Saturday, December 6, 2014

Brookline High School, Class of 1898

They were 14 friends — 12 young women and 2 young men — who went to school together in Brookline more than a century ago. Their class (all but one graduated from Brookline High in 1898) was one of the first to attend the new high school that opened on Greenough Street in 1893.
Montage of 1898 BHS Students
Over time they went their separate ways. They had lives, families, careers. Some left Massachusetts for good; only two stayed in Brookline for long. The last of them died in 1982.

But they stayed together for decades in a set of exquisite photos kept by yet another friend and classmate. Those photos, presented here, eventually made their way back to Brookline and the collection of the Brookline Historical Society.

As a group, these 14 are probably no more or less remarkable than any random set of students taken from different eras in the history of the town. But looking at their long-ago faces and learning about their lives provides an unusual window into a small piece of Brookline’s past.

(NOTE : Click on photos below for larger views)

The Photos and Their Collector:
From Brookline to New Jersey and Back Again

Grace Mason
The photographs belonged to Grace Whiting Mason, later Grace Mason Young, (1879-1971). The youngest child of Albert and Lydia Mason, Grace grew up on Corey Hill in the family home at 96 Summit Avenue. (The house is no longer there.) Her father was chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court from 1890 until his death in 1905. He is probably best remembered today as one of the judges in the Lizzie Borden murder trial of 1893.

Grace was an 1898 winner of the J. Murray Kay Prize given to Brookline High School seniors by the Brookline Historical Publications Society (forerunner of the Historical Society) for historical research. Her essay was on “The Development of the Metropolitan Park System.”

After graduating from Brookline High, Grace attended Smith College, graduating in 1902. In 1904, she married Percy Sacret Young and moved with him to New Jersey where they raised four sons and four daughters. Her grandson Mason, who grew up near his grandmother, remembered her as an avid reader who would regularly send books to her grandchildren. “She had definite opinions. She was very good about guiding you to a different way of seeing things,” he said.

Grace’s photographs of her classmates remained in the family until 2010 when they were donated, along with other family items, to the Millburn-Short Hills (NJ) Historical Society, which sent the photos back here to Brookline for our collection.

There were no photos of Grace in the set; the family no doubt kept those. But further research led to three of Grace’s grandchildren, who met with me in Manomet, MA in August and shared the photo above and several more, along with papers and stories of their grandmother.

Grace Mason with mother and four siblings
Grace Mason, front left, with her mother Lydia, brother Charles
and sisters Martha (front right), Mary, and Alice (rear center and right.
(Photos courtesy of the family of Grace Mason Young)
The Classmates

Helen R. Jones
Helen R. Jones, 101 Summit Avenue
Helen Reed Jones, later Helen Reed Whitney (1878-1956) is the only classmate to appear in more than one of the photos saved by Grace Mason Young. That’s likely because they were the closest of friends, growing up across the street from one another on Summit Avenue. (Helen’s home at 101 Summit still stands, though much altered.)

Helen studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1906 she married MIT graduate Philip R. Whitney, an artist and an instructor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work was exhibited in and around Philadelphia, as well as in New York, Chicago, and other cities. She and her husband summered on Nantucket for many years, and were active in the artist's colony there.
Helen R. Jones and one of her paintings
Additional photos of Helen Reed Jones along with her painting Ebb Tide

John Marvin
John R. Marvin, 88 Perry Street
& Martha F. Ritchie, 268 Walnut Terrace

John Reginold Marvin (1880-1967) and Martha Frothingham Ritchie (1881-1945) were first cousins. Their grandfather Edward S. Ritchie was an inventor and the founder of E.S. Ritchie & Son, a manufacturer of nautical compasses and scientific instruments in Brookline Village.

John Marvin was a co-winner with Grace Mason of the 1898 J. Murray Kay Prize for his essay “The Relation of Brookline to Norfolk County.” He earned a mechanical engineering degree from MIT and had a career as an engineer in the Boston area, the Midwest and, finally, Pennsylvania where he settled with his wife Grace Field Marvin.

Martha Ritchie

Martha Ritchie's father and later her brother, both named Andrew, took over leadership of the E.S. Ritchie firm, which remained in the family until 1935. The Ritchie factory building still stands on Cypress Street, incorporated into the Cypress Lofts condominium complex.

Martha worked for a time as a teacher. She married the architect Austin Jenkins in 1911 and moved to the Chicago area.

Maud Dutton
Maud B. Dutton, 33 Colbourne Crescent
Maud Barrows Dutton, later Maude Dutton Lynch, (1880-1959) was the daughter of Samuel Train Dutton, the superintendent of schools in Brookline from 1890 to 1900.  She moved to New York with her father when he became superintendent of the Horace Mann Schools run by Teachers College, Columbia University.

Maud also followed her father in the education field, authoring a series of children’s books on “The World of Work” and on different countries and cultures. She married the Congregational minister, editor, and peace activist Frederick Lynch in 1909.

Marian Richards
Marian D. Richards, 44 Linden Street
Marian Dudley Richards, later Marian D. Emerson, (1879-1949) graduated from the the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, a teacher training school that later became part of Wellesley College, and the Tuckerman School on Beacon Hill.

She became prominent in the Unitarian Universalist movement as a Sunday school teacher, superintendent, public speaker, and social worker.

She was also active in support of peace movements, reproductive rights, and the welfare of Native Americans. (In a 1942 report to the Wellesely Alumnae Association she described her work for the Birth Control League of America as "rounding up sympathizers & convincing doubters.")

Marian married fellow Unitarian activist B. Homer Emerson in 1917 and continued to live in Brookline until her death.

Thomas I. Taylor
Thomas I. Taylor, 294 Walnut Street
Thomas Irving Taylor (1880-1977), whose father was in the hat and fur business, worked for a railroad supply company and for Sprague Electric before managing Taylor Machinery, a metalworking firm in Boston. He was awarded a patent in 1921 for an automobile water gauge “so that the driver may be informed at all times by visible means from his position when driving, whether or not the radiator water supply is in need of replenishment.”

Tom, who was married twice and lived in Newton, later worked as a vault attendant for the Newton-Waltham Bank & Trust Co.

Grace Farquahar
Grace B. Farquhar, 26 Gorham Avenue
Grace Bartlett Farquhar, later Grace Leavitt, (1880-1982) was the daughter of Joseph Farquhar, owner of a roofing company, and his wife Annie.  She married at a younger age (21) than the other BHS grads in the photos. Her husband, Frederick Leavitt, was in the real estate and insurance business in Brookline and also served in town and county government.

They lived in Brookline and later in Arlington. Grace died in Barnstable in 1982, having outlived all of the others in this group of BHS students.

Beulah Dunklee

Beulah Duncklee, 24 Williams Street
Beulah Duncklee, later Beulah Bugbee, (1879-1969) was born in Brookline, the daughter of Charles T., an attorney, and Sarah J. Duncklee.

In 1901 she married Edward Bugbee, a Brookline native and a teacher of mining engineering and metallurgy at MIT.

They lived in Brighton. Beulah moved back to Brookline after her husband’s death.

Isabel McCleery

Isabel McCleery, address uncertain
Isabel Shaw McCleery, later Isabel Doig, (1878-1915) was born in Somerville, the daughter of William C. McCleery, a button manufacturer, and his wife Ada. She lived at various times in Boston and Newton and appears to have been in Brookline for only a short time.

She married Stephen G. Doig, a lawyer, and died in 1915 at the age of 38, the shortest life by far of this generally long-lived group.

Ethel Towle
Ethel W. Towle, 31 Kent Square
Ethel Ward Towle, later Ethel Haslet, (1880-1949), was the daughter of Unitarian minister Edwin Towle and his wife Isabel. Her father was pastor of Brookline’s Second Unitarian Church, which was formed in 1896 and moved into its new building (now Temple Sinai) on Sewall Avenue in 1901.

Ethel's father was later pastor in Hillsborough, NH, where, in 1921, he presided at Ethel’s marriage to widower George Haslet, president of the Hillsborough Woolen Mills. George died in 1928. Ethel moved to Boston where she died 21 years later.

Ella Fenno and Helen Jones

Ella C. Fenno, 3 Kilsyth Road
Ella Cheever Fenno, later Ella Clough, (1878-1936) is the only student not to appear in her own, formal, photo. Instead, she appears in one with her arm around Helen Jones, one of four pictures of Helen in the Grace Mason set.

Ella married Charles Clough, an insurance executive, in 1904. (They are mentioned together in Boston Globe social columns in 1900 (at a dance) and 1901 (at a Clough family home in Maine). Charles survived Ella by more than 30 years.

Marion L. Sharp
Marion L. Sharp, 12 Fairbanks Street
Marion Louise Sharp (1878-1967) graduated from BHS in 1897, one year earlier than the other students. Her grandfather was Samuel A. Robinson who owned a tannery on Washington Street and lived in a house nearby where Marion was most likely born. He built a house in 1892 at 12 Fairbanks Street where three generations of the family lived.

Marion was a winner of theJ. Murray Kay Prize that year for her essay “Three Glimpses of Brookline: In 1700, 1800, and 1900.” She graduated from Smith College in 1901 and later taught school in Gloucester, Woburn, Brookline, and other towns.

Mystery Student
The Mystery Student
Only one of the photos saved by Grace Mason Young did not have a name written on the back. Who was she?

One possibility is an 1898 BHS grad named Sabina Marshall (1879-1968) who lived on Summit Avenue near Grace Mason and Helen Jones. (See the map below.)

There is no question the three girls were old friends. They were photographed together on Corey Hill years earlier in this delightful picture shared by Grace’s family.

Grace Mason, Sabina Marshall, Helen Jones
Left to right, Grace Mason, Sabina Marshall, Helen Jones. (Photo Courtesy of the family of Grace Mason Young)

Is Sabina Marshall the mystery student? Stay tuned, as our research continues.
Map of Mason, Jones, and Marshall houses on Summit Avenue
Map showing the Mason, Jones, and Marshall properties on Summit Avenue
Source: WardMaps LLC
NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of the Brookline Historical Society newsletter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Light: Coolidge Corner Then & Now

Enjoy artists, musicians, and performers while visiting Brookline's fine shops as the annual First Light festival takes place this Thursday, November 20th, from 5 to 8 pm. And keep an eye out in Coolidge Corner for "Then & Now" posters showing selected locations as they looked  in the past.

There are 10 in all (listed below) with pictures, advertisements, and descriptions. They show and tell what shoppers of earlier generations found in the same storefronts we shop in today.

"Then & Now" posters in the windows of Eureka Puzzles and Wild Goose Chase
Eureka Puzzles' David Leschinsky, left, with the "Then & Now" poster in his store window. At right, poster in the window of Wild Goose Chase.
To learn more about the history of the Coolidge Corner shopping district, visit the Edward Devotion House at 347 Harvard Street on Thursday night. There will be a continuously-running 10-minute slideshow, and I'll be there to talk, listen, and share stories of Brookline's past. (The colonial Devotion House will also be open for tours.)

Coolidge Corner Then & Now Locations
Eureka Puzzles, 1349 Beacon Street
Wild Good Chase, 1355 Beacon Street
Paper Source, 1361 Beacon Street
Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street
Panera Bread, 299 Harvard Street
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street
Magic Beans, 312 Harvard Street
The Arcade Building, 314 Harvard Street
The Altman Block, 319 Harvard Street
Zaftigs, 335 Harvard Street

This project was funded by a grant from the Brookline Commission for the Arts. The Brookline Preservation Office was the source for many of the photos, while ads were found in directories and local newspapers in the Public Library of Brookline.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Final Fall Walking Tour: Blake Park, Sunday 2pm

In 1880, banker Arthur Welland Blake engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to draw plans for the subdivision into roads and lots of the Blake family estate on Aspinwall Hill.

Olmsted and his firm drew numerous plans for the Blakes over the next 15 years, but they were never executed. The estate remained something of an anomaly: a large tract of open land, renowned for its landscaping, in the heart of a community rapidly developing as a "streetcar suburb".

It wasn't until 1916 that land was sold, roads were laid out — somewhat differently than Olmsted had envisioned them — and the development of "Blake Park" was announced with some fanfare.

Blake Estate and Blake Park maps, 1913 and 1927
These maps show the Blake Estate in 1913 (top) and the same area under development as Blake Park in 1927 (bottom). Click on the maps for a larger view.

Death and financial scandal delayed development for another decade. Finally, in 1925, with both Blake and Olmsted long dead, a new largely middle-class neighborhood began to emerge, populated by the families of bankers and brokers, doctors and lawyers, salesman, college professors, contractors, and local merchants.

This free, 90-minute walking tour will tell the story of the transformation (in fits and starts) of this part of Brookline from a private estate to a residential neighborhood that remains largely as it was when first built.

The tour begins — rain or shine — at 2:00 pm in front of the main entrance to Brookline High School on Greenough Street.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

High on Aspinwall Hill

The photo below, taken sometime in the first decade of the 20th century, shows Aspinwall Hill from a vantage point on Corey Hill. (See a supersized version of the photo here.)

Aspinwall Hill from Corey Hill

For perspective, note the building with the rounded corner at lower right. It was — and still is —at the southeast corner of Washington and Beacon Streets. Athan's Bakery occupies the first floor today.

The Athans Bakery building, then and now

Several other buildings in the photo are still there today: buildings on Washington Street (just behind the Athan's building) and, successively higher up the hill, on University Road, Winthrop Road, Addington Road, and Colbourne Crescent.

But what was that building with the tower at the top of the hill? It looks like a church or other institutional edifice.

In fact, it was the home of Clarence and Rosamond Esty on Addington Road. The tower, unusual for a private home, was built to take advantage of the house's location at the top of the hill. Here's how the Boston Post described it in 1913:

Few houses in the world have such a magnificent panorama spread out before them as that of Clarence H. Esty, 97 Addington road, Brookline. This house is situated on the top of a hill, and Mr. Esty has bought up all the land immediately surrounding it, so as to avoid all possibility of the view of which he is so proud becoming obstructed. On the top of the house Mr. Esty has built an observation tower, in which is a powerful telescope. From this point of vantage the whole of Boston lies spread out before one, not to mention all the suburbs and the country to the west.

Clarence H. Esty
Clarence Houghton Esty (1854-1917) was born in Ithaca, New York. He earned a law degree from Cornell University, but never practiced. He joined his father and brother in the prosperous leather manufacturing business founded by Clarence's grandfather. Esty married Rosamond Claire Field in 1893 and built the Brookline house for his family in 1897 after retiring from business.

Clarence Esty died in 1917. Rosamond Esty died in 1942. The property was acquired by the Town of Brookline. After  demolition of the house it was turned into Addington Park, renamed Schick Park in 1955.

Schick Park on Addington Road is on the site of the Esty home and observation tower that stood from 1897 until the 1940s.

NOTE: The Aspinwall Hill photo is one of several photos from the collection of Warren Manning, former planting supervisor for Frederick Law Olmsted in Brookline. It was taken after Manning left Olmsted to go out on his own. The photos are held by the Iowa State University Library Special Collections and have been reproduced with their permission.

The building immediately below the tower in the Manning photo is actually across the street from the Esty house, at 94-98 Addington Road, where it still stands.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Antiques & Horribles" on the Fourth of July

Firehouse on Washington Street, 1891
Photo credit: Brookline Historical Society
This photo shows the old firehouse on Washington Street, at the corner of High Street, in 1891. Flanked by two wooden commercial buildings, the firehouse (replaced by the current building in 1908) is decked out for the Fourth of July.

But on closer examination, something seems odd.

The bunting looks twisted and sloppily hung. The flag is facing the wrong direction. It's also bunched up on the lower left — not exactly proper flag decorum — and the white stripes look...well...not so white. And there's a stuffed figure of a fireman on the top, in front of the tower. (Compare it to this photo of the same firehouse decorated a decade or so later.)

And yet, according to an account in the Boston Post, "The building occupied by the Hose 1 and Engine 1 companies was the most tastefully decorated in the town, and was awarded the prize of $10 as such."

What's going on here?

An Old Tradition
The answer may lie in an old New England tradition: the Antiques & Horribles parade on the Fourth of July. The Antiques & Horribles — sometimes shortened to the "Horribles Parade" — was an annual event in Brookline and many other towns in the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. It's still celebrated in several towns today.

Local residents would dress up as "antiques" — figures from the past — or "horribles" — characters in strange and often grotesque or macabre guise. The horribles, according to Yankee Magazine, "used elaborate costumes, masks, blackface, cross-dressing, and other disguise to illustrate gender and class reversal. Their satire and broad parody were often aimed at authority, women, and foreigners."

The tradition probably began in the 1840s — the earliest known example is in Lowell in 1851 — as a parody of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

The "Ancients & Honorables," as they are called, are "the oldest chartered military organization in the Western hemisphere." Formed in 1638 "to train young gentleman officers for service in the various militias of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," the company has taken part in Independence Day celebrations since the earliest days of the nation.

Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company on parade in Boston, 1900

By the middle of the 19th century, the Ancients and Honorables, by then a largely symbolic organization, were ripe for parody. Here's how UCLA linguist William Matthews (in the journal American Speech, October 1940) described the rise of the "Horribles" as a reaction to the Ancients and Honorables:

As it became a body of eminent citizens who had the taste for military organization, of course practically every member was an officer of this of that other regiment; and the members personally were not snappy young cadets with reputations to make and physiques that needed no making, but solid burghers who had gone beyond their youth in becoming eminent by activities that did not involve keeping the body in fighting condition.

The result was that on such occasions of state as called for a parade of the... "Ancients and Honorables"...the variegated display of diverse uniforms on unathletic figures looked comic to a visitor who had not been brought up to reverence the Company's high status.

So a time came when it was customary in country villages to burlesque it by a Fourth-of-July parade of..."Antiques and Horribles"...Nowadays, "Antique" is omitted from the title; but it is still customary that part of the costumes try to look as antiquated as possible while others try to look as frowzy as possible.

According to Yankee Magazine, "the disorderly and drunken training days that characterized the last years of compulsory militia service" may also have had something to do with the rise of the Antiques & Horribles.

Antiques & Horribles in Brookline and Beyond
Brookline's 1891 Independence Day celebration, like those of other years, began at 7 am with an Antiques & Horribles parade.  It started at the corner of Washington and Cypress Streets, marched down Washington through Brookline Village to the firehouse, and then west on Boylston back to Cypress and Cypress Field.

The Post reported that the parade "was not up to the standard of those of former years" though Brookline's own paper, the Chronicle, said it was "exceptionally good."

Boston Post article on 1891 parade
Boston Post, July 6, 1891

Although no pictures of that year's parade have come to light, it seems likely that the odd decoration of the firehouse was done in the spirit of the Antiques & Horribles. Perhaps it was changed to a more respectable display after the morning parade. Or maybe the report of it being "tastefully decorated" was tongue-in-cheek.

The Antiques & Horribles photo below from Brookline in the late 1890s or early 1900s gives a sense of the comedic turn these parades often took. It shows a float whimsically promoting flying machine races on Corey Hill, the "Brookline Liquid Air Railway", and other municipal "advancements" such as car rides 50 years in the future from the "City of Brookline" to "Boston Village."

Less whimsical to modern eyes are several characters in blackface, all too common in this era. Prizes awarded in 1891, in fact (in addition to the firehouse), included characters dressed as "Negro minstrels" and a "colored boy on a donkey."
Photo credit: Brookline Public Library
Click on the image for a larger, zoomable view at Digital Commonwealth
A second photo, from Brookline's 1889 Fourth of July celebration, shows several oddly-dressed characters (including a honeymooning couple with a mustache peeking out from behind the "bride's" veil) amid baseball players and soldiers in antique uniforms. (See the full zoomable photo at Digital Commonwealth)

Characters on Fourth of July 1889
Photo credit: Brookline Public Library

Two more examples, from other Massachusetts towns, give a better sense of the "horribles" costumes typical of these parades.

Antiques & Horribles, New Bedford
Figures at an Antiques & Horribles parade, New Bedford, MA
Photo credit: New Bedford Free Public Library
Antiques & Horribles, Andover
"Horribles" on a float, Andover, MA
Photo credit: Andover Historical Society

Horribles Parades Today
The tradition of Fourth of July Antiques & Horribles parades spread beyond New England. There were versions in New York City's Harlem, in California, Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, and elsewhere. The Ancients and Honorables themselves held a 7 am Antiques & Horribles parade on July 4, 1896 on board the steamship Servia as they marked Independence Day on their way to visit England.

The parades had largely died out by the middle of the 20th century, although some towns have continued or revived them. Contemporary examples, usually minus the satire of earlier days, include parades in Marblehead, Gloucester, Beverly Farms, Winthrop, Danvers, and New Silver Beach (North Falmouth), all in Massachusetts, and Glocester in Rhode Island.

The term "parade of horribles" has also taken on a metaphorical sense in the legal arena, reaching all the way to the United States Supreme Court, as recounted in a column by former Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer.

NOTE: The commercial buildings on either side of the firehouse in the 1891 photo have their own stories to tell. More about those in a later blog post

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Blake Park" Walking Tour — Sunday 2 pm

Blake Park logo
In 1880, Boston banker Arthur Welland Blake engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to draw plans for the subdivision into roads and lots of the Blake family estate on Aspinwall Hill.

Olmsted and his firm drew numerous plans for the Blakes over the next 15 years, but they were never executed. The estate remained something of an anomaly: a large tract of open land, renowned for its landscaping, in the heart of a community rapidly developing as a "streetcar suburb".

It wasn't until 1916 that land was sold, roads were laid out — somewhat differently than Olmsted had envisioned them — and the development of "Blake Park" was announced with some fanfare.

Death and financial scandal delayed development for another decade. Finally, in 1925, with both Blake and Olmsted long dead, a new largely middle-class neighborhood began to emerge, populated by the families of bankers and brokers, doctors and lawyers, salesman, college professors, contractors, and local merchants.

This free, 90-minute walking tour will tell the story of the transformation (in fits and starts) of this part of Brookline from a private estate to a residential neighborhood that remains largely as it was when first built.

The tour begins — rain or shine — at 2:00 pm in front of the main entrance to Brookline High School on Greenough Street.
Washington Street entrance to Blake Park in 1916

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Patriots' Day: "William Dawes" in Brookline

Please join the Brookline Historical Society on April 21st for our annual Patriots' Day celebration at the Edward Devotion House, 347 Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner, Brookline.  

Schedule of Events:

9:15-9:30 a.m.  Children's activities and music on the lawn: Make a simple period toy and listen to Fife and Drum music.

9:30 a.m. 
Patriots' Day ceremony, including the annual reading of the Governor's Proclamation of the Celebration of Patriots' Day.

10:00 a.m. The expected arrival time of William Dawes!  Watch him ride up Harvard Street on horseback to warn citizens of Brookline about the British Regulars' move towards Lexington and Concord.  

The Devotion House will be open for visits immediately after William Dawes' departure.

Free and open to the public
Fun for the whole family

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Beaconsfield Terraces Walking Tour: Sunday, 10 am

Frances Terrace
Frances Terrace, Beacon and Tappan Sts.
The Beaconsfield Terraces, on the south side of Beacon Street from Dean Road to just beyond Tappan Street, were one of the more unusual developments to follow the creation of the Beacon Street boulevard in the 1880s.

Built by Eugene Knapp, a wool merchant, in the early 1890s the terraces were a residential complex in which people owned their units but shared ownership of a 6-acre park, stables, a playhouse (known as the Casino), tennis courts, a playground, and a central heating plant.

A bell system connected the houses to the stables so that people could call for their horse and carriage. Today, only the residential buildings (Richter, Frances, Marguerite, Fillmore, Gordon, and Parkman Terraces) remain.

Learn more about the Beaconsfield Terraces in this one-hour walking tour, Sunday, April 6th, at 10 am. The tour begins — rain or shine — outside the Star Market at 1717 Beacon Street. For more information, contact the Brookline Historical Society: 617-566-3747 or
Richter Terrace.
Richter Terrace, Beacon St. and Dean Rd.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Real Scoop on Sealey's Ice Cream / Sealey's Lunch

Sealey's logo Sealey's Lunch, which closed a year ago this month after many years on Cypress Street, was a neighborhood institution beloved by generations of area residents and students and staff at Brookline High School.

News stories at the time of the closing followed local lore in reporting that Sealey's had been around for just under a century, founded as Sealey's Ice Cream by a man named Sealey in 1914.

I set out to learn more. Research showed that, in fact, there never was a Mr. Sealey and that the history of the little luncheonette didn't go back quite as far as the stories assumed.

But the real story of Sealey's — uncovered via town records, newspaper accounts, and interviews with the children and grandchildren of early owners — reveals a colorful past and one basic truth: the characteristics that made Sealey's a local institution up until the end — a warm atmosphere and proprietors who knew and cared about their customers — persisted across seven decades and several changes of ownership.

Saying Goodbye
It was big news locally when Sophie and Tony Vessiropoulos announced the closing of Sealey's Lunch, on Cypress Street just off Route 9, at the end of March 2013.  Longtime customers turned up to say goodbye. The Tab, the Globe, and WCVB-TV all covered the news — in words, pictures, and video. Social media carried fond farewells.

Montage of stories about Sealey's

Why would the departure of a small local eatery garner so much attention?

It says something, of course, about the importance of local institutions to community and sense of place. It says something, as well, about local history: for even in a town with as rich and varied a past as Brookline's it's the little stories that really tell it like it was for the people who lived here.

But what was the history of Sealey's? It took a good bit of digging, but here is some of what I found.

Sealey's Beginnings
1919 atlas map

Source: WardMaps LLC

Sealey's building in 2013
The brick commercial building at Boylston and Cypress Streets as seen in a 1919 atlas and as it looked last year.

The block of stores that rounds the southwest corner of Boylston and Cypress Streets was built between 1913 and 1914. The first occupant of 147 Cypress, the storefront that would become Sealey's, was the Boylston Bakery, run by a Bavarian immigrant named Jacob Umscheid.
Help wanted ads for Boylston Bakery
Boston Globe help wanted ads for Boylston Bakery, 1920 & 1921

Lloyd Seaman
Lloyd Seaman before he opened
Sealey's Ice Cream in Brookline
(Photo courtesy of Vicky Hubbard)
Sealey's—then known as Sealey's Ice Cream—first occupied the space
in 1936. The founders were Lloyd and Rhoda Seaman.

Lloyd Seaman was a former stunt pilot, one of many young men who took up flying in the wake of Charles Lindbergh's historic 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. He ran an air taxi service between Boston Airport (later Logan Airport) and the Islands until his plane, and his livelihood, were lost in an accident.

His wife Rhoda, the former Rhoda Page, was the daughter of the longtime gardener of the Charles Sprague Sargent estate in Brookline and a 1928 graduate of Brookline High School.

After the loss of his plane, Seaman worked for a time at the Neapolitan Ice Cream factory in Cambridge before opening Sealey's in Brookline in June 1936.

The opening included an offer of a free sherbet cone for every child accompanied by an adult. It was announced with an article and an advertisement in the Brookline Citizen.
1936 Sealey's ad
Advertisement in the June 26, 1936 Brookline Citizen
The Citizen described the "unique arrangements" at the new ice cream specialty shop.

Customers may watch all the stages of preparation, which includes the use of cream high in butter fat content, and the use of fresh fruit flavors in season. The black and white motif of the booths and tables is followed throughout the shop and gives an air of cleanliness to the whole store.

The Citizen also noted that Rhoda Seaman was in charge of booth and counter service and that "Every package of this distinctive ice cream that is sent out is packed in an insulated bag to insure proper condition at the time of serving."

Rhoda and Lloyd Seaman
Rhoda and Lloyd Seaman in their flying days (Photo courtesy of Vicky Hubbard)

But if there was no Mr. Sealey where did the name Sealey’s come from? The Seamans’ daughter, Vicky Hubbard, solved the mystery. Her father, she told me, made up the name as a combination of his own last name and that of his best friend Fred Beardsley.

Lloyd Seaman and Fred Beardsley
Lloyd Seaman, on the right in the photo at left, and his friend Fred Beardsley in later years. A combination of their last names gave Sealey's Ice Cream, later Sealey's Lunch, its name.
(Photo courtesy of Vicky Hubbard)

Sealey's stayed under the proprietorship of the Seamans for only a short time. Not long after founding the store Lloyd Seaman, perhaps driven by the same restless spirit with which he took to the air, left Brookline and Sealey's for Panama. His family followed soon after, and for a dozen years the Seamans made and served ice cream for the crews of thousands of ships passing through the Canal Zone.

Italian Ice Cream
The second owner of Sealey's, starting in 1937, was an Italian immigrant named James (born Giacomo) Malerbi. Malerbi was the youngest of 13 children. In March 1915, four months before his 17th birthday and two months before Italy entered the First World War, his family sent him to the United States to avoid the draft.

Malerbi lived at first with his sister Orlinda and her husband Dante Baldi in Boston. Baldi was an ice cream maker, working for the C.C. Whittemore catering company in Boston. Malerbi, too, went into the ice cream business and worked for a time for the same Neapolitan Ice Cream factory in Cambridge where Lloyd Seaman had worked. It’s uncertain if they knew each other, but Malerbi took over Sealey’s after Seaman left for Panama. He owned the store for more than 20 years.

Sealey's ad, 1937
Advertisement (right) in the Brookline Citizen, July 1937. The “Former C.C. Whittemore Foreman” referred to was most likely James Malerbi’s brother-in-law, Dante Baldi.

James Malerbi’s grandson Robert Malerbi lived with his family at 126 Cypress Street, across Boylston Street, in the 1950s. He remembers his grandfather running across the street to the shop to bring back ice cream for dessert after family dinners. But most of what he knows about Sealey’s comes from stories his father Robert would tell.

My father said they did a tremendous business with the wealthy people making ice cream cakes. He also used to tell stories about high school kids hanging out at the store during the war. They couldn’t always make ice cream during the war [because of shortages], but the kids would hang out there anyway.

A Neighborhood Institution
Murivian ad for Sealey's
Sealey’s regularly took out ads in the Murivian, the Brookline High School yearbook, including this one from the 1940s
James Malerbi sold the store in 1958. The new owners were Louis and Rose Tanzi. The Tanzis had owned the Mobil station on the northeast corner of Cypress and Boylston Streets — where Audy Mobil is today — before moving across the street and into a very different kind of business.

The former owner gave them a hand. “Mr. Malerbi worked with my parents when they first took over,” says Carol Ross, the Tanzis’ daughter. “He stayed on with them to help for a while. He taught my father how to make ice cream.”

Under her parents’ stewardship Sealey’s was open for breakfast and lunch, in addition to serving homemade ice cream. Two of her aunts also worked at the store, says Ross, and she herself worked there each summer.

In those days, a lot of the big homes around there were rooming houses, [she recalls]. There were people who came in and had breakfast every morning.

Some of them, she noted, asked if they could pay on Friday, which was payday, and her father said “Sure” and didn’t even write down an amount. (A customer told a similar story about the Vessiropoulos family when Sealey’s closed last year.)

The last big group he got was the high school kids getting out of school. He would close around 4 in the afternoon.

Rose & Louis Tanzi
Sealey’s was also popular with town workers. “I remember many a day,” says Ross, “when there were snowstorms and my father had a cot” — the Tanzis lived in Jamaica Plain — “and he would sleep there and open early for the people who worked all night clearing snow.”

“My parents loved Brookline. A good part of their lives focused on Brookline. They made many friendships that lasted long after they left.”

Rose & Louis Tanzi (above) with the cake presented to them at a farewell party thrown by customers 
after their retirement from Sealey’s in 1970 (Photo courtesy of Carol Ross)

Renamed Sealeys Lunch, the business passed through several more owners between the Tanzis and the Vessiropoulos family, the last owners. It’s gone now, but holds a special place in local memory and in the history of the neighborhood it served for more than 75 years.

Sealey's Goodbye Logo

(This article originally appeared in the members' newsletter of the Brookline Historical Society)