I spend a great deal of my research time digging through photo archives. The Boston Public Library’s vast image collection constantly amazes me. I find so many treasures there. Often they do not include much in the way of notations or exact dates of photography. Truly, if I still lived in Boston, I’d volunteer my time to help them add some notes to these precious bits of Boston history. I do my part, as best I can, by sharing my thoughts here with you about some of these great retro Boston photos!
Today we look at the parking problems Boston faced in the mid-1950’s.
Boston, like all other American cities of the 1950’s, faced the issue of the mounting number of homes owning cars. Also Boston was trying to get shoppers back to downtown Boston...the allure of the suburban malls was growing rapidly. Malls had the added attraction of LOTS of free parking. A huge plus for many shoppers and a big worry for Boston based merchants.
The City of Boston had a reputation for taking buildings by eminent domain and in September 1955 it took a small group of older buildings next to RH White’s Department Store. These six buildings all date to the late Victorian period (or early 1900's) and were five and six floors in height. In 1955 no special studies were done about their architectural significance, so by mid-1956...they were history. A new automated parking garage was going up and was to be ready by that Christmas.
Boston was busy building new parking facilities and the one on Hayward Place was to be the most modern by 1956 standards.
The photos seen here show RH White’s and various phases of the demolition work to prepare the place where the new garage would eventually stand....until 1980 when it would be demolished as part of the Lafayette Place project.
I have added a few notes on some of the photographs for you to enjoy...but I shall say a few more things here. Why not?
I would like to add that the little lane between RH White’s and the demolition site was called Norfolk Place. Long gone now....just like Avon Street that used to be next to Jordan Marsh.
The building that fronted on Washington Street until 1956 was called the Jefferson Building and for many years the upper floors were used as warehouse space by RH White’s. Several small bridges connected the two and I have noted that on a few of the BPL photos that you see here.
It’s sad to note that even with the fancy new garage of 1956, White’s was struggling and would close in June of 1957. City Mart would come to the former White’s building in 1962 and used the new parking garage as a lure for potential customers. That ended badly when the City of Boston took the White’s building by eminent domain in 1966, tossed City Mart out and plopped Raymond’s in. Raymond’s tried to use the new parking garage as a magnet for shoppers but time was running out for that section of Washington Street and when Raymond’s breathed its last...the City of Boston tore down the building in 1973 as the start to the new Lafayette Place project. And by 1980, the 1956 super automated garage would become part of the rubble.
Also I found a great advertisement for the former Chandler’s building on the corner of West and Tremont Streets from late 1957. Chandler’s had merged with Conrad’s on Temple Place and the former store’s large building was available for use in 1958. The Thomas Diab Realty Company used the new garage on Hayward Place as a selling point, too. A great deal of hope was pinned on that garage...amazing!
Enjoy this little look back to 1955- 1956 in retro Boston!
Ps... My Jordan Marsh Memory Project keeps growing...I can’t wait to share the completed work with you all in the future. I am not rushing...heavens no!! Each time I think I have enough...more information surges forth. I look forward to more input from anyone with Jordan Marsh memories or memorabilia that they would like included in my project!!! There is always room for more! Come one, come all!!!
Today I present a series of great photos of a rare collection of old downtown Boston department and speciality store charge coins that were sent to me by one of my many new blog readers. Readers who are keen to share their Boston memories and treasures with all of you!
These great old charge coins were in use mainly from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s in Boston. Boston stores began to offer customers the option to charge items on individual accounts in the later part of the 1800’s but in the beginning it was really only for the more “financially comfortable” members of the public...it was really after World War I that stores began to reach out to loyal average shoppers and invite them to open charge accounts with them.
The charge coins offered a simple way to recall your store account number...you would present it to the salesperson at the counter when you made your purchase...very easy...very convenient!
Many shoppers had store charge coins for many larger stores in Boston and they each had a little hole punched through on the top and could safely be put on a key ring of sorts...so cute!!!
But...alas...no names were printed on the coins...only the account numbers...easy to steal and easy to use. A new type of crime wave swept the city...the fraudulent use of charge coins. Articles appeared almost weekly in the various Boston papers exposing the risks to shoppers and merchants alike.
The early 1930’s saw the introduction of charge plates. Larger rectangular metallic plates with identifying cuts that made it more difficult to steal and use...the new charge plates required the all important customer signature as part of the charging process. Enter the art of forgery! No system is infallible! But the stores felt safer and so did many customers. The old style charge coins were very popular and the new charge plates became even more so.
The charge plate scheme in Boston was introduced as a multi-store card with various notches to denote the stores one had accounts in...seven Boston area stores worked as team to bring this new scheme to life in 1934.
As the 1930’s and 1940’s wore on, more and more stores moved away from the old coins and switched to plates. Most stores by now had their own charge plates and the multi-card scheme was ceased.
By the 1960’s, most stores called their plates...cards...and the new cards were plastic. It is fun to note that Gilchrist’s held out into the 1970’s and continued to call theirs a charge plate. Good old Gilchrist’s!!
Enjoy this selection of store advertisements that show the evolution of Boston area store charge accounts over time...you may have to really read the fine print...have fun!!
A Look Back at Boston in the 1940’s:
I located a great photo in the BPL collection. The photo shows a perfect view of Tremont and Washington Streets from the air in the mid-1940’s. I cropped and labelled it for my readers to enjoy. Please download it and have a good look. The thrill comes from a good close look...which I did the other day and found lots to enjoy and recall.
Here are a few of my notes for you to read as you look at the photo close-up:
I labelled many of the larger stores in the area for you to see and also a few theatres as reference points for those who like to have some idea where things were then in relation to now.
The scope of this area has changed dramatically. In 1940’s the Jordan Marsh Annex looked so regal in the midst of the assembled buildings. The nine floors really did stand out and one can see why Jordan Marsh was so pleased with it when it first began to built in the early part of the 1900’s.
Notice Filene’s roof...the large air conditioning unit is brightly labelled so that no man or bird will doubt the store’s boastful (but very true) claim of providing glorious cool air to the famous basement down below.
RH White’s...if you look carefully...has taken over the upper floors of the building to the right. Notice the little bridges that connect the upper floors of White’s to the other building. The other building’s upper levels were used for many years as stock and storage areas until White’s outgrew it.
Notice just how big Chandler’s was on the corner of West and Tremont. When the store merged with Conrad’s on Winter Street in 1958, they really did downsize considerably.
I am always amazed at just how many buildings made up Jordan Marsh’s Main Store and Hovey’s! Have a good look...I truly lament the loss of the older (historic, as well!!) buildings of the CF Hovey store but one can see why...in the late 1940’s...the Jordan Marsh executives wanted to wipe the slate clean and start again with clean lines and less “patchwork quilted” smaller buildings. The view shows the scope of all the little old structures that made each store up...this view would not last much beyond the snapping of this very photo!
Lastly, Jordan Marsh was amazing for so many reasons (that’s why I am doing my special memory project on it!!!) BUT the sheer scope as one can see here in this view from the 1940’s is spectacular! Imagine, if you can...entering the Main Store near the corner of Washington and Winter...moving up and all around the various departments of those inter-connected buildings...Great Basement to the fifth floor. Then you cross the bridge over Avon Street and enter the Annex...visit all nine floors of that...by now you are exhausted. Lastly...go down to the Annex section of the Great Basement and travel in the small underground tunnel to the Great Basement section of the Bristol Building and end your shopping spree in the “daylight” section of the Great Basement on the street floor of this last part of Jordan Marsh.
Thanks to Elizabeth for the great charge coin photos!!!
Please keep writing to me...I love all your memories and photos!!! The Jordan Marsh project is still ongoing and just waiting for you to add your own thoughts, treasures and beloved memories to the mix...come one, come all!!
Hello and LATE Happy New Year to all my fellow retro Boston loving friends!!!
Today’s update is based on a recent request from a valued friend & regular contributor to the blog...and I just love to get requests!!!
He has always wanted to know what Gilchrist’s Department Store in Boston was like during its heyday and what the floor directory would have looked like. He never had the wonderful privilege of shopping in the great old Boston store during those glory days and has always been curious about the way it would have looked back then. He knows quite well how it looks today (as the Corner Mall) and has contributed to the blog some amazing photos of the “just turned” 100 year-old landmark structure.
I did some digging...I just love to delve back in time...and have constructed a list of what would have been located on the various floors in the year 1963. Why 1963? It was 50 years ago and the Gilchrist Companyof Boston was really on a high as far as competing with the other Boston retailing giants of the day.
By 1963, Gilchrist’s had a healthy number of suburban branch locations and a warehouse outlet for large appliance and home furniture bargains.
I have included a wonderful artist’s rendition of the way the store looked in 1912 if you were looking up at it from the intersection of Winter and Washington Streets. I have put A, B and C on each of the three buildings that made up the entire store. This is way it was until it closed in late 1976.
The building with the “A” was one of the original Gilchrist Store buildings dating back to the early days of the store in the mid- 1800’s. The “C” building was added in the early 1900’s and joined with “A” in the rear to form an L-shape. The “B” building with 10 glorious floors was built and connected to the older structures in 1912. All this was done with the little E.B. Horn building tucked in the middle on Washington Street and never was it consumed by the growing Gilchrist’s!
The “C” building had extra floors added to match the “B” building a few years after 1912 and the store also had space in the rear and lower levels of the Orpheum Theatre building (and the old Music Hall structure previously).
The old “A” building was never topped with more floors but did house the famous bakery, home of the unique and highly celebrated almond macaroons.
The Marble Spa was in the rear portion of the joined buildings with a stairwell rising up to a doorway to Hamilton Place. Now the Food Court area of the Corner Mall is located (more or less) where the old Marble Spa was for many, many years.
Visitors today are always shocked when they enter from the Washington Street door in the “C” building and move towards the rear to the Food Court area ...they feel as if they have moved down into a basement area. The slope of Winter Street as it ascends to Park Street causes the rear of the Gilchrist’s buildings to be submerged...thus the street floor becomes more like a basement.
Today the space is all chopped up into various sectional areas and it’s hard to imagine the way it used to look unless you have a few old memories to guide you...and boy, my memories are getting very rusty!!!
The floor plan was pretty much a horseshoe shape on all the floors with two large banks of elevators on either side near the rear.
The street floor was very crowded and the busiest of all the floors of the store. Apart from the usual items seen on offer in most store street floors one must also note that the entire Men’s Department was located in the rear of the street floor as well as, for many years, all the major appliances. The larger electrical home appliances were sold upstairs on one of the upper floors for the early part of the 20th century but to keep pace with successful Jordan Marsh’s large display of street floor appliances in their famous Annex Building on Avon Street...they were moved downstairs and placed near the front of building “C” as you came in the doors from Washington Street.
The store floor directory in 1963 looked a bit like this:
Sub- Basement: Heating and electrical power rooms for entire store Basement: All bargain sales representing most upstairs departments except appliances, TV & stereo and furniture (the later three bargain items could be found in Gilchrist’s Warehouse Store) ***Also the staff-only stockrooms & sorting areas were down here Street Floor: Cosmetics and toiletries, Women’s Hosiery, Women’s Gloves and Handbags, Large Appliances and TV & Stereo, Men’s Clothing , Shoes and Accessories (including older boys and teens), Sewing Center, Home Improvement Center, Notions, Silverware, Women’s Blouses and Shirts, Jewellery and Watches, Cameras, Stationery, Health & Beauty, Optical, Confectionery and a Small Book Selection ***Plus the Marble Spa and Bakery Second Floor: Women’s Dresses, Women’s Sportswear, Women’s Coats, Deb Rendezvous (Female Teen Clothing and Accessories), Women’s Knitwear Third Floor: Women’s Loungewear, Women’s Underwear and Foundations, Women’s Shoes, Beauty Salon, Women’s Lingerie and Sleepwear, Children’s Shoes, Women’s Shoes, Millenary, Fur Salon Forth Floor: Children, Female Sub-Teens and Infant’s Clothing, Book Department, Luggage Department Fifth Floor: Sheets, Blankets, Towels (Home Linens), Art Needlework (yarns-threads), Slipcovers, Domestics (Pillows, etc) Sixth Floor: China and Fine Glassware, Housewares and Small Electrical Appliances, Outdoor Equipment (Mowers-Snow Blowers-Garden Sheds) Seventh Floor: Mattresses-Bedding, Xmas Seasonal Toy Town and Trim –A-Tree, Home Furniture Eighth Floor: Rugs and Floor Coverings Ninth Floor: Home Furniture Tenth Floor: Employment, Accounting, Security and other store offices &staff break rooms
A sad note for those who have memories of the last years of the store in the mid-1970’s...the floor directory was altered significantly and at the very end (1976), only the first three floors were in use.
Enjoy this selection of Gilchrist’s ads from 1963 that represent some of the various items sold on each of the floors!!!
This past Xmas season brought 1000’s of hits to the blog and many new readers. I want to thank all of the new readers who have written to say hello and share your memories with me!
Much more to come in 2013...Stay tuned!
Plus the Jordan Marsh Memory Project keeps growing...I can’t wait to share the completed work with you all in the future. I am not rushing...heavens no!! Each time I think I have enough...more information surges forth. I look forward to more input from anyone with Jordan Marsh memories or memorabilia that they would like included in my project!!! There is always room for more! Come one, come all!!!
Boston born, Brookline raised Retro Boston Cultural Historian and very eager to get as many memories, photos and newspaper adverts of the once grand stores of the Downtown Boston we all knew and loved. Also I am very busy researching Boston area churches of the past that have since closed or merged into others. All who remember are welcome to contact me with their thoughts, memories and photos to add to any of my blogs.
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