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.