A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Thursday 1 September 2011

Back To School in 1949 Retro Boston!!!!

Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!!

I really love to get emails and be asked tough questions....old Boston puzzles to solve...I feel like the Sherlock Holmes of retro Boston!

The other day I received a request from a person with a keen interest in 1949 Boston. I was asked for a general look at shopping places in Boston during this year as well as where the more "well-off" folks might have shopped. I replied that I felt a 1949 blog update formulating in the back of my mind and would love to further explore this special year in my own unique retro Boston shopping way!

But before I begin to share the various bits and pieces I uncovered during this latest sleuthing, I shall take a moment to step up on my handy soapbox and impart a few thoughts on the shopping habits of the 1940's Boston "well-off”.

Boston of 1949 had two types of “well-off” groups (more or less)....old money and new money.

The old money came in the form of long standing, deep rooted Boston families with each generation passing the family wealth forward to the next and each believing in the long sacred slogan.... “The Thrifty New Englander”. The money was carefully invested and never frittered away....well, not very often.

The new money was made by a recent generation who had not really had much family money to speak of before and thus, it was flaunted and spent more rapidly.
Having grown up in Boston, I was aware of both types from an early age.
I was neither old nor new money, that vast and over crowded place in the middle was the ocean I swam about in....so my view is based solely upon observation and delicious gossip told to me by my mother and grandmother.

The old money folks proudly shopped Boston, very loyal indeed. They used all the stores....they loved bargains because they were very thrifty and cautious in all things money. Quality was of supreme importance and items purchased should last....a very long time....fashion be damned!! It if had a trustworthy brand label sewn inside....it was always in fashion. These folks used the big department stores and all the smaller shops. Yes, certain shops did have more affluent regular customers than others. R.H. Stearns, C. Crawford Hollidge, Slattery’s, Peck and Peck and Plotkin Brothers were just a few that had “good names” for the more wealthy shoppers of Boston....but in truth....many regular folks shopped in these places with ease and pleasure. Why?
All good Boston stores had sales....and bargains could always be snapped up by just about anybody with speed, a keen eye and a bit of spare cash or credit.
The more “exclusive” shops of 1949 Boston, for lack of a better term, were often located on Tremont, Boylston or Newbury Streets and many were found dotted along the edges of the Boston Common and Public Garden. Copley Square to Kenmore Square was, for those younger blog readers, very much NOT in the shopping scope of the "well-off" and was filled manly with a huge rail yard....that would later become the Prudential Center in the 1960’s.

New money was..... “naughty”.... “wasteful” ... “extravagant” .... the old Boston born and raised used to say things like that.
They shopped via mail order, still used custom dressmakers, frequented shops that were NOT of Boston derivation such as Bonwit Teller and went off to New York, Chicago or...heaven forbid... Europe for their shopping flings...those rebels!
New money never felt loyal to the Boston stores....they may have been forced to shop them in their “poorer” days....but now they graduated to a more classy situation outside dusty, old Boston.

Those are just a few quick thoughts on the “well-off” of 1949 Boston. One who is new to Boston or too young to recall may not be aware of the way Boston looked in 1949. World War 2 was over and Boston was still very much untouched by lavish city planners. For many...that Boston was the “real” Boston and it held magic and character. Boston was not glitzy but it held thousands of places to shop and eat. Variety was the word for most streets in downtown....dusty, dark...a bit tacky....but oozing variety from every brick and beam. Downtown Boston of 1949 was still the premier place to shop for all of New England and regardless of your wallet size....Boston had a place for you to browse, buy and box your wares.
The suburban malls had yet to take off and Boston in 1949 was still the place to be.

I selected August and September of 1949 as the setting for today’s update.
Back to school shopping was almost as big as Christmas in those post-war days of 1949....everyone...in school or not...could get new clothes! The August sales gave way to the “new Fall look” sales. The big stores and numerous smaller ones all wanted you to come in and see what they had on offer....plus....many encouraged you to shop in the “cool” since the warm, late summer days were still upon us...air conditioning is not common in our homes but a much welcomed relief in the Boston shops!

In 1949, Jordan Marsh was busy building its new “super” building after having taken over the Hovey Company buildings and RH. White’s was competing with its own brand of renovations and modernizations.

The update is loaded with store ads from all over Boston.
A few 1949 treasures to note...look how many stores still sell cloth by the yard for home clothes making and also notice that Woolworth’s was very prominent in and around Boston, just look at all the locations it had!!

Also enjoy these two wonderful 1949 photos of a busy....dusty.....exciting Boston!
The photo snapped looking down Temple Place shows a great view of the way Jordan Marsh looked before the large, new section of building was completed. The huge building project had started by this time (the big 100th anniversary was looming)....but only just and the Avon Street side of Jordan Marsh still contained the old Hovey buildings and the charming, original Annex Bridge (see the pink dot) built in the 1930’s and connecting the middle of the Annex to the side of the old Main Store on floors three to five. Once the new building was completed by the mid-1950’s, the bridge would be greatly expanded and the Hovey buildings only a memory.

Enjoy this look back at 1949 Boston and please.....keep asking lots of great questions!!!





1 comment:

Drew Mcntyre said...
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