Arts & Culture

The Combat Zone Remembered at Schorow’s Book Talk

Schorow addresses the crowd at the North End library.

As author Stephanie Schorow stated during her book talk about Inside the Combat Zone, “You can cut off the supply, but not the demand.”

With the demise of Scollay Square and its titillating attractions due to massive urban renewal in the late 1950s, salacious entertainment moved to the middle of the city in the Washington Street area. This area, historically important as the site of the Liberty Tree during the time of colonial uprising, became a new front for a different type of free speech in this five-to-six block area known as the Combat Zone. Striptease shows, dirty movies and pornographic bookstores abounded.

While some might assume that the name “Combat Zone” derived from the need for a strong police presence, the name in fact came from the servicemen on leave who flocked to the area.Mixing alcohol and drugs with an almost lawless disregard for societal norms meant this den of exotic dancers, prostitutes and organized pickpockets was aptly named.

Attendees listen to Schorow’s book talk.

The remarkable and almost unimaginable transformation of this area from corruption to a thriving neighborhood of college students and high-rise condo dwellers is attributed to a number of factors:

The city planners created zoning requirements, and standards for signage and storefront design were put in place and enforced. All of this may have been for naught except for the development of VCR technology. What previously could only be viewed in a public space moved to private space. Likewise, societal norms changed. Many banned books that had only been available in pornographic bookstores were now in the mainstream.

The rise and demise of the Combat Zone is part of Boston’s history. The Zone is not completely eradicated. If you walk down a certain street, two gentlemen’s clubs are still in business.

This program was generously funded by the Friends of the North End Library.

For more information about the Friends of the NE Library, please email: or go to our website: for membership information and a listing of other programs.

Also, remember our continuing improved daily book sale on the shelves near the front door and in the back of the library. Our book sales are the source of our funds to pay for these exciting programs. Buy a current best seller book, leave a favorite book you read.