An account of the old West End from one of its last survivors, name withheld by request.
(1950’s) I had one of these scooters, made from fruit boxes, that my father would pin with the caps of soda bottles, my uncle would make them for me too, with the caps, paint it black. The only thing was the neighbors, because the metal wears clacking down the sidewalks, all the neighbors used to complain, I remember skating with metal skates and it would vibrate the streets… you know just those good times as a child, the childhood, before you grow, you’re so innocent, and these were the times.
When I got older I moved out to California and when I came back to the area and saw the view standing from the Longfellow bridge of the vastness that was once my neighborhood it was like I lost a leg, i just couldn’t believe the magnitude of the deconstruction.
My mother and father came from Sicily and whole family area was raised around Boston suburbs and we got a lot of good memories, mostly good. When we lived in the West End I never knew that we were poor until I became an adult, it was just a community, I was just one of everyone else.
I used to swim in the Charles River, I used to swim where they had a little beach there– between Charles River and the dam, and then they shut it down because it became polluted- I was just telling my nephew, he’s from the North End at the side closest to Leverett St. As you can see from old pictures, the West End was just like the North End, you know, with the tenement buildings, the only real difference was the North End was for the most part all Italians and the West End was really a mix- we had the Italians as well as the Polish, Irish, Jewish and even the African Americans.
I was just telling him [my nephew] a little while ago I moved to California in 1962 and before I moved I read an article in the newspaper about the Charles River that they had stopped all the things that were contributing to the pollution of it, and they said they had stopped all of that, but they said it would take twenty-five years for the river to cleanse itself. Now, a hell of a lot more than twenty-five years have gone by, and while I think it is probably clean enough to swim in it now, I don’t think they would open it up again because they’d be afraid of liability, somebody drowns and the city is going to be sued. I don’t think they’d ever get it back open to the way it was again, but I have good memories of swimming by the Longfellow bridge and all that.
I was on Prince St the other day as a matter of fact, and I yelled out, “Anthony!” We stopped at a bakery for some pizza and were sitting on the stoops, at Parziales, and one of the kids that came out who lives above it and rents from them told me he pays $900 a month for rent. I told him that growing up you had to be poor to live in the North End, rent was about an average of seven dollars a month. At the turn of the century, it was a lot of Jewish coming in to the North End. Salem st stores were family-run Jewish businesses that stayed in the community even after most of their families had left the neighborhood–the first floors of the streets were lined with shops and storefront to serve the community– it would have been unheard of for people to live in the basements and first floors like they do today. The basements were the motion of turning over the families wine-making, the secret family recipes, the dirty jobs when the tunnels were still open; the first floor was to sell the product your family tended– for the Jewish a lot of tailor shops, dry-good stores, for the Italians- a lot of bakeries, shoe stores (such as “Johnny Shoes” on Salem) and meat markets and shops. There was rabbits hanging from windows.
The only thing that I can see about the North End that hasn’t changed is that if I were to move back I still wouldn’t find a need to have a car, the transit system brings you anywhere you need to go.
Recently I was walking by the Mass General, and I got really sad, because I realized how much I miss my childhood, I miss when I was six and seven years old playing in the streets, and in those days there was no fear, well besides the fear from the tone of mothers voices echoing, but there was no real fear like there is today, it was a much safer society then. People don’t get that.