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

Hanover Street looking from Richmond Street to Prince Street, November 11, 1948. (Collection # 5110.002), City of Boston Archives

Here is the final photo of Hanover Street in the 1940’s and it depicts the block between Parmenter and Prince Streets.

The first thing to notice is that although the cars and trucks are different, double parking was an issue even back then. Some things never change and probably never will.

There are three pastry shops visible, Spagnuolo’s, which later became Alice’s, Rocco’s and the Cafe Vittoria. Only the Vittoria remains and it is now mostly an espresso bar. William (Yammy) DeMarco ran a gambling club across the street in the Testa Building at 317 Hanover St. which he later moved to the basement of the Cafe Vittoria building. Bill was Jack Kennedy’s North End campaign manager for his Congressional campaign. Here is a link to Billy’s oral history which is archived at the JFK library. It’s well worth reading.

Rocco’s made good pastry and was locally very popular. When Mike Mercogliano first arrived here from Italy he worked as a baker for Rocco and learned the business. After a few years Mike left to open his own shop a few doors down the street and the rest is history. Bill Clinton stopped in Mike’s during his campaign for president and had his first tatse of Italian pastry, I think he had a lobster tail, one of Mike’s innovations. Clinton loved it so much he ordered a box for his staff and later had some sent to the White House.

In the center of the picture is Barone’s drug store. I promised Bobby Church I would publish this photo because he still gets together with his old crowd, the Barone Gang. Barone’s had a soda fountain where vanilla or cherry Cokes were popular drinks. Old man Barone patrolled the store looking out for fresh kids who would run in and grab something. I remember being transfixed by the Evening in Paris display. When I finally saved up enough to buy a small bottle for my mother I couldn’t understand why she never used it.

Drug stores were important institutions in Italian American culture and pharmacists were, and still are, highly respected. In fact, they often acted as surrogate physicians for the many people who couldn’t afford to see a doctor dispensing advice as well as medications. The most common malady was “agita” and a nice glass of Brioschi would fix that.

Just beyond the Cafe Vittoria was Burden’s drug store which was owned by Louie and Jerry Spagnuolo. For five cents you could get a cold tamarindo drink which was dispensed out of an old Coke Cola machine.

There were two other drug stores on Hanover Street, Macaluso Pharmacy on the corner of Hanover and Parmenter and Mondello’s directly across the street. Mondello’s was more of a “omeopatica” and sold all kinds of herbs, unguents and roots. Italians were always into alternative medicines and belief in the evil eye or “malocchio” was widespread. Most Italian young men wore a small, red coral horn or “cornetto” around their necks to ward off the evil eye and increase their sexual potency.

The only locally owned pharmacy left in the North End is the Pharmacia Croce Verde, the Green Cross, owned by Pepi and Fred Giangregorio. They named their pharmacy “Green Cross” because in Italy, and most of Europe, a green cross is the universal symbol for pharmacies. When the Giangregorio brothers first became pharmacists they bought the old Roma pharmacy on the corner of Prince and Salem Streets. They told me it had been a pharmacy since colonial times and could well be the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in the United States. Drop in and ask them about it.

This ends our walk down Hanover Street, I hope you enjoyed it. Hanover Street was the center of Italian American life in greater Boston for over a century and, in many ways, it still is. At least four generations of Italian Americans passed through the North End on their way to the American dream and Hanover Street was the center of their world. The buildings are the same but the stores and people are different, which is actually healthy and indicates the North End is still a desirable place to live and work.

In his great historical novel, The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa has one of his characters, Tancredi, state, “If we want things to stay the same, things must change”. How true.

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.

3 Replies to “Life on the Corner: A Walk Down Hanover Street – Part III

  1. I grew up on the corner of Noyes Place and Salem Street. My parents owned the bakery at that location. The Roma Pharmacy was located at corner of Prince and Salem Streets. If you were ailing, the go to man to see at Roma was Herman. He could also converse in Italian. I thInk I was 21 years old before I realized that Herman Seligman was not a paisan. Nevertheless, he was a terrific man and always very courteous and helpful. Great memories!! BTW, I’ve enjoyed your articles,

  2. Hi Nick,

    I recently moved to the North End and am very interested in learning if you know anything about the Roma Exract store that my grandfather Louis Comtrino owned with his brother Vincent. My mom is 95 and cannot remember the address but remembers the location being across the street from the tunnel.
    My guess is that it opened in the 1920’s and closed in the early 1960’s after being destroyed by fire.
    Any information you may have would be greatly appreciated. I enjoyed reading this article.
    Thank you.


  3. The test to see if someone was cursed [malocchio] was a midwife would sit at your kitchen table along with the person suspected of being cursed. She had a soup bowl filled with water & she pored 3 drops of Olive Oil into the bowl.If the drops formed a corno or corneo [a horn] it meant that someone was jealous or envious of you or a family member & placed the dreaded evil eye on you.

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