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

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Milestones and Memories

Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!

Here I am! I took a few months off to enjoy the summer and have an opportunity to sit back and reflect on all my various retro Boston projects. My heartfelt thanks to all of you that wrote during the summer months and still carried on sending me your Boston retro treasures and memories; you know that in time an update on the blog will feature what you contributed...have no fear! I thank you for your understanding,
patience...and most importantly, for being a blog supporter!!!

2013 marked a milestone for this blog...we reached over 100, 000 hits!!!

That really felt good and it seemed so long ago now that dear Jan Whitaker reminded me that all things take time and to just carry on...she also imparted some deep wisdom back in those early days in 2008:

“You are doing this retro Boston blog for you! Enjoy it, have fun! And then others will come along who share your enthusiasm. Be patient!”

Thanks, Jan! You were right!

This year also marked another milestone for me...my 30th high school reunion!! Now living in the UK, I have no idea if the class of 1983 of Brookline High had a reunion...BUT in my head I had one! And this cerebral reunion brought forth a vast amount of backward glances at countless memories of my four years at Brookline High School. And I can happily say....Damn, I had a great time!

This update could proceed along the well trampled path of recalling all sorts of great moments in the years 1979 to 1983 and all the super people I got to know and the great teachers I had and so on... BUT I shall take a different path. I selected a certain golden time in my career at Brookline High...a time that forever stands out as the snapshot I look back on most from those four important years of my young life.

The autumn of my sophomore year in 1980 really was as good as high school gets for any teen...and I recall it as a time of wonder, excitement and hard work.

Now if you are thinking that this update has nothing to do with retro Boston shopping, hold on...it all comes together!

I had a lot of wonderful friends in high school. Some were older and others younger, some went to elementary school with me and others did not...my friend list was diverse and rather colourful. Carol and Laura were as different as could be. Carol was the perfect straight man in any comic routines; she was Vivian Vance to my Lucille Ball. Quiet, determined and oh, so slightly sarcastic...a perfect side-kick in any adventure and a level head at all times. Laura was the loveable charismatic blonde with an eye for demure fashion, who was rarely on time and always in a huge hurry to get somewhere. I had known Laura since kindergarten and had only just met Carol that year...but it was drama class at BHS that brought us together as real friends.

It was in the autumn of 1980 that we three began a lovely ritual, a ritual that would last until the summer of 1983. The ritual was simple...lunch and a leisurely wander around various shops.

That may sound extravagant...it was not...we spent very little money, and NO we were not shoplifters!!!!! Get that thought out of your head!!

We all had small allowances from home and two of us also had small part-time jobs. I cleaned houses...or shall I say houses and churches. It was only a few hours after school one day a week or on a Saturday morning but it added some much enjoyed cash to my pocket. Laura did much the same but did have a few hours dusting and vacuuming at a shop in Brookline called, The Boston Bedroom. We had many a laugh saying that she worked in “The Boston Bedroom”, it had sounded slightly naughty and for prim, proper Laura it was really a hoot!

We did not go on our little lunch dates every weekend, but we went often and always at least once during a school holiday. I never went alone. If Laura could not make it, Carol and I still went and sometimes other friends joined us...but the cast was mainly just us three and Boston was our stage.

The typical 1980 Saturday afternoon out for us looked something like this: We all met by the CVS store in Coolidge Corner...normally around noon. Carol and I would be first on the scene and wait for Laura...we would eventually see Laura running up Harvard Street to meet us. It was about 12:15 or so by now and we were off! We took the C-line into Boston and I can recall in the autumn of 1980 that busses were doing the route down Beacon Street while they relayed the tracks along that outdoor route.

Our trips had many variations. Sometimes we got off at Auditorium Station and did a Prudential Center focussed trip or we went further into Boston for a Downtown Crossing experience. A Prudential Center trip included a very inexpensive lunch at the great old Ground Round at the rear of the plaza or a simple lunch at the newly opened Pizzeria Uno on Boylston Street. The three of us always shared an appetizer and then we each had a small lunch. At the end, Laura grabbed a paper napkin and used her eye-liner pen to divvy up what we each owed. I can still see her now working out the sums in her various shades of eye pen colours!

After lunch we wandered into places like Brentano’s Bookshop in the Prudential Plaza and then over to the Paperback Booksmith on Boylston Street. Brentano’s was great because it not only had super books; it had a wonderful gift area out in the rear section. I did a good deal of my 1980 Xmas shopping in this very spot! Laura and Carol also enjoyed a quick walk-thru the street floor of Lord and Taylor’s sometimes as well. We rarely bought anything, we just looked.

Both Laura and Carol were devout Catholics and sometimes we all attended Mass at the little chapel in the Prudential Center...and sometimes if on a Sunday, a morning service in one of the other magnificent churches in Copley Square preceded our lunch out. We enjoyed sharing church-going...it was all part of our wonderfully unique friendship.

A Downtown Crossing trip always took us through Jordan Marsh. The Annex Building was demolished in 1979 and the large crater was still there surrounded by chain link fencing...a stark reminder of the loss. In 1980 Jordan Marsh was crammed full on all floors, still trying to carry a rather full line of merchandise that included large appliances as well. The 1977 rebuilt section of Jordan Marsh was really the focus for the store in those days and I can still recall feeling bitter about not having the old Main Store anymore...I can’t say I enjoyed looking around the new section much at all. I do recall going out the doors onto the doomed Avon Street and saying to Laura and Carol, “I miss the old Jordan Marsh, that hole is where I LOVED to shop. Why did they take away my annex?”

We would then go to Kresge’s and giggle at the all the wigs on display, cruise through Filene’s and often pop into Strawberries Records and the large Barnes and Noble Bookshop. No trip would have been complete to Downtown Crossing without a whirl through the big Woolworth’s to round the day out.

Lunch in the 1980 Downtown Crossing shopping trips was had in the newly renovated Faneuil Hall Market Place since it offered so many choices at affordable prices. A look around at all the market stalls was always worthwhile!

A third shopping variation took us onto the Red Line and into Harvard Square. Now in 1980 Harvard Square was a huge construction site and I can vividly recall the maze of fences all around the square keeping you from falling into the vast craters that were all part of the MBTA project to rebuild the subway station. It was utter chaos, but loads of fun!

We had lunch mainly at Pizzeria Uno on Mass Ave and then worked our way through the various floors of the Harvard Coop and always spending time looking at the great poster and print room or perusing through their vast record department. We came out a back door onto Church Street and always went into the amazing and one of a kind, Bookcase. A great second-hand bookshop with unique gifts and oddities...sadly, it burned to the ground later in the 1980’s.

Another tasty addition to a shopping trip may have included...if we felt we had the money...theatre!! All three of us loved the theatre and so, as special treats we did go to see some wonderful shows that were playing in and around Boston at that time. In the autumn of 1980, I took Laura to see Carol Channing in the tour of “Sugar Babies” at the Colonial Theatre. My mother had bought two tickets via the Show of the Month Club and had to give hers up because it conflicted with our annual church fair. Laura was free and I invited her to go to the outrageously funny musical burlesque review. Carol Channing was in top form that matinee, one act was removed from the show by illness and Carol had to do a bit of filler at the end of the show...and she did a bit of Q and A with the audience...it was magic!

These afternoons out were carefree and relatively inexpensive. I truly can’t picture us having mobile phones or palm-held computers...we lived in a non-computer based age. Sure, business and government computers were very active but not in our personal daily lives. Some brave folks were using those early home computers in 1980, but no one I knew. Only a handful of students were taking computer programming courses at our high school, not us...we only managed basic typing skills and they were taught on old tank-like IBM Selectric typewriters. That was our technology and our rotary dial telephones were still anchored to the walls of our parent’s houses.

I can still vividly recall one shopping trip that ended early and we found ourselves back in Coolidge Corner with a bit of time to spare before we had to be home. We wandered into the newly opened Brookline Videosmith (this must have been early 1981) which was downstairs under the bookstore. The whole new VCR-BETA trend was still out of reach for most of us...I only knew one or two families that had these rather expensive machines...Hey, we still only had B&W TV sets in my house! The three of us walked around gazing at all the movies you could watch at home and it looked so exciting. I looked at a display of VCR and BETA machines under glass, the prices staggered me! I’d have to clean a few more houses full-time to afford that amount I remember thinking to myself.

The above was a small snapshot of life back in 1980. I know that my younger readers will have laughed at how old fashioned we sounded, but that was our life back then. Boston was not the Boston my mother recalled so fondly from her growing years, but it was still a place to go, see things, enjoy a few laughs and become part of that bigger world as we knew it then.

I am sure teens today in 2013 feel the same euphoria we did...add the mobile phones, obsessively compulsive texting, change all store names and you have the Boston scene today as they know it...and most likely will recall with many a fond memory 30 years from now.

Enjoy this scrapbook look back to the autumn of 1980 in Boston. I included photos, articles and plenty of print ads for you...so go on...look back to the glory of early 1980’s Boston:-)

A few I want to highlight for you:

*The shots of where the Annex Building of Jordan Marsh used to be show the bleakness of the early 1980’s in that area once all the demolition was complete to make way for the new Lafayette Place project.

*The large scale renovations of both the Shubert and Metropolitan Theatres were a big thrill to us theatre buffs!

*Note all the horror movies on offer in the autumn of 1980...we seemed to be in a horror movie phase, possibly helped by the nearness of Halloween.

*The ads for Jordan Marsh show just how much they were still trying to be the big full line store in downtown...even without the Annex Building space to display all the merchandise.

Have fun...more soon! Charles Boston




Ps...Don't forget....I am still working on my Jordan Marsh memory project. Write me!!!!