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Life on the Corner: A Walk Down Hanover Street – Part II

Hanover St. 1948, European Restaurant

It’s a misty day on Hanover Street during the late 1940’s. The street was still paved with cobblestones at that time and don’t those old cars look terrific? They give the scene a noir feel which seems right in character. This photo was taken from the corner of Cross Street looking North towards the Coast Guard base.

The buildings are essentially the same as today but the mix of shops is very different. On the left is the European restaurant, a North End institution for a generation. The food was red sauce Italian but surprisingly good. The prices were always moderate and where else in the city, other than Chinatown, could a party of eight without a reservation be seated immediately?

When you walked in the door you were greeted by Chuck the severe, unsmiling maitre d’ who always wore a pastel tuxedo. If Chuck liked you he would seat you on the first floor, if he didn’t you were banished to the cavernous upstairs room. They held a wake at City Hall when the European closed.

Two department stores are visible, Arthur’s on the right and Newman’s on the left. Right under the Arthur’s sign is a smaller sign for the Cafe Roma, a wonderful coffee and pastry shop, and one of many on Hanover Street.

When we look at these old photos we are naturally drawn to the street activity but if you divert your attention to the second floor windows you will see that many of them have signs. That was because in addition to retail shops the North End also had many white collar professionals, doctors, lawyers, dentists and accountants, who catered to the needs of Italian Americans. When this photo was taken there must have been ten physicians in the North End, all general practitioners, and a truly remarkable group of men. At a time when no one had health insurance they treated North End people with kindness and compassion and they never refused a patient for lack of money. I always wondered how they could possibly make a decent living when an office visit was $5.00, a house call $10.00 and people only went to the doctor if they were really sick? (I also wondered the same thing about banks. Why were there so many banks in a supposedly poor neighborhood and all of them crowded?)

About fifteen years ago I met an elderly man at my Mass General office who asked to see me because he knew my family in Medford. When he heard I lived in the North End he was elated because he told me he used to work there. Odd, I thought, he had an Irish name and at first I thought he must have been a police officer. When I asked what he did he lowered his voice and placed his hand over his mouth and told me he was a drug “detail man” for Merck Sharp & Dohme. He called on all the doctors and pharmacies in the North End. In fact, he said, some of the North End doctors were among Merck’s best customers. I couldn’t imagine what he could have sold them; there were only a few antibiotics available at that time, penicillin, aureomycin and sulfa. Were those the drugs they bought? He was very reluctant to tell me but I finally got to the truth, the drug was testosterone which just became available in the late 1940’s. Unbelievable, but it made perfect sense. In the era before Viagra, testosterone injections could make a middle aged man feel like a teenager, and you had to get re-injected every two to four weeks. Pretty good business model. Of course testosterone had many side effects including increased aggression and violent behavior. Hmmm, makes you wonder.

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.

8 Replies to “Life on the Corner: A Walk Down Hanover Street – Part II

    1. my great grandfather Domenico Maiocco along with his brother Enrico were the original founders and owners of The European. Who is Mike?

      1. Patti, I met your great grandmother many years ago when I was a young man. She was a lovely and elegant lady who wore the biggest diamonds I had ever seen.

  1. Nick,
    My Nonni was a very formidable lady, lol!

    Your great grandfather was brought into the family business after 1946. My great grandfather died in 1946 and my great grandmothers brother Joseph Maiocco took over his share. Then Enrico died and Joseph brought in Mike. Then Mike left and another Maiocco, Nick, (Joe’s son) took over. Either before or after Joseph died, I’m not sure, The last owner came in Gus Aprile who ran it with Nick until it closed!

    1. They’ve opened at another location, in Chelmsford. It’s called Aprile’s European, so I’m assuming it’s the same owner.

      I grew up in Medford and we’d always hit up the European after attending a feast, often times late at night. And yes, we were a very large party and always seated right away. Downstairs, though, as I remember it. This was in the ’80s.

  2. My Dad was on the Coast Guard in Boston during the 1950s! He has fond memories of Scolly Square. He has often talked about getting a Submarine sandwich at a small place. He remembers the lady who was there baked an incredible bread in an old oven. He can’t remover the name of the place but he loved it!

  3. What ever happened to Chuck, please? Dealing with some of the (entitled) college crowd, it’s a wonder he kept his sanity. I thought he was terrific & well mannered. Chuck is the type person that “Made” Boston so lovable & liveable at any time. I miss him. RSVP.

    1. His name was Mariano but everyone called him Chuck. He was maitre d’ at the European for many years and his signature look was wearing a brightly colored tuxedo jacket, sort of like Liberace. Very theatrical.
      When I was a teenager a group of us would go to the European for pizza. Chuck must have figured we were bad tippers because he always sat us way in the back or, even worse, in the upstairs dining room. They had an enormous family sized pizza that was so big it had to be oval in shape so it would fit on the table. One pizza could easily feed five or six people. They made a ton of money on those pizzas.
      The European was owned by two well connected guys, Gaetano (Gus) Aprile and Nick Maiocco. Gus’s grandson owns Gaetano’s restaurant in Stoneham and the European pizzeria in Chelmsford. Very good food and worth a ride.
      The European was one of the only places outside of Chinatown where a party of ten could be immediately seated without a reservation. It was a great place and I miss it. Lots of North End guys worked there as waiters.
      Chuck is probably dead now. As far as I know he never worked again after the European closed.

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