Essays on Brighton Allston by RF Callahan
There was a time when the imagination of us old timers was invigorated by sitting at the kitchen or dining room table and listening to our favorite programs. I have said listening, not looking at this radio we had. Each household had at least one radio. There were many programs and stations to listen to, of which we chose according to our desires of course. There was a great deal to choose from. As a school child you rushed home from school to hear the wonders of Captain Midnight, Don Winslow of The Navy and so many according to our likes to listen to. Our imaginations were fired up by the likes of Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, to which was one of our favorites. Among the comedies of that era were of course Fibber Magee and Molly, and in the evenings, Fred Allen. Among Westerns we had The Lone Ranger in the evening hours and William Conrad and his depiction of Mat Dillon of the famous Gunsmoke show which lasted a total of twenty years on CBS.

Now for this television, that most unforgettable addition to our pleasures.  In 1948-49 we had resided in Allston at a place called Coleman Place. This was an established residence of two three Decker buildings and one small building at a one and a half acre plot. I lived on the top floor and could view much of what went on across Western Avenue. It has since been leveled off for a gas station and parking lot for Stadium Auto Body.                                                                                                                                   

Across on Soldiers Field Road was WBZ which in our excitement we viewed the construction of the great tower which was to accommodate the new wonderment of Television. The distance from our house was about nine hundred feet, and we watched as construction began. It was the construction of a tower which would reach 680 feet in height when completed, and as each day passed it got higher and higher. The workers were American Indian which was for the most part in those days the few people in high rise construction who would dare to do such dangerous jobs. They walked about the beams and cross girders as though it was second nature to them.

On June 9, 1948 WBZ signed a contract with Westinghouse for television signaling reception, and the history of television began. People who could afford it scrambled out to the stores and purchased their first sets, including my father. As poor as many of us were, many managed to fork over those six to eight hundred dollars for our first sets. At that time that amount of money was a great deal to sacrifice out of the budgets of households. You could get a brand new car for twelve hundred dollars.

Programs were sparse until Uncle Miltie came along. This was Milton Berle the ham himself who had the television industry in the palm of his hands with his Texaco Star Theater. Ratings were so great for this show that TV sets became in higher demand and the Golden Age of TV began.

We would set in front of that frustrating tube and shift about several times at setting the horizontal and vertical by way of the best reception we could get according to the rabbit ears antenna we used. Perfection was often times not within our reach. No remote, as though the word had not been invented yet. You got up and went back and forth at many station changes. Stations were also sparse, being channel 4, 5 and 7 in the first years and each season newer stations were added. Then came the introduction of UHF, giving us a more sophisticated antennae combo type which frustrated us all the more.  In spite of all this we held on and in the mid fifties came color. Setting the color became another challenge. Those of us who had the bucks scrambled out again and grabbed those color sets. Black and white became a secondary set to use.

Let us not forget the breakdowns and the begging for the TV repairman to come to our homes to repair the set. Time and a half charged on a Saturday, the day of that big game.

Then came the remote, that little hand held wonder. No need to get up any more. The remote antenna on the roof strapped solidly to our chimneys would turn the thing around to give us our individual perfect picture image, and the remote in the hand gave whatever station we wanted. How much better could it be? By the 60s at least 80% of homes had a TV set.

However, I should mention that that great tower that had started all this had come down in August 31, 1954 by the swift and powerful winds of Hurricane Carol. The tower came down across Storrow Drive and onto the Charles River Speedway. This speedway was a race horse track for carriage racing. It had enjoyed a half century of activities before moving, and I had been told that they moved to Foxboro. The tower crushed some of WBZ's rooftop and if it had not been for the strength of the crossbeams holding that building up more damage of a disastrous nature would have occurred. A newsman’s new Buick was crushed beyond belief, its front and rear bumpers being the only salvageable part of the car. A new and higher tower of 1200 feet was built to accommodate the station in Needham Mass in 1957.


My description of a typical kitchen and triple decker in the thirties and forties is described as I had witnessed in the home I had lived in on 12A Coleman Place, Allston, MA. These were typical of most that were in three decker dwellings. We lived upstairs on the top floor of this building. Our entrance was always from the rear as that is where most all kitchens were. The front was usually where guests would enter. Just about all of them were basically two or three bedroom, one bath, one living and one dining room. You had your meals in the kitchen for the most part until the holiday dinners and then the use of the middle room which was the dining area was used.                                             
Behind the kitchen and leading off the middle hallway was the bathroom, with two bedrooms directly opposite. The bathroom and kitchen had along the wall chair rails and designed wooden slat type design decorated and down to the floor. These walls were usually painted two tones in color, the choice being up to the owner, or resident.
The bathroom was typical tub, sink and toilet. Showers were made special and you took the shower with a curtain that swung around a ring on hooks which slid on a track above you. It was a cumbersome affair to say the least.
The front room, designated as the living room usually accommodated the pleasure of a large consol radio for listening entertainment as well as the wind up RCA Victor Victrola.  You would wind it up after each record was placed in. There was no television until the late forties.   
If families did not remodel their kitchens then they did not have the luxury of wall cabinets or sink counters. Any shelves placed along the walls were usually home made. We had a soapstone sink with adjoining two deep soapstone tubs for accommodating the Easy washers with a swivel system to ring the wash out twice and return to a basket on the floor. You swiveled the ringer to the first tub full of fresh rinsing water and again over to the next one to repeat, and finally to the basket on the floor. The top ringer had a safety spinner for freeing up your fingers if you did not let go of that laundry when inserting it in and then to the back porch for hanging out to dry. A drier was not even thought of in those days.
We did not enjoy the pleasures of a dishwasher in those days. A clean wooden platform was atop the left tub for placing the dishes on a drying rack after being washed. It was removed when laundry day arrived, and sometimes that was every day if you had a large family. That soapstone sink had to be scrubbed every day to prevent scum from forming on the side of its inner wall.  Storage of items had to be dealt with in the kitchen area, resulting in this small room in the back area which we called the pantry, and most homes of that type had them. All stored canned goods and dishes and the pots and pans were stored on those shelves along the inner wall.

Rubbish and garbage was usually dealt with in two ways. Rubbish was placed in the back hall or porch in a closed covered metal barrel. Plastic bags had not been available yet. The garbage would be brought down to the yard and dumped into a special bucket dug into the ground. This mess with maggots and all was usually picked up by the assigned Garbage Collector.  He had to have had the worse job in the world.
To the right of the pantry doorway was the oil stove which was a Glendale converted triple wick type. After the introduction of oil many coal and wood burning ranges were converted with these oil burning facilities. There was an added advantage of having this range stove in that you always kept a kettle on top for hot water for the making of tea and also to keep prepared cooked meals hot. Round circular plates of different sizes with perforated holes accommodated the oil fed by gravity from three to five gallon metal containers turned upside down. The fuel was fed gradually by two swivel type knobs. A circular wick drew in the oil and burned to give the required heat. These circular plates within would turn red hot at times, depending on the feed of the oil. Coiled circular tubes fed the hot water into a forty gallon copper or brass water tank. It would take four to six hours on average to get enough hot water for a comfortable bath. Supplementing this with buckets of water heated on top of our gas stove gave us more hot water if needed. Copper pipes, feeding hot and cold water were installed along the wall and over to the sink.                                                                                                              
Electricity was not in those days safe if you were careless or foolish enough to not adhere to safety factors dictated to you. Most all washing machines had no ground wire and in fact no grounding facilities were made available until the codes of the mid-forties began to change. This was the same with most appliances. Your life was in your hands with water spilled on the floor and the like dangers, especially if you were doing a wash in that Easy Washer. Thirty amp fuse and wiring was in many of the very early homes. If you had the electric iron on with the radio and your washing machine, that thirty amp fuse would blow. Many fools of that day would get tired of going down to the basement to replace the fuse. They would place in the fuse box a higher amperage fuse or they placed pennies behind the blown fuses to prevent another failure of electricity. This was totally against all fire codes and the fire department I am sure have records of how many homes caught fire due to this insanity.      
We also had a gas stove for cooking which was lit by match. Also in this house were in each room gas pipes coming out from the upper wall for the former gas lighting that was used in prior years.

Our food was cooled with an icebox, and we had to run home from school and empty that water pan down below. Designation of how much ice we wished for, each or every other day, depended on how hot it was, and was signaled to the iceman by way of a card placed on the kitchen window. The position of the card gave clues to how big a keg of ice was to be brought up. It read twenty five, fifty and seventy five pounds. A seventy five pound chunk of ice just about filled the top compartment, and most orders were for fifty pounds. Getting back to the pantry we had a window and to accommodate what we wished to keep cold a wooden orange crate box was nailed out side. You opened the window to get the food out.

In our case that window had one other interesting use. We could look out towards Boston and had a clear view of that recently built John Hancock tower. It was built in 1946-47. Viewing that building we could predict by way of the lights on a weather beacon just what the next day‚s weather would be like, rain or sunshine. The coloring was different and coded accordingly: red for stormy and blue for clear days?


Please realize that the stores mentioned in this piece were from my neighborhood and there were some others not mentioned. On the average we had stores in those days within every two to three blocks from one another. They were what helped keep bread and butter in local households until the super markets came into existence. Then those Mom and Pop stores gradually went into memories only. A few are still scattered around, and must compete with the big guys in the business and are not really doing that well. They just cannot compete fairly and remain in business. However many enjoy their independence and get by being happy in what they do.

We had moved from Boston proper after having lived on Staniford Street for one year. 178 Western Avenue was our first stop in Allston for six months. That building in fact is still standing on Western Ave. and is apparently the only building in that section that has not been torn down in these many years. Most all others of the old buildings on that section are gone. Across the street from there was a very small grocery store I cannot identify. This was at the Smith Street community which was later to be taken over by eminent domain for newer housing. It was a tight assemblage of families who did not wish to move, but the powers that be had thought otherwise. None of those families that I know of were able to move back there after being routed out and had re-settled elsewhere.
We moved to Coleman Place after six months. This place was a property of about an acre and a half with two triple deck buildings and one duplex family house in the middle. A section of this was later sold to establish Fahey’s Diner that stood there for many years and the building still remains. Stores in this area were within walking distance of less then a quarter mile. Charlie Pop’s store was on Western Avenue directly across from Smith Playground and near the corner of Riverdale Street. They sold groceries and liquor. The next store was on the corner of Appian Way and Raymond Street. This was Scotty’s and he sold groceries and meat products. Further up from this store on Raymond Street was Frank Wards, a very small grocery store. That building is still there.

Of these three I can honestly say if it were not for Frank Ward some of the families in that area would have gone hungry. He was kind and trusting and worked a tab in small notebook. Some families that could not afford to pay cash on the spot purchased their groceries on credit and it was agreed that the bill would be paid on Friday which was usually the day most people got paid. I know as a fact that throughout the years a few families stuck him for unpaid bills. They just moved away leaving him with money owed, and they never had the decency to send him what they owed later on. It is hard for me to believe that he ever made a good living there, but I could be wrong. He did successfully raise a decent family there. He was a very kind man.
One other store that I can remember in that area was on North Harvard Street on the left side heading towards Harvard Square, Cambridge. It was set somewhere across from the homes of Smith Street. Smith Street started on North Harvard and swung out on the other end on Western Avenue. The value of that store to us was in that they sold number one kerosene oil for our kitchen stove. We would walk across the field from Smith Playground. From Smith Playground all the way to the Harvard Stadium in those days was a field of grass. No buildings behind that store existed that I can remember. We got five gallons in a glass jug which was flipped over on a stand behind the stove. God help us if we ever dropped or smacked that jug against anything hard and it broke. Of course, such jugs were eventually outlawed from being used, which gave way to the steel type. They were heavy and cumbersome monstrosities.

These stoves were usually Glendale Ranges and were wick fed by gravity and had to be synchronized and balanced perfectly to prevent flooding of the oil and a possible fire. Usually we had a forty gallon brass or copper water tank standing up right on a metal wrought iron stand for hot water. A double wick system was used when hot water was needed and it of course burned the oil twice as fast. In the summer months that kitchen was very hot. It took four or five hours to heat up for a bath. We had to on occasion heat up buckets of water on the stove for extra water to make enough for that bath.  These systems were in fact dangerous and some homes were lost due to them in past years. Oil soaked linoleum in the kitchens behind could easily catch on fire if one was not careful.


In the mid forties jobs, were very abundant for even those of us who did not finish schooling. A willingness to work hard was all that was required. This was the case of Al Kelly and myself. We started our labor carriers working our first real jobs for Albany Carpet Cleaning Company. This was in our home town of Allston. Albany Carpet had come down in prior years from Somerville and had settled in the community area that was called Hanoville. At that time, they were the top carpet cleaning operation in the State, with Able and Adams & Swett secondary to them. In fact the street they were on was named Rugg Road. The going labor wages were around seventy five cents an hour. We worked at odd jobs in the plant, or, if you were a real workhorse, out on the truck picking up and delivering the carpets. On a good day you had 60 to 80 stops per day, and came in late. You were on the clock, and no time and a half after forty hours, just straight overtime. On a slow day you perhaps had thirty to forty stops.

On summers you picked up and for some customers who went away for the summer they were stored in there Fireproof Storage Facilities. How fireproof was always open to question, since this building was also in the winter months the Allston Bowledrom, where if we were really good workhorses we got to work at night and set up pins. All that was required for the position was a good back. Ten cents a string, and tips if the bowlers were generous enough to slide them down to you.

Al had a pick up in Newton one day. Now this was a hard job we had. No need for intelligence, but a willingness to carry on our shoulders rolled carpets. Very careful we had to be to avoid chandeliers and the like delicate items, permanently built or not. We slid them in one side of the truck bed of the van, while the other side was separated for delivery of the cleaner carpets rolled and wrapped. The carpets had different weights according to there make, with the Orientals being the heaviest.


My Grandmother was a Canadian who had come down with all ten of her kids sometime in the very early thirties. Her name was Maud Fraser. They had come down from Prince Edward Island. Her husband, Ned Fraser, my grandfather, came down to Boston to start a new life here in Allston. They had moved to 11 Mansfield Street, and in the mid forties moved again to 81 Linden Street.

She had first started a restaurant on Inman Street, Cambridge, and finally moved her complex to the Bridge Cafe which is now C G Young supply stores. This was on the top of the Bridge over-passing the Mass Pike, and on the corner of Highgate street. Her daughters and my mother Flo were waitresses for several years there. She was the cook. I ate many suppers there. It was also a bar room on its other half.


I was fourteen at the time just prior to November when I would turn fifteen, and this was in 1947. “Hey Dick”, Bobby, a new friend said to me, “Want a part time job? Come with me tonight and I’ll get you in the National Guard down at the Commonwealth Armory. They reactivated a year ago and are looking for soldiers”.

He did not tell me he would get a financial reward for bringing in someone else, something along the line of twenty five dollars. They at the time were building up their strength and every body counted. The trick with getting in at an early age was that we had to get written parents consent. That is all that was required. Some of us looked older then we really were and lying about our age was easy, and most of those letters of consent were faked. Parents finding out of course put a quick stop to it. The kids that were caught had to finally explain what they were doing every Monday night. Two hours of playing soldier every Monday evening at the Commonwealth Armory had to be found out eventually, and you just did not just disappear every summer for training for two weeks without explanation.

Most of these kids lasted no more then sixth months whereupon they were dismissed. However I remained for ten and a half years and was of course the youngest member of the Guard at the time. Quite a distinction. I had remained a member, even though they attempted to draft me, for those ten and a half years. I have no regrets. Those at the time who had not attended drills or skipped more then three drills had there names sent right into the draft board and had been sent off to full time military duty. Some of those who did duty in Korea did not return.


Brighton was known best in the early century to the time in around the mid Fifties as that section of Boston where the Slaughterhouse was. Sometime in the mid-fifties the facilities were shut down and companies within went elsewhere or were out of business. Commercial enterprises eventually went in there and along Nonantum Road after new road construction was done.

The entire abattoir was demolished, buildings being removed and the land flattened out. This establishment was on the corner of Market and Arsenal Streets. It had been set up along the Charles River. If you lived in that northern section and sections of adjoining Allston, the windows were for the most part closed on the northern side as far as a half mile, the smell being that bad from the abattoir. We had the glue factory, the Fertilizer and fisheries canning, as well as the sausage plant. There was also the Tannery.

Up the street from me in Allston, on Raymond Street was a man by the name of Ned White, who had the pleasant job of bashing with a sledge the top of the Steers heads to knocking them senseless so workers could hook them up by the hind quarters and sling them upside down to slash their throats. They would lead the animal to a huge block and setting the animals head it on it Ned White would give one huge overhead smack on top.  Then they traveled on conveyers and were skinned and stripped down. The hides went to the tanneries to be salted up and preserved for shipping to the leather works. No part of the Animal was spared or wasted.

The pollutants from these companies caused the Charles River to close all of the beaches along the river. Allston had its Pebble Beach which was close to the old Charles River Speedway. Further down into Cambridge we had the Magazine beach facilities.

Not much good can be said of this section of Brighton. Many of the workers had spent their evening hours after work in the "Plantation," a bar and hangout for those who drank. Some of the Moms would occasionally send their kids down to get Dad home for the late supper. That was a joke. The dads still rolled in late with the suppers in the oven, or sometimes in the garbage barrel. This of course depended on how tolerant Mom was.

Of course you had other places to work in those days far better then the Slaughter house. BF Goodrich, better know as Hood Rubber was further up in on Arsenal Street in Watertown, and of course the Watertown Arsenal. Middlesex button was another company on Lincoln Street in the Allston section. Industrial Enameling, and Albany Carpet, and Perini Battery up in Waltham, Lewis Shepherd fork lift companies in Watertown, Waltham Watch, a biggie for many years in the area, and Raytheon. All these companies made it possible for the layman to put supper on the table in the mid fifties.

One summer day when I was around fourteen my father asked if I would like to accompany him on his job for the day, so I would understand just what he did for a living. When he was ever asked what he did he simply would reply that he was “In the meat business”.

He drove truck for the New England Rendering Company. During the course of the day he must have stopped at sixty or more butcher shops. The butchers had scrap bone and fats in small barrel containers and he would sling them up on the truck bed and fill the fifty gallon drums up.

It was heavy and hard work, and he was as strong as an ox. He also was no one to fool with in the local pubs. I know, and I saw. By the end of the day he had those barrels filled to the top. His route was Roxbury and Dorchester. He traveled Blue Hill Ave, Talbot Ave and Washington Street, as well as the Dudley Square sections.
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