- Longtime Resident Stan Babcock
Shares His Memories of Old Allston
- This is one of a series of interviews by local historian
William Machione with long-term Allston-Brighton residents about
the changing face of the community.
- Stan Babcock, who turned eighty earlier this year, spent the
first seventy-five years of his life as a resident of Allston
Street near Union Square. On Thursday, December 3, 1998, Mr.
Babcock recounted the following recollections of the Allston
neighborhood in which he grew up:
- B.M.: How far back do members of your family go in
- S.B.: My mother and father were born in Newfoundland
and they emigrated to the states in 1910, and started to raise a
family of seven.
- B.M.: What brought them here?
- S.B.: I would say the motive was basically economic,
the opportunity that was available for my father to use the
ability he had had as a carpenter-builder; he saw that there were
better prospects in the United States, and Boston was the nearest
part of the states.
- B.M.: And where did they locate here in
- S.B.: In the Allston Street area. First, in a house
that stood in the present Ringer Playground, and later on Allston
- B.M.: Where on Allston Street?
- S.B.: The second house on the left after you make the
turn off of Brighton Avenue.
- B.M.: And your father was a carpenter?
- S.B.: Yes. He was a member of the team of builders that
worked on the Egyptian Theater (in Brighton Center), the Capitol
Theater (on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston), and Braves Field (now
B.U. Field), and he also worked on the renovation of private
homes. There was a period of time which he spent in the employment
of the Stone & Webster engineering firm, but later he built
and renovated homes on his own.
- B.M.: What was your father's full name?
- S.B.: Leander Babcock.
- B.M.: And what was your mother's maiden name?
- S.B: Harriet White. Both were old Anglo-Saxon names.
- B.M.: When and where were you born?
- S.B.: I was born on May 22, 1918 in the house on Ringer
Playground, but we moved to the Allston Street house when I was a
few months old.
- The Ringer Playground of that day was quite different. It had
a quarry on its southeast side, and at the foot of the quarry were
two homes. One of them was my dad's, and the other belonged to the
Ringer family that the park was later named after. One of their
son's was killed during World War I leading a charge up Chateau
Thierry---Stanley Ringer (the namesake of the park). Incidentally,
he was the first Allston volunteer for the armed services in World
- The park had a different configuration in my youth. A fence
extended from Imrie Road all the way around to Griggs Place, and
then came into the park about a hundred yards. There was a lampost
light there which would be lit by a lamp lighter each evening. The
bad feature, was that when guys played ball there, there wasn't
much room to maneuver because of the projecting fence. The park
was smaller then. Also there was one more house on Griggs Place,
on the left, as you entered it from Allston Street. Another
Babcock family lived there, and they had a white fence around it
that would keep the kids from chasing balls into their back
- B.M.: Was there anything unique about the Allston
neighborhood back then?
- S.B.: One thing that made the area quite unique was its
political character. Of all the wards that made up the City of
Boston back then, Allston (Ward 21) was one of just three that was
controlled by the Republicans. The other two were the so-called
"Silk stocking wards" on Beacon Hill and in the Back Bay. The
ethnic makeup of the neighborhood was primarily Anglo-Saxon/
Yankee. Later the immigration of Italians and Irish changed the
politics of the area. The Republicans elected in that period
included Charlie Ferguson, who was State Representative, and Louis
Lobel, who owned a Plymouth dealership on Brighton Avenue.
- B.M: I believe Lobel was one of the first Jewish elected
officials from the area, wasn't he?
- S.B.: Yes, he was. He and Martin Hays, who lived on
Parkvale Avenue, were Jewish. Hays was the majority floor leader,
or whip, in the state legislature. Remember, the Republicans
controlled the legislature back then. The Boston City Council was
predominantly Democrat. Another local Republican leader was John
Agnew. Eddy Wolf was involved, but he wasn't an elected official.
Wolf took over the Chrystler dealership after the Lobels. Those
were the Republicans who controlled Ward 21 back then.
- B.M.: Where was the Lobel Chrystler dealership
- S.B.: On Brighton Avenue, where Osco's is today. In
fact, next door to them was the home of a Mrs. (Janice) Chubb, an
old Yankee, and she had pear and apple trees, and used to spend
the summer chasing kids from getting pears and apples from the
trees in her back yard.
- I remember when the entire north side of Brighton Avenue from
the Moskos block (now the Kells) all the way to Union Square was
strictly residential, with the exception of one commercial
building opposite the Allston Street intersection. Moskos was
quite a fancy restaurant. It was a great restaurant!
- B.M.: Do you have any other special memories of the
- S.B: I remember the Brighton Avenue Baptist Church burning
down. I think it was on October 20, 1929. I was only a kid, but I
heard the fire engines and ran down and sat on the curbing and
watched them and watched the Salvation Army feed the firefighters
all day long. It was quite a battle. They had an old wooden
furnace---a stoke type furnace---and I guess they stoked it too
much. Of course, everything was made of wood in those days, even
the ducts, and the fire just went up and broke through. The size
of the auditorium produced a wind shaft that expedited the flow of
the flame to grow bigger and bigger.
- And then I remember the Brighton Abattoir. Many a night we
heard the sound of the siren which meant there was a fire at the
abattoir and you'd hear the engines right after that responding.
And later on when I owned a store on the corner of Quint and
Brighton Avenue (an ice cream store), every once in a while, we'd
look out and the police would be chasing one of the cattle that
broke loose from the stockyards. They'd be trying to lasoo it.
They used to call the local police the 'cowboy cops.'
- B.M.: I've never heard that expression.
- S.B.: I also remember the huge fire at the Metropolitan
Driving Club, adjacent to the Charles River Speedway down on the
river's edge in North Brighton. It was a horrific fire, and the
pages of the newspapers were filled with it for weeks
- B.M.: Can you describe it for us?
- S.B.: They used to have harness racing down on the
Charles River Speedway every Saturday afternoon, and many of the
local people and folks from all over would come to watch them. The
Metropolitan Driving Club had its stables adjacent to the
speedway, where WBZ is located now. I'm not sure how many horses
were kept there, probably hundreds, sleek, beautifully groomed
- On the day of the fire, I think about fifty horses were
killed. I remember going down there and they had these big hoists,
that they used to lift the carcasses of the charred remains into
trucks to haul them away. If you like animals, or have any kind of
a sympathetic feeling for them, it was a terrible sight to
- (B.M. The fire in question occurred on Sunday, August 14,
1932. It destroyed both the Metropolitan Driving Club Clubhouse
and Stables buildings, killing 44 valuable racing and saddle
- The Metropolitan Driving Club's North Brighton Clubhouse,
which sat on the site now occupied by WBZ-TV. This building and
adjacent stables were destroyed in a spectacular fire on Sunday,
August 14, 1932, in which 44 horses were killed.
- B.M.: Where did your family do its shopping, Stan?
- S.B.: There was the Mohegan Market on Harvard Avenue,
and two local First National stores, one in Union Square, and the
other on Harvard Avenue near Commonwealth. Also, at the corner of
Harvard and Brighton Avenues, near Parkvale, there was a big open
space, where they had two gigantic tents. We used to go there for
our fruit and vegetable shopping on Saturdays.
- B.M.: An outdoor market?
- S.B.: Right. My parents would bring the kids, and if we
were good, they'd take us for ice cream afterwards to Brighhams or
- B.M.: Where was Morgan Brothers located?
- S.B.: On the east side of Harvard Avenue a short
distance from the Brighton Avenue intersection. Morgan Brothers
was one of the biggest chains for milk, butter, and eggs in New
England. Another interesting local store stood around the corner
on Brighton Avenue, near Quint, the Adams Brothers Store, which
sold jellies and jams. They were there for quite a few years.
- B.M.: What did your family do for entertainment?
- S. B.: Mostly we went to Norumbega Park in Newton, and to Old
Orchard Beach in Maine.
- B.M.: Did you ride out to Norumbega by streetcar?
- S.B.: No, my father owned a Model T Ford. He'd pack us
all in the car.
- B.M.: There was a streetcar line that ran down
Commonwealth Avenue, wasn't there?
- S.B.: Yes, there was. But we always went out by car.
Norumbega was like our playland. It had amusements and a roller
- B.M.: Are there any other recreational recollections
you'd like to share with us?
- S.B.: We were fortunate enough to have Braves Field in
the neighborhood. One thing that the Braves offered the local kids
was the Knot Hole Game.
- B.M.: What was that?
- S.B.: Just as soon as school was over, you went to the
local playground, in my case the Ringer Playground, and signed up
for a knot hole ticket. You paid a nickel. Miss Madigan, who'd
been my second grade teacher, was the administrator at the
playground. She ran the clubhouse and gave out the equipment, and
so forth. You'd sign up, get your ticket, and she'd give you a
white slip to go with it. You'd go down to Braves Field and they'd
take the white slip as long as you showed them your card. You
could go in and watch the Braves play for the whole season for
that nickel card!
- B.M. How did the community celebrate the Fourth of July
in your youth?
- S.B.: It was a big thing, real big! People would rush
to get up to Ringer Playground on the night before the fourth.
They'd have in the early afternoon, from one to three. Then we'd
get ready for the band concert, from eight to ten. After that we'd
walk down to Smith's Playground for the bonfire. And at the same
time they had a carnival going, prior to the bonfire being torched
at twelve. And they'd have these different tents and you'd throw
balls and try to win money, darts and so forth. And then the
following night they'd have the band concert down there to go with
the carnival. Everyone was in a happy mood. Flags everywhere.
Everyone had an American flag.
- B.M.: What was your first regular job?
- S.B.: I worked part-time in the store that I later
bought, as a clerk in the ice cream parlor. It was called Hodges
Spa. When I took it over I called it the Busy Bee.
- B.M.: This was at the corner of Quint and Brighton
- S.B.: Yes.
- B.M.: How old were you then?
- S.B.: I was in my late teens and early twenties. It was
while I was working there that I was called into the service.
- B.M.: In what year?
- S.B.: February of 1942. After my induction at Ft.
Devens, I went to Camp Croft in South Carolina for basic training.
In the next few years I did shore patrol in New Jersey, went
overseas to North Africa, where I spent over two years as a mortar
crew man. It was in Italy, as we were entering th Po Valley in
pursuit of the fleeing Germans, in the final stages of the war,
that I became a battle casualty.
- B.M.: Tell us about it.
- S.B.: The Germans were leaving us and fleeing north as
fast as they could. But they always left a pocket of resistance to
try to slow us down so their main body could escape. And they had
this tank camouflaged under a tree and it shot at the twelve of
us, and we jumped into this crater that our planes had created
bombing them during their retreat. A few moments later the
sargeant came over with some GIs to pick us up. He said, "You're
wet," and I said, "I'm sweating." It wasn't sweat, it was blood,
and I didn't even know it! They say that shrapnel when it first
goes in is so hot that you don't feel it until seconds after. So
they cut the sleeve off and put on an emergency bandage and took
me by jeep to a field hospital and operated on me. And when I woke
up I had no idea where I was or anything else, and I called out to
the guy next to me, "Hey, where am I? What time is it?" He
answered in German. I found out later that I was the only GI
there, all the others were injured German prisoners of war. Then
they took me to a hospital we'd taken over from the Italian
government in Livorno (Leghorn) and I had another operation. I was
there when the war ended.
- Incidentally, of the twelve men that jumped into that hole,
six got killed and six were wounded. I was very lucky. By the
grace of God, I survived.
- B.M.: Do you have any other memories of the war that
you'd like to share with us?
- S.B.: On a cold and dreary Christmas Eve, in 1944, I
found myself nestled in a former German pill box on the slope of
Monte Battaglia, one of Italy's towering mountains, preparing to
be part of an offensive strike against the enemy. It was a time
when loneliness and fear and freezing temperatures caused me,
paradoxically, to recall Christmas eves back in Allston that
abounded with the spirit of the Christmas season.
- On the other hand, it was a great thrill for me to meet my
brother Harold, who arrived in Italy several months later than I
did. We were granted a special weekend pass to spend together
before joining our respective units. He too later became
hospitalized as a result of combat action.
- B.M.: Tell us about your involvement with the Red
- S.B.: I was involved in a chapel program for baseball
players for quite a few years. The program was started by a
retired Detroit sports writer named Watson Speolstra. Waddy got
the idea of establishing chapels for baseball players who were on
the road. I'd arrange to have a speaker for them at whatever hotel
they were staying in Boston. Later Waddy appointed me Boston
chapel leader. At first we provided programs just for the visiting
clubs, but eventually extended it to the Red Sox as well. Later
when I joined the Little League program, I was able to get
front-line Red Sox players as speakers for the Little League, and
they'd do it for nothing ---players like Jim Rice, Bob Stanley,
Bill Lee, Rick Burleson, and Rich Gedman.