Seals of Massachusetts," prepared for the 60th anniversary of the State Street Trust Company.  Here, in part, is what the authors had to say about the Brookline seal:

The agricultural items in the seal, bee-hive, wheat-sheaf, scythe, rake, spade, plough, and harrow, are emblematic of the character of the town from its early settlement....

To 21st century eyes, all of the named items can be easily recognized on the Brookline seal  — with the exception of the harrow.  Could the square object with holes be a harrow?

A dictionary definition did not seem promising:

Definition of HARROW
:  a cultivating implement set with spikes, spring teeth, or disks and used primarily for pulverizing and smoothing the soil 

A Google image search brought up many pictures like these which did not seem anything like the object on the seal.

Modern harrows

But there was also this image, from a word origin blog post about the word "harrowing" that also contained the following description of early harrows: "an industrial-strength agricultural tool, usually consisting of a heavy frame set with iron teeth or tines."
So, could the object on the seal be the heavy frame of a mid-19th century (or earlier) harrow?

Confirmation came from an unlikely source: Vincent Van Gogh.  Far down among the results of the Google image search was this 1883 sketch and study by Van Gogh called "Man Pulling a Harrow."

Van Gogh - Man Pulling a Harrow

Except for being 5x4 instead of 4x3 it looks exactly like the object on the town seal.  And with that a not so harrowing search for an answer came to an end.

For more on the origins of the Brookline town seal, see my earlier post "Brookline's Town Seal: Adopted April 3, 1848."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ghost Buildings of Brookline: #1

You don't have to believe in ghosts to find specters from the past lurking in town, signs of things that are no longer here.

From Coolidge Corner to Washington Square to Whiskey Point and elsewhere, vanished buildings retain a presence (if only a small one) long after they're gone.

Once a week or so, we'll present a picture of a Brookline building that can be discovered only on old maps and in old photographs — and in remnants or fragments still here in town.

Do you know where the ghost of the building below can be found? We'll present the answer, along with another ghost building, next week.

Municipal Courthouse and Police Station
Click for supersize view
Municipal Courthouse and Police Station
Washington Street, Brookline Village
Constructed 1900. Demolished 1963.

1913 map showing Courthouse and Police Station
1913 map. Click map for larger view

Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy, 5/29/1917-11/22/1963

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in the family home at 83 Beals Street in Brookline on May 29, 1917.  He was killed by an assassin in Dallas, Texas 50 years ago today.

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, it was widely expected that Kennedy would be buried in the family plot at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.  The Boston Globe and the New York Times and wire service stories that appeared around the country the day after the assassination all reported that Holyhood was the expected burial site.

It was announced later that day that the president would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery instead.

The Kennedys' infant son Patrick, who died two days after birth, had been buried at Holyhood just three months earlier.  (Patrick's body was moved to Arlington in December.) Kennedy's parents, Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and other family members are buried in Holyhood.

The National Park Service will hold a brief memorial ceremony at the JFK birthplace at 2 pm this Sunday.  The birthplace will also be open to the public Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

First Light 2013 at the Devotion House

A century and a half of shopping in Coolidge Corner
Brookline's annual First Light Festival, showcasing the talents of local artists, musicians and performers, takes place this Thursday, November 21st, from 5:00 to 8:00 pm.  

Join the Brookline Historical Society at the Edward Devotion House for a slideshow on the history of the Coolidge Corner shopping district.  Step inside for a tour of one of the oldest houses in town.  Chat with us about the past, the present, and the future of our town.

The Edward Devotion House is at 347 Harvard Street, in front of the Devotion School.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Civil War Program, Nov. 17th, 2 pm

Tuesday is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Henry V.D. Stone of Brookline, who was killed at Gettysburg at age 19, is one of the local men whose story will be told Sunday, November 17th, at 2 pm in the lobby of Town Hall. 

The program is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact the Brookline Historical Society at 617-566-5747 or

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lady Betty's Marmalade: Brookline, circa 1914

The latest addition to the collections of the Brookline Historical Society's Edward Devotion House is this marmalade jar (below left) from a line of products manufactured and sold by a Brookline woman a century or so ago.

The jar was recently offered for sale online with no date of origin and little description. Some quick research turned up an advertisement (below right) from the June-July 1914 issue of American Cookery magazine, and the jar was acquired for the Historical Society.

Lady Betty Marmalade jarAmerican Cookery advertisement, 1914

But who was “Lady Betty”? The address — “Beacon and Washington Sts.” — gave just a clue. A second advertisement from 1914, a musically-themed ad in the program of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was a treat to find but offered no further hints to the identity of “Lady Betty.”
BSO Program advertisement 1914
Finally, a third 1914 ad was found in the December issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, and this one had a specific address: 1624 Beacon Street.

Good Housekeeping advertisement 1914

1624 Beacon Street was (and still is) part of the Rhodes Block, a commercial building on the northeast corner of Washington Square, built in 1913 for the Rhodes Brothers grocery store.  (A branch of Rhodes Brothers occupied the corner location.) 1624 was one of two storefronts on the Beacon Street side of the building; there were two more on the Washington Street side.

The Rhodes Block, Washington Square
The Rhodes Block in 1914.  (From The Brookline Christmas Magazine, published by the Brookline Friendly Society, December 1914). 1624 Beacon is at the far right.

Cleveland Circle Travel occupies the 1624 storefront today.  But a look at the 1914 Brookline Directory gave us the answer we were looking for.  “Lady Betty” was actually a woman named Gertrude Maynard.

Gertrude Maynard, marmalade manufacturer, in 1914 Brookline Directory

Gertrude Maynard was born Gertrude Maria Davis in Vermont in 1847.  She married Abbott Thayer Maynard in Boston in 1869.  Abbott Maynard was a jeweler and silversmith with a business on Boylston Street in Boston for many years.  

The Maynards moved from Boston to Brookline around 1908.  (That’s the first year they were listed in town directories.) It’s unclear when Gertrude Maynard began producing her Lady Betty line of products, but it was no later than 1912.  The ad below for Park & Tilford, one of Lady Betty's retail outlets, appeared in the December 19, 1912 edition of the Evening Herald in New York.

New York Evening Herald advertisement, 1912

Ads for Lady Betty products appeared in several other newspapers and magazines as well.  The products were sold in stores in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Detroit, and by mail order.  They were exhibited at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Maynard advertised her products as “Guaranteed free from adulteration.  No artificial color, flavor, or preservatives.”  As proof, she cited approval from two leaders in the pure food movement of the time: Lewis B. Allyn and Harvey W. Wiley.  Allyn was a professor of chemistry at the Westfield Normal School in Westfield, MA who established the Westfield Standard for food purity and evaluated thousands of food products.

Wiley, also a chemist, played a leading role in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 and became the first commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  In 1912, he resigned to take over leadership of Good Housekeeping magazine’s food testing laboratories.

Wiley’s 1916 book 1,001 Tests of Food, Beverages and Toilet Accessories, Good and Otherwise: Why They Are So included analysis of several Lady Betty products.  All received his star rating, or stamp of approval, but not without some comment on the ingredients—and the high prices Lady Betty charged.

Lady Betty products in 1,001 Tests of Food, Beverages and Toilet Accessories, Good and Otherwise: Why They Are So

Gertrude Maynard died in September 1916 at age 69.  The business may have continued for a while after her death.  (Abbott Maynard, who had retired from the jewelry business, was listed in town directories as a manager at 1624 Beacon as late as 1919.)

In any case, this Brookline business started by a woman in her 60s was a short-lived one.  But “Lady Betty” now lives on in the collection of the Brookline Historical Society. 

Life magazine advertisement 1914
Life magazine, April 9, 1914

Washington Post advertisement, 1913
Washington Post, October 30, 1913
Wellesley Townsman advertisement, 1917
Wellesley Townsman, June 8, 1917

Monday, September 9, 2013

Shopping in Coolidge Corner: An Historical Walking Tour

The Coolidge Corner Shopping District: 
A Brookline Historical Society Walking Tour 
Sunday, October 6th at 9 am & 2 pm
The Coolidge & Brothers store before the widening of Beacon Street
The Coolidge & Brother store before the widening of Beacon Street
Coolidge Corner was home to just one store—Coolidge & Brother — from the 1850s to the 1890s. Following the widening of Beacon Street in 1887-88 and the arrival of the S.S. Pierce store a few years later, a major new shopping district took root. Almost all of the existing buildings in this still thriving commercial area were built between 1890 and 1930.

Journey back to the initial development of the Coolidge Corner business district and get a glimpse of local shopping in the early decades of the 20th Century.

This one-hour walking tour led by Ken Liss of the Brookline Historical Society will begin at the Coolidge Corner inbound T stop at 9 am and again at 2 pm.

There is no cost, but space is limited. Call 617-566-5747 or email to reserve spots for either time.

1912 Ad for Coolidge Corner Building
Boston Transcript advertisement August 24, 1912

Thomas Fish Market, 1924
1343 Beacon Street (Now Wavelengths Hair Salon)
Brookline Chronicle May 8, 1924

Friday, July 19, 2013

1933: The Electric Kitchen Comes to Brookline

To Demonstrate G.E. Electric Kitchen
Brookline Chronicle, May 18, 1933
Click image for larger view

"Sponsored by the Brookline Radio and Music Company, 33 Harvard Street, local headquarters for General Electric Refrigerators and household appliances, the famous kitchen on wheels will tour Brookline on Friday, May 19, from 10 A. M. to 7 P. M. and from 7 P. M. to 10 P. M. will be located in front of the Brookline Music and Radio store for inspection.  This is a complete modern kitchen in which electricity performs every conceivable task for the modern American housewife.

"In this 'magic' all-electric kitchen, dishes are washed and dried by simply pushing a button.  A similar operation refrigerates food, manufactures ice, cooks food, turns a range on or off, mixes beverages and foods, provides music, prepares toast, waffles, or coffee, gives shadowless illumination, and ventilates the kitchen. The coach also has space for the exhibition of other electric home work-savers, such as laundry equipment, sun lamps, vacuum cleaners, radios, electric clock, heaters, and kindred products."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Coolidge Corner Newspaper Sketches

Sketches of three Coolidge Corner commercial buildings from three different decades as they appeared in the pages of the Brookline Chronicle. (Click on images for larger views.)
S.S. Pierce Building sketch, 1899
S.S. Pierce Building, Chronicle,  October 28, 1899
Coolidge Corner Building sketch, 1912
Coolidge Corner Building, , Chronicle,  March 16, 1912

Altman Block sketch, 1922
Altman Block, Chronicle,  January 14, 1922
The S.S. Pierce Building was already standing at the time the above sketch appeared.  The other two sketches were previews of what was to come.  All three buildings are still in use in Coolidge Corner today.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Turkey Trouble: 18th Century Style

Turkeys may be a nuisance in Brookline today, but it wasn't always that way.  The theft of 33 turkeys in the summer of 1742 prompted the following advertisement and promise of a reward in the August 2, 1742 edition of the Boston Evening-Post.

1742 ad offering reward for apprehension of thief who stole 33 turkeys in Brookline

Dr. Zabdiel Bolyston, who placed the ad, is famed as the man who introduced smallpox inoculation to America in 1721. His house still stands at 617 Boylston Street.  (The street is named after him.)

"Old Tenor," by the way, refers to paper money issued by Massachusetts prior to 1737. By 1742 these bills had lost considerable value.
The former home of Dr. Zabdiel Boylston on Boylston Street
The former home of Dr. Zabdiel Boylston on Boylston Street

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yoo Hoo! Red Cab!

Spend a lot of time looking at old Brookline newspapers, like I do, and your eye will inevitably wander from the articles you're reading to the advertisements for local businesses. These ads, available as far back as the 1870s, paint a picture of the evolving commercial life that has long been a central part of Brookline's identity.

I've been collecting dozens of these ads, taken from newspaper microfilm and from town directories, and plan to feature them from time to time. I'll focus on a theme: a particular time period; a retail location; a category of business; or whatever catches my fancy.

First up, Red Cab and a wonderful series of ads that appeared in the paper beginning in the late 1930/early 1940s.

Red Cab ads from the 1939-1941

The design motif in these Brookline Chronicle ads from 1939-1941 was carried through in a frame used for changing ad messages in subsequent years.

More 1940s Red Cab ads

Here's an earlier Red Cab ad, from 1937, with another below with a similar design.

Red Cab ad, 1937

Red Cab ad: "Be Safe"

Red Cab, of course, is still around—and has even retained the -5000 part of their phone number—as seen in this image from the newer advertising medium of the Web.
Red Cab website image

Friday, May 17, 2013

Brookline Bikes: Sites to See on Beacon Street

The annual Brookline Bikes bicycle parade takes place this Sunday, May 19th.  It's a great event and an opportunity to ride the entire length of the historic Beacon Street boulevard in Brookline unimpeded by automobiles.

The Brookline Historical Society will have a table set up in Amory Park, the starting and ending point for the parade, with information about the development of Beacon Street.  Stop by before or after the ride and check it out.

Shown below are some of the architectural and historical sights you'll see as you ride down Beacon Street. (Photos of Beacon Street landmarks in the past can be viewed on the Brookline Historical Society Web site.)

Pelham Hall (Outbound, at Pleasant Street) Pelham Hall was built as a residential hotel in 1926 as part of a burst of new construction in and around Coolidge Corner.

S.S. Pierce Building (Outbound, at Harvard Street). The S.S. Pierce building, the symbol of Coolidge Corner if not of Brookline itself, was built from 1898-99 on the site of the original Coolidge Brothers store.

The second story of the Pierce Building, now offices, was originally Whitney Hall. Named for Beacon Street developer Henry Whitney, it was used for concerts, lectures, dances, meetings, and other events.  The original tower was taller.  Damaged in a 1944 hurricane, it was remodeled afterward to its current design.  The S.S. Pierce Company continued to occupy the lower floor until the 1960s and the building is still generally called the S.S. Pierce Building, even by residents who didn’t arrive in Brookline until much later.

MBTA Shelters (Both sides at Harvard Street) The tile-roofed shelters for the T, at Coolidge Corner, are the original structures built by Henry Whitney’s West End Railway in 1901. Remodeled a few years ago, they are the only original shelters that remain.

The Stoneholm (Outbound, between Short Street and Lancaster Terrace). The Stoneholm is a magnificent French Renaissance chateau style apartment building that opened in 1909 with such amenities as marble fireplaces, parquet floors, and crystal chandeliers. It was designed by Arthur Bowditch, who lived on Pill Hill.

Chinese Christian Church (Inbound, between Strathmore and Dean Roads). This neo-Gothic church was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge in 1910. Built for the Leyden Congregational Church, it was bought by the Chinese Christian Church of New England in 1975.

All Saints Church.  (Inbound, at Dean Road). All Saints Church, designed by the architectural firm of Cram, Wentworth, and Goodhue, replaced a temporary wooden church on the site with the completion of the nave in 1899.

The Beaconsfield Terraces (including Richter Terrace,  Inbound at Dean Road and Frances Terrace, Inbound at Tappan Street). 
The Beaconsfield Terraces were one of the more unusual developments to follow the widening of Beacon Street. Built by Eugene Knapp, a wool merchant, in the early 1890s, the terraces were an early condominium arrangement in which people owned their units but shared ownership of 6-acre park, stables, a playhouse (known as the casino), tennis courts, and a playground. A bell system connected the houses to the stables so that people could call for their horse and carriage. A central heating plant heated all of the buildings. Today, only the residence buildings remain.

Athans Building
 (Inbound at Washington Street). This commercial block was built in 1898 with stores, offices, and a hall for dances and concerts.

Richmond Court. (Inbound, east of St. Paul Street). 
Richmond Court was one of the firstpossibly the firstcourtyard apartment buildings in the country. Built in 1898, it is set back and separated from the noise and bustle of Beacon Street by an iron fence, brick and stone posts, a fountain, and private gardens. Richmond Court was designed by Ralph Adams Cram who went on to design All Saints Church, further out on Beacon Street, as well as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and many buildings at West Point and Princeton University.

Temple Ohabei Shalom (Inbound at Kent Street). Temple Ohabei Shalom was the first Jewish congregation in Boston, formed in 1842 by immigrant German Jews. The congregation moved to Brookline and this domed temple in 1927.
Amory Park & Hall's Pond (Starting and ending point of parade). Until well into the 19th century, this was the Cedar Swamp. The Swamp and its marshy outflow were largely under-developed until after the Civil War. By stages, Cedar Swamp was filled in until all that remained was a one-acre pond called Swallow Pond that was used largely as a storm drainage pit for the surrounding area.

Today, after being acquired by the Town in 1975 and reborn as the Hall’s Pond Sanctuary, the pond area is what the Boston Globe has called “one of the Boston area's finest examples of green-space restoration,” home to migratory birds, turtles, and a variety of other wetlands wildlife, and “like a little patch of the Everglades in the middle of the city”.

Hall's Pond is named after the Hall Family that settled in the area around 1850 and lived on Ivy Street. Minna Hall, one of the last of the Hall family, was a cofounder of the Boston (later Massachusetts) Audubon Society and a great lover of birds and nature. A great concern of hers was that the pond and its environs be protected.