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Life on the Corner: Remembering Salem Street in the 1950’s

Salem Street in Boston’s Old North End

This picture shows Salem St. at the intersection of Cross Street on a Saturday morning in the early to mid nineteen fifties. It was taken from the newly built Central Artery.

It is especially meaningful to me because I was living in the building at the corner of Salem and Cross at that time, 53 Salem St., and Joe Tecce was my landlord. Joe’s mother lived on the top floor, we were on the second and Joe’s sister Adaline was on the first. Adaline’s son Eugene, we called him Gene Boy, was my first and best friend. Angelo (Nano) Perrachi and his cousin Danny (Boone) Puopolo lived next door. The Piso family, Sam, Peter, Donny Boy, etc., lived a short distance away on Stillman St. An interesting crowd.

Joe and his brothers ran a number of businesses from that building. You can see the fruit displays extending into the street and they had a fish market and small restaurant for a while as well. If you look closely there is a sign on the outside of the building that says “Joes”.

At that time Salem St. was a busy mercantile area crowded with meat markets, fruit stands and Italian grocery stores. Anthony Martignetti had a big salumaria at the corner of Salem and Wiggit Sts. Beyond Parmenter St. there were more dry goods merchants, most of them Jewish, who were an important part of the North End Community. Etta’s House of Fashion, Meyer’s Bargain Center, Clayman’s and Resnick’s Hardware Store were local institutions.

Giuffre’s Fish Market was famous all over Boston. The fish was the freshest and in the entrance way was a large steel container filled with live snails. We used to steal them and take them home as pets.

In front of Giuffre’s were two old Italian men selling pizzas and boiled crabs from pushcarts. The pizza was a nickel a slice and the crabs were either five cents or ten cents depending on the size. He also occasionally sold periwinkles five cents a bag with a pin to extract the meat. At Christmas and New Years time eating eels was a Southern Italian tradition and Giuffre had tubs of live, slimy eels out on the sidewalk ready to be skinned.

On Friday and Saturday nights Giuffre’s would throw out the fish heads in wooden boxes filled with saw dust. Gene Boy and I loved throwing fish heads into the open windows of cars leaving the Sumner Tunnel. It was great fun growing up in the North End.

Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.

26 Replies to “Life on the Corner: Remembering Salem Street in the 1950’s

  1. So glad to see this so I can show my friends – no one believes me when I tell them I used to buy crabs from the “crab man” and sit on the curb and eat them! Thank you!

  2. What a great article, a mercantile memory just in time for the coming of Feast of the Seven Fishes. What a neighborhood we once were.

  3. Agnes “Once were” is an understatment. From what I read each day the North End has changed, some say for the better and I have to believe that, but what disgusts me is the filth and the character of the new renters. I grew up on Endicott St (went to the Eliot School and the Mickie’s!) and have lived in FL for the past 20 years. I go home (still the North End) for the feast of San Antonio each year to see my family and friends….. or what is left of them. I still enjoy it and will continue to do so as long as God gives me the strenght and health. And yes more dated pics of “home” would be appreciated!

  4. You could travel the entire neighborhood and have “adventures” every day. You had access to everywhere. I remember getting into big trouble by using the mechanic’s car dollies as skate boards in the Brinks garage. No matter where you were, there was always someone who could report on your activities. With ten cents in your pocket you could have an entire day of free roaming pleasure—periwinkles, slush, or perusing Joe and Mary Mancuso’s penny candy counter at their corner store, (Cooper and No. Margin), or an ice cream cone at Burden’s drug store. If you had a quarter, you could top it all off with a new comic book purchased on Hanover Street or go to the movies at the “Lanky”, (the Lancaster at No. Station). Growing up in the north end was like growing up in a Fellini movie…so many things happening at once, so many “events” each and every day.


  6. @C. Collarusso going to the” Lanky” on Sunday was always an adventure the Wet End kids would sit on on one side of the aisle & the North End kids on the other side.Burdens drug store had a drink called a Tamarindo if you could scrape up a nickel. We had the ice man.the oil man, the rag man & the Watermelon man some on horse & wagon peddling their wares in the neighborhood & too many mom & pop & family businesses to list.It was a great time & a great place to grow up especially at Christmas which would begin with midnight mass at St. Leonard’s church..

  7. I’m glad so many people enjoyed this old photo of Salem St. I have lots of others but they are in black and white. Vito Aluia probably has the best collection of North End pictures.
    The picture is interesting from a number of aspects. The most striking is the tremendous amount of street activity which is what made the North End so interesting and so safe. We are losing that as more storefronts are turned into apartments.
    I should have mentioned that virtually all the apartments in the North End at that time were what we called, “cold water flats”. That meant no central heat and the only hot water came from a small tank attached to the kitchen stove. During cold weather the stove was kept on 24/7 but the back bedroom, where Bobby and I slept, was COLD. Winter mornings the inside of the bedroom windows would be coated with ice and we would scratch our fingernails on it to make patterns. We had a small kerosene heater for a while that burned what we called coal oil. Resnick’s Hardware sold it for, I think, a quarter a gallon. My mother got rid of it because my brother and I tipped it over a couple of times while it was lit. My kids don’t believe me when I tell them this but it is absolutely true. Living without central heat (or iPhones & iPads) is unimaginable to them.

    1. attention Dr.Nick, Still tipping over the kerosene tank,our’s was in the kitchen,the finger nail scratching on the ice frozen window was great for imaginary animals. Please write me Labor Day Sunday at Gloucester ” Lucas”
      This is Ron E Mail Have some photos for you !!! Best Ron Nasson
      Phone 508-665-6506

  8. The picture was terrific along with the memories but you could have eliminated
    the last two sentences which would be filed under the title….hooliganism.

  9. Great piece Nick!! It brought me back to weekly shopping trips with my father to the North End from our home in Everett. I remember the snails!! Another corner store i remember vividly sold great lemon slush. I can’t remember the name. Thanks for sharing the memories!!

  10. OMG! Loved this post. What memories. You forgot Sheldon’s. I would ask my father for money to buy my mother a “house coat” what a gift! at Meyer’s and stare at the nazi tattoos on their fore arms and be sad about………….
    I knew not what exactly at the time.
    Bought from a push cart and ate “peeniwincles” with a safety pin sitting on the side walk in front of my building on Endicott. St. Flick off the eye, stab out the meat and throw the shell in the gutter! What a mess.

  11. Tony, the store that sold the Italian slush was Polcari’s Coffee Co at the corner of Parmenter and Salem Sts. They’re still there and the slush is as good as ever. I’ll bet you brought your Harvard classmates to the North End to show them what life in the ghetto was like.
    Carmel, I did forget Sheldon’s, unforgivable since I lived on the same block. Where else could you get an oriental rug for twenty five bucks?
    Thirty years ago Meyer and his wife Silvia came to my office. He took one look at me, pointed his finger and said, you lived across the street. He was right. He and Silvia met in the death camps which were as close to Hell as any of us will experience in this world but they were always happy and cheerful. They loved working in the North End and enjoyed all the different characters who came to their store, even the legions of shoplifters who tried to beat Meyer. He had sharp eyes and swift legs. He was great friends with Professor Ingo who had an acadamy of music on the third floor.

    1. I remember the candy store on Salem St. run by a kid named {of course} Joe “Candy” & the original Umberto’s pizza around the corner from Polcaris.

  12. Boy do I miss Sheldon’s! Got my kids’ Eliot uniforms there…had to dust them off but they were half the price of other stores!

  13. Laura, I know Joe started on Salem St. and then grew so big he went to North Washington St. and

    now Tecce’s is gone, and we all miss it terribly. Tecce’s Restaurant had a lot of politicians and

    movie stars, and there was never any madness like there is now. The World & this Neighborhood

    is no longer the same.

    1. “This neighborhood will never be the same” keeps popping up! Of course it won’t, just as Downtown Crossing will never be the same….one could say that about many, many neighborhoods. Time marches on, and we, with it.

  14. Joe Tecce’s on Salem St was a favorite dining spot for Elizabeth Taylor whenever she was in the Boston area.Stella’s on fleet was a favorite for Jackie Kennedy & many other celebrities.

  15. Great article, Nick. It makes one nostalgic for the good old days! Came to NE in the early 70’s . It was a wonderful neighborhood to move to. My first visit was to Umberto’s – then onto the Salumeria on Richmond for a great visit with Ermidio, a true gentleman!
    Thanks for sharing bits of your childhood – oh the fun you had…

  16. I remember all what a great walk down memory lane! We lived at 440 Hanover St. 7 kids in four rooms one fan on a hot summer night we would sleep up the roof in winter we too had coal to heat stove and put orange peels on it to make house smell nice. My Mother spoke yoddish and when the couple with numbers on their arm would talk and charge more money she would understand they where amazed! She learned by working in factory stitching clothes at 105 years old today she still folds material. Spoke Italian in house American when she went out and didn’t have an accent!

  17. What was the name of the Butcher shop on Endicott street ? A few door left of Purity Cleese. We used to call it the “Stinky Meat Market” had rabbits hanging in the window.

    1. Marie, the Tammaro family owned the meat market that was across the street from St. Mary’s Church.

  18. There was an elderly lady on the Guiffre’s corner who sold light brown paper shopping bags, I always thought she was saying “commona bag”. We used to tease her all the time. What pains!

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