Photos & Videos

Photo Remembrance of Salem Street in 1949

Here is another photo of Salem Street. This one was taken in January of 1949 at the corner of Parmenter and Salem Streets.

It’s a Friday morning and the merchants are setting up their displays, some almost in the middle of the street. On the right side you can see Jack’s shoe store, the Liberty Cafe’ and Martignetti’s grocery and wine store. On the left is Resnick’s Hardware and several meat and vegetable shops.

Of course, the most prominent feature is Polcari’s Coffee Shop which is still there. Some men are gathered around two boxes of chestnuts in the street and the outdoor bins have a variety of dried nuts and beans, favas, lupini, pignoli, salted and unsalted pumpkin seeds which we bought for 5 cents an ounce (measured in a shot glass), hazelnuts, almonds and so many more. He also had bins of loose candies and watched out for the fresh boys, scugnizzi, who would grab a handful and run. Old Mr. Rafaelle Polcari used to roast his own coffee and the smell was wonderful. Inside the store was a wooden rack with small bottles of concentrated flavorings, anisette, scotch, creme de menthe and many more. It was common for Italians to make their own liqueurs and everyone had a secret recipe.

In the middle of Salem St., you can see a young woman pushing a baby carriage with a cute little boy holding on. That boy is me and my brother Bobby is in the carriage, probably fussing about something. My mother is taking us from our apartment at 53 Salem to nonna Colomba’s at 109 Salem. The language of Salem St was Neapolitan dialect and you would hear people yelling, stai zitto, hey gualio, or ma che cazza un culo. Doesn’t seem so long ago.

See more photo remembrances by Nick Dello Russo.

38 Replies to “Photo Remembrance of Salem Street in 1949

  1. Nicholas,
    Great photo! Do you know anything about the Hardware store? It may have been owned by my family but I don’t know too much about it.

  2. The hardware store was owned by Sam Resnick and, after Sam died, by his son, Donald. A great family and I think they originally came from the West End. They were one of the last stores to sell appliances, toasters, etc., that worked on DC, direct current. Few people remember but the North End was the last section of the city to have direct current, I think AC, alternating current, came in sometime in the early fifties. The direct current was generated by the power station at the corner of Prince and Salem Sts and I remember it humming day and night. When we went to AC everyone had to buy new appliances. Years later a friend of mine commented on how many people he knew who lived in that immediate area had died of cancer. We wondered if the DC generating station could have been the cause.

  3. The morning gift of this photograph and commentary is what makes the newsletter part of my daily life.

  4. Great Pictures Nick, and that shot with your Mom with the carriage, I miss the simple times of then, thanks for the picture.
    Bobby Church

  5. This photo brought back memories of bygone days when men wore suits and women wore skirts. I have such great memories of shopping on Salem St. with my mother and going into Polcaris. Thanks for a happy memory!

  6. There is a great shot [ although brief] of Salem St. from the orginal film “The Thomas Crown Affair” starring Faye Dunawaw & Steve McQueen.Dunaway & McQueen also filmed a scene in what we called Slide park {correct name Slye Park] in the scene as the actors are having a conversation you can clearly see the name “Canary” painted in bold white letters on the wall behind them.The Martignetti sign in tha above photo brings back many memories of shopping there with my mother.Great photos & memories thanks Nick.

    1. you can also see snakey on the same wall i was there canary was my friend he was the older brother of donald and jane and arthur

      1. yekans,pretty clever I didn’ pick it up at first but yekans selled back-wards i snakey.Was Canary’s first name Richard & didn’t he ave another sister beside Janie?

  7. MIchaeld, I remember when they filmed that movie in the Slide Park. My cousin Frankie is in the movie with other N.E kids playing stick ball. My family lived at 5 Jackson Ave. so we got to see some of the filming.

  8. MIchaeld, wasn’t Canary a nickname for a guy from N.E.? I remember my cousin had a friend named Canary.

  9. Michaeld, we always called it Slide Park because you could slide down the granite railings before they installed the decorative ironwork. The iron railings were placed because so many kids were falling off and breaking their heads. I suppose it kept the “special class” in the Mickeys full.

  10. Further down Salem St. in between Etta’s dress shop & Sheldon’s clothing store there was a grocery store called “Johnny Gaetas”[dont know if the spelling of Gaetas is correct] my mother would send me there to buy groceries & of course play her 25 daily numbers for 1cent apiece.On occasion when we didn’t have enough money for the bill Johnny or one of the Cataldo brothers who worked there would put the tab “on the cuff”

  11. It’s easy to tell that this photograph wasn’t taken in the summer of 1949. Not only is everyone wearing a coat, but also there’s no “slush” bucket in the doorway of Polcari’s!
    Let’s tag a few more people in the photo. The lady pushing the pram is my grandmother, Emily Parisi, and her baby is Bobby Dello Russo (“the other Bobby”). Trotting along beside her is my dad, Nicky, who seems to be checking out Jack’s Family Shoe Store (I understand: for whatever reason, the Varese Shoe Store displays on Hanover Street mesmerized me, too, when I was a child).
    Fast forward thirty years from the time this photo was taken, and you’d have my mother, Paula, pushing a slightly updated version of the baby carriage around that same street corner, with me as the little kid not quite so willing to run errands in the North End. It was just too hard to resist touching all the produce and animal carcasses outside of the shops! I must have grabbed a fistful of nuts or beans every time we passed by.
    Polcari’s and Rosario’s anchor my memories in this area. I don’t feel old until I return to Downtown Crossing and find that it’s been turned into a fast food cafeteria.
    For once, some of the things you relate here, Dad, I already know: not from you, but from Michele Topor, who leads very well-thought out market tours of the North End. She talks about Polcari’s in the same way that you do. And on her tour you learn that Polcari’s still sells the different flavors for homemade liqueurs!
    On a final confessional note, below a street sign in the lower left-hand corner stating the impossible (“No Parking Any Time”) is another pointing the way to the North End Union. It was there that I learned the Italian expressions that you use in your article and much worse, which you certainly would have washed my mouth out with soap for using! Come to think of it, just the thought brings the taste of lye into my mouth, so you or Mom probably did.

    1. Jessica, I must make a confession as well.I too grabbed a handful of nuts every time I walked by Polcaris in my youth my favorites where [i know i’m probably butchering the spelling} cheegadees “Josie the Baker” would pass them out to us along with a cup of red home made wine when we made a stop at her Unity St.bakery carrying the statue of St. Aggripina. I also sampled quite a few olives walking down Salem St.

      1. Josie only had one arm, the other got cut off in the bread making machine. She did pretty well with one arm.

  12. Hi Nick,
    My grandfather owned that produce stand next to Polcari’s…his name was Marco (Mike) Augello. I swear I can see him in the photo! He and my Uncle Buster Augello worked it together…does that sound familiar to you?

    1. I do remember your grandfather’s fruit and vegetable store, nice man who was very honest. A couple of doors down from him was Joe (Joe Bananas) Anastasi’s banana store. I went to school with Joe’s daughter, Maria. Back then bananas were imported on these big stalks and sometimes Joe found giant spiders and snakes hidden in the stalks. He had a special curved blade banana knife to cut the “hands” off the stalks or to kill nasty spiders.

  13. Jacks shoe store.. white keds sneakers every spring.. penny loafers when school started and he used to give the pencil box with the multiplication tables on it.. the store used to smell like leather as soon as you walked in..and they actually fitted your feet and width for your shoes!

  14. What ever happened to Sheldon’s on Salem St.? He was a Jewish man with a Hebrew accent? I remember going in there when
    I was young?

    1. the family didn’t want the business any more they sold out… anna lightman sold bras n night gowns beautiful christing outfits..myers was a holocaust… daves sold bed spreads ..we had jewish merchants.. they were good to the people in the north end.. and ettas fashion house… we had everything we needed then in the north end.. our own little world..

  15. Love seeing that picture of Salem Street, it brought me back to wonderful memories of Salem Street and the way it was

  16. Yes, our world was complete. I remember my mother bartering in Yiddish with the Jewish merchants. It was part of shopping. My mother learned Yiddish working in factories as a sticher. I remember Etta also. She had some nice stuff, big prices too.
    Julie (Pizzuto) Ischia

  17. Does anyone remember the man that sold Sicilian pizza from a makeshift cart on wheels on Salem St. It was the best pizza I ever had!

  18. Hello, does anyone remember a Joe Sciacca? He was an amputee.His left arm. He might have been related to a Doctor Sciacca? I think he was born on 8/27/05 died 4/2/54. If anyone remembers or can tell me who I might contact to help me? My email is

  19. Thanks, Nick, for this wonderful insight into the history of our neighborhood! Does anyone remember a 5 and dime type store at the Cross St end of Salem St? I was told that it was owned by my husband’s grandparents so we would love to learn more about it.

  20. I really enjoyed seeing this picture. It’s magical how one photograph could stir up so many wonderful memories and initiate so much dialog. I would have been 7 years old when this picture was taken. This picture gave me a “longing” for the days gone by. Thank you for sharing it.

  21. A walk down memory lane for me would include Anna’s Pizza on Charter,the original Umberto’s on Parmenter, The Dairy Queen , Paul the butcher on Prince,& Muzzi the butcher on Salem,& Izzy’s on Prince & of course Roger’s where you could buy “two loose” Coogies on Hanover next door to Carlo’s pool room ,Fiore’s & the Blue Front,the Golden I , Sam Scola’s, Al’s toy store & Pals Lunch just to name a few .

      1. It was the Boston “I” Store. The “I” stood for Italian. It was owned by the Silvestri family from Somerville and then Winchester. The son of the owner, Tony Silvestri, is a dentist in the Financial District.

  22. Wonderful memories, good history lesson and some excellent dialog!
    It’s amazing what a photo can evoke–humor, recollection, conversation and knowledge.
    I never “hit” Polcari’s for the nuts or beans but I did take string beans from the produce store @ the
    corner of Fleet and North St.
    Thanks for sending !!

  23. My dad and his family lived at 36 North Bennett St rear, top floor.
    His name was George. He lived there for 30 years.
    He drove a trolley for the MBTA.
    Did you know Freddie and Richie Bertucci?
    They lived on the first floor.
    Thanks for sharing the photos.
    George Dello Russo

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