Life on the Corner: The North End Beach

Now that summer is almost here the North End, the Mirabella pool is getting set to open for another season. What a great urban amenity this is for all North End children and families to enjoy.

Before the swimming pool was built by the city back in the 1960’s we had a beach right where the North End Park is and the post card I’m sharing shows the beach probably in the 1920’s or earlier.

If you look carefully you will notice that at that time the sand extended all the way up to Commercial Street. Later, a football/baseball field replaced much of the sand.

The elevated railway which joined North Station to South Station is clearly visible and don’t we miss it? The tenement buildings on Commercial Street look the same as today but the large brick buildings in the background were commercial warehouses. The US Government eventually bought them and extended the Coast Guard base.

The photo was taken from a pier which still existed when I was a child and extended into the harbor perpendicular to the beach. There were changing rooms, lockers and showers on the pier, one side for men and the other for women. Good swimmers like my uncle Fred, would jump off the top of the pier, swim to the Charlestown Navy Yard, touch the warships and swim back. That was quite an achievement and something which gave a considerable amount of local prestige. The Navy sailors were always amused and called the North End boys “seals” because they got so dark in the summer. I wonder if North End boys were the original Navy Seals?

I remember the harbor as being fairly clean except at low tide when the Charles River locks would open and all kinds of flotsam and jetsam would wash down the river. At that time the river was much more polluted than the harbor which was flushed twice a day by the tides.

Until the 1960’s polio epidemics would regularly sweep into the city especially in the summer. Anyone who could afford it sent their family away to live with family or friends in distant suburbs or their kids to camp. Swimming pools were called “polio pits” and there was some concern about replacing the clean beach with a pool where kids urinated in recycled water. Dr. Salk’s vaccine came to the rescue but we were all terrified of living in an iron lung. The March of Dimes was established to combat the polio epidemic.

In July and August the moon jellyfish would arrive and fill the harbor with their gently undulating orbs. It seemed like there were millions of them and swimming in the ocean became interesting. If you ducked under the water you would often come up with a gelatinous yarmulke on your head which you could throw at one of the girls.

So, enjoy our wonderful, jellyfish free, North End pool this summer. We’re lucky to have it and it makes living in our neighborhood much more enjoyable.

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.

18 Replies to “Life on the Corner: The North End Beach

  1. Thanks for the nice article Nick. Loved the photo too. The Mirabella pool was an incredible place for N.E. families. We had a birds eye view of the pool from Jackson Ave. Happy memories. Keep those great stories coming!

    1. Two of my favorite lifeguards at the pool were Paul Lydon and Chick Orlandi.
      Paul was a Charlestown boy. His father was Tommy Lydon who was Clerk of Suffolk Superior Court, a very important job. Paul has a swimming school at the North Shore Mall and is doing well. I took my lifeguard training course with Paul.
      Chickie Orlandi was a North End hero, a big, good looking guy who was a smooth talker.
      Some of the local wise guys owned a hotel in Florida and asked Chick if he would consider being a life guard there in the winter. It meant dropping out of school but who could resist an offer like that and, he could live on the yacht also owned by the “family.” Chickie was living in “babe” city.
      So one day Chick is sitting in his life guard chair surrounded by bikini clad girls when he sees a little, old Italian lady, all dressed in black, walking towards him on the pool apron. He couldn’t believe it. Then he realized it was his mother coming to bring him home. They were both on the next plane back to the North End.

  2. I have a large, framed copy of this postcard on the wall of my office at work. Back in 1992, I showed this photo to neighbors who were then in their 80s and 90s. Everyone remembered the beach, but not one remembered the lower, attractive building in front of the warehouses. I assume that the photo dates to about 1910, if not earlier.

    On the left side of the photo, you might be able to make out a fence that separated the beach, down to the water. Women were allowed to swim on one side of the fence, in a very small area up against the seawall and the old Floating Hospital pier. They are dressed head to toe. The much larger part of the beach was for the men and boys, who also got to enjoy the diving platform. Up against the fence are a dozen men in suits and hats, peering at something on the other side.

      1. Nick,
        This is Carl Ameno and I run the pool during the summers. Is there anyway I can borrow that postcard to have it enlarged so I can hang it as a poster down the pool. I have one similar to this one there already and I’d like to add to it.

        1. Carl, if you send me your email address I will send you a digitized copy of the postcard.
          Matt will give you my email address.

  3. I remember the North End beach very well, Mother would pack a lunch and we would be there all day, what a treat,Thanks Nick.
    Bobby Church

  4. You are not only the best dentist in town (I have three of your implants to prove it) but a wonderful, descriptive writer. For those of us who are new to the North End, this is great stuff.

    1. Thanks, Pat.
      Welcome to the North End. You and Patricia will enjoy living here as long as you follow the rules.
      Rule 1. Never urinate off your roof onto the street.
      Rule 2. Never ask the guys hanging around the Cafe’ Vittoria what they do for a living.
      Rule 3. It’s gravy not sauce.
      Rule 4. Latte’s are for tourists and sissies. Real men drink espresso macchiato’s all day. Decaff? Fuhgettaboutit.
      Got it?

  5. My cousins lived in the North end and I remember watching them jump off that pier. I always loved the North end and still go there when I come to Boston, gotta have Mike’s pinole cookies. Plus I love all the summer fiestas. Thanks for the memory.

  6. Thanks Nick for the great memories and the picture. I didn’t know that was all sand at some point. I remember going to the beach. But, I always remember there being the North End Park.

    The North End pier eventually was closed because it was rotting. That too became another dangerous playground for us. We spent a lot of time on that pier (after climbing the fence) avoiding the holes and weak boards.

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