Old Davis, new Davis

On January 28, 2011, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

On The Silly Side by Jimmy Del Ponte

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Do I love Davis Square? Madly. Do I enjoy living in the past? Definitely.  Actually, I can’t believe I have been around long enough to see so many changes down Davis Square.

It has been a real education. It’s not just the earrings and piercings that constitute change. When we were hanging there in the 70’s we had earrings, only they were confined to …you know…ears. It’s not the tattoos and the 250 different types of micro brews offered in every new bar that opens.

My first tattoo was done down a guys cellar on Somerville Avenue and my first fancy beer was Haffenreffer private stock with those puzzles  under the cap. The Old Davis Square had a certain feeling.

Much like today, it is an exciting, bustling, busy destination. Joseph’s Transportation buses shuttle Tufts students back and forth to and from the campus. Glad to have them. I love seeing all those smart young minds around. We are lucky to be so close to Tufts. We hung around Tufts as kids and snuck into mixers and frat parties. Tufts is a part of my “yute.” I still remember the day the stuffed carcass of Jumbo the Elephant burned. It was a sad day.

I love people watching in the square. When I sit on the bench outside the ice cream place, I see so many different types of people. I remember when I was one of those different types of people. They probably look at me today and wonder what kind of old weirdo I am. The old folks called us hippies back then. I am one of those old folks now, or close to it. It was the early 70’s and we had hair past our shoulders and we loved Davis Square. We used to meander  from one joint to the next. It was before the statues and before the Red line. The Store 24 was called The Quick Shop. We bowled behind Wedgewood Crane and Connolly. People used to shovel their sidewalks because the landlords actually lived in their property. There was a gin mill that used to sell beer on Sunday (or so I am told.) That was before they changed the laws. By the way, that joint is still in operation! There was another bar down the square that had a secret knock on Sunday mornings. If you knew the secret knock, you could get in before it opened.

The old Davis Square had an Italian bakery where we got delicious birthday cakes. For about the same price it cost for one of those cakes, you can now buy two or three fancy cupcakes down there.

Christos, The Venice, Frascatis, Speedy’s and Napoli served great pizza. Christos offered authentic Greek pizza.

They once said that Davis Square was the Paris of the 90’s.  I wonder what we can call it now?  It sort of looks like Harvard Square from back in the 70’s. I wish I had kept some of my hippie clothes from back then because they are back in style, even though they would never fit now.

Did you ever see a jogger when they have to wait for traffic and they jog in place? Back in the day, they would have really had to do a lot of jogging in place if one of those big old freight trains were rumbling through the square! Diversity is a great thing. Davis Square is a sample of what our world is like today. A little of this and a little of that.

There seems to have been a lot more kids in the square and surrounding streets in the 70’s.  After supper most of these kids were in the streets playing games. Where are all the kids? Families used to consist of at least three kids and as many as seven or eight. Couples today seem to have one, maybe two kids at the most. The streets were two way and there were less speeders and reckless drivers.

Back then a father would tell their kid to be in when the street lights went on. Today parents tell their kids to use their words and reward them with a “good job!” A lot of the kids I grew up with don’t live in Somerville anymore but they still have that Somerville feeling. It’s sort of a tough outer coating that we wear throughout our lives.

You could go to Johnny D’s and dance to a country band. You could pop over to the Surrey Room, behind The Rosebud and do the Hustle. You could always go to Pat Connelly’s and get a pickled egg and a Pabst too. Speaking of food, today there are so many restaurants and watering holes in Davis Square it’s baffling.

I am glad to announce that Davis Square is still a pretty down to earth place no matter how fancy some people try to make it appear. Just last month I was in one of the trendy bars back rooms and my feet were sticking to the floor. It made me feel like things really haven’t changed that much after all.

Don’t miss the Celebrate Somerville Event Saturday Jan. 29 from 1 to 3 pm at the Somerville High Gym/Atrium. We are celebrating Somerville being honored as one of the nation’s top 100 Communities. There will be exciting activities as well as entertainment by Teen Empowerment, The Mary Flynn Murphy School of Dance, and the 2010 Sunsetters.


21 Responses to “Old Davis, new Davis”

  1. Boston Kate says:

    Was the Italian bakery called ‘La Contessa’, on Highland?

  2. J. Connelly says:

    We have seen things that other generations have not. Miracle births… famous deaths… The evolution of the information superhighway & the resulting demise of American jobs due to outsourcing for corporate greed…not to benefit anyone in the USA.

    Yes.. Davis Square has always been unique.but still maintains its warmth.
    Jimmy correctly points out how there are less kids & a recent SCAT program made mention of that same fact. When we were kids there were neighborhood cookouts on the weekends…not today as the city has become more populated by a transient group and there are less “long time” residents.

    It does appear that when the Davis Sq. sections of Elm St & Highland Ave were 2-way the speeds were kept down & less reckless driving. The pizza’s made back then seemed to taste better…Remember the pizza from the trucks @ Trum Field during the ball games…to die for!

    I too remember the demise of Jumbo @ the big fire @ Tufts. Boston Firefighters arrived on mutual aid and the students were yelling to “Save Jumbo”…it was too late & the Boston Firefighters were shocked to find out that Jumbo was stuffed n not live.

  3. Ron Newman says:

    Not many businesses in today’s Davis Square were here even in the 1980s, let alone the 70s when Jimmy first hung out there. Here’s my list; anyone want to add to it?

    Singer Sewing
    Downtown Wine … well sort of. It used to be called “Bargain Spot Liquors”
    Johnny D’s
    Sacco’s Bowl-Haven (but now it’s also Flatbread Pizza)
    Somerville Theatre (now has 5 screens instead of 1)
    Goodwill — was much smaller, and across Elm Street from where it is today

  4. Kristin Kelson says:

    Hey Ron, I can add a few that I remember as a kid/teen in the 70s/early 80s:

    – Rexall Drug, next to Somerville Theater, which later was a Buck-a-Book store, then Someday Cafe.
    – Brighams
    – Thom McAnn Shoes
    – FFC (Friendly Family Center – a precursor to today’s dollar stores)
    – Gorin’s Department Store
    – Waldorf Cafe(?) – a 1940s/50s style coffee shop
    – Yee’s Village
    – Beauty Garden
    – Pine Tree Diner
    – the smoke shop (Was it Jack’s Smoke Shop?)
    – the original Bertucci’s that had the bocci court in the basement
    – Steve’s Ice Cream which set the standards for today’s gourmet ice cream joints
    – I think there was also a Cummings store (women’s clothing store) at one time.

    I’m sure there are several places from the 70s and 80s that I forgot about. This is all I could think of. I miss the old Davis Square, but the new one is pretty good in its own right. :)

  5. J. Connelly says:

    Pretty good Ron..
    Engine 4’s firehouse & the telephone co by Highland & Grove St…..

    Elm St; the smoke shop [Robinsons?]… Thom McAn & Highland Shoe stores…Woolworth’s with the Red Cross above on the 2nd floor…Grant’s & Parke Snow stores…

    Pine Street Diner by RR tracks on Holland St & the Fish Market diagonally across the street…the little jewely store & yarn shops adjacent to Somerville Theatre…Rexall Drugstore.

    The cab stand at the corner of Highland & Elm by the Waldorf Cafeteria (Yellow & City & Somerset taxi’s)…Elm Farm (where McDonald’s is now)….

    A&P supermarket on Summer St opposite the Somerset bank/veterans post….the small Jenny Gas station next to the Rosebud, a new bldg going up there now….

    I think the only original bank left is the Middlesex Federal @ Highland & College Aves. great places, great memories.

  6. Ron Newman says:

    Central Bank and Winter Hill Bank were also here back in the 80s but their names have changed slightly (they were once Central Cooperative Bank and Winter Hill Federal Savings)

    Kate, yes La Contessa. It closed in 2007.

    Cummings was where Goodwill is today. In between it contained ‘Boston Book & Record Warehouse’ which moved to Harvard Square and became Barillari Books.

    There’s still a Highland Shoe sign in the sidewalk outside what is now Cameras Inc.

    The former phone company building on Highland Ave. is now Rite Aid.

  7. SomMom says:

    What about the little breakfast place that used to be where Blue Shirt is now? Was it called Ted and Phyllis’s? (or Ted and Libby’s?) Or was that the name of the place that was around the corner, close to Christos? Anyway, whatever it was called, I loved their greasy corn muffins.

    Maybe Gorin’s became a Caldor’s in the 80s before it went out of business? I think that was the building where Jimmy Tingle’s used to be (the Foundry now?).

    Also, for a short time in the 80s there was an Indian restaurant around where Buck a Book used to be.

    It’s nice to see a positive spin to the changes to Davis, for once! It’s much better to have the square still thriving than to have it be full of abandoned buildings, as has happened in other parts of the country.

  8. Jimmy DelPonte says:

    The Record Shop sold 45’s . You would get a ticket when you bought one and when you saved 12 you got a free record. The guy with the glasses who ran it was mean and never smiled. He always treated us like theives. His brother supposedly ran Bernies Record Shop in Porter Square. Mary with the jet black hair and ruby red lipstick worked at Fields Stationary with baldin Mr Wise…who was very nice. She also worked at Wollworths. I did too as a stockboy and at the lunch counter .

  9. Old Villen says:

    Disc Diggers…

    Yes SomMom Ted and Libbys at the Blue Short and Phyllis and Ted’s near Sligo’s. Grants became Sparks…and we all miss Apple-A-Day and the Bargain Center.

    What about Dente’s Barbarshop…been there for as long as I can remember.

  10. Ron Newman says:

    I think Gorin’s became Almy’s. That closed and the building stood vacant for quite a while until McIntyre & Moore Books moved in. Jimmy Tingle’s former theatre is downstairs, and the Foundry folks are supposed to fix it up and reopen it soon. The other Gorin storefront will be a temporary stage for Actors’ Shakespeare Project during February and March.

  11. Danny Boy says:

    What about Mickey Finn”s

  12. sue says:

    Ming Toy!!

  13. Gary says:

    Hi there:

    Does anyone here remember Gorin’s Store in Davis Square? How about George’s Variety on Broadway? George Luciano was my grandfather and his variety store was there from the 1930s to the early 1960s. I only remember it vaguely as I was only 5 when it closed. My aunt was Lilly Cataldo who owned Cataldo Funeral Home in Somerville for over 50 years too. My father was Carl Luciano who started as a stockboy at Gorin’s in the 1930s and stayed with them for almost 50 years to Vice President of Almys (Gorins new name). My uncles were Joseph Luciano and George Luciano. Joe was with the post office for 30 years and George was a politician. I have good memories of Davis Square. Thanks for reading……

  14. I remember all the great stores when I was small. Park Snows
    was very expensive. Also there was FW Woolworths Grants
    Gorins Fanny Farmers The waldorff, Robbins Smoke Shop.
    Also Tom McCanns( all my 5 sisters all got our back to school shoes.
    Franscartis was awsome. Too bad it burnt down as well as the bargin
    basement.All five of us got our Easter dresses there. I can’t forget
    Brighams.They have all closed thier doors as is Friendlys.
    There were some good candy at Fannyfarmers. There was Cabbott
    Farms where my mother held her reception there after getting married
    at the Immaculate conception church near johnnies. The church is closed
    now as well as others .There is a long history in and around that town.
    Too bad it’s not the same. What about Radio shack. I think there was a
    Rix there too. Along with Rexxal Drugs. I lived on Campbell Park off of
    meachum Road. There was a little small store named Jakes. It
    was the end of Campbell pk going towards Lock St. They had every penny candy there and you could buy a pop(soda) for a dime. Also
    a small bag of chips was 10 cents, Also a popsickle for 5 cents.
    That was my favorite store in the summer.
    Thats all for now.
    Trisha Soboll

  15. Karl Sharicz says:

    I was born in Somerville Hospital on Higland Ave. I lived on Berkeley, just off Walnut, just off Highland. I moved away when I was 3. I can recall Davis from memory like it existed in 1950. We used to take the bus (electric trolley) to the square. My aunt worked at Park Snows. I do recall those giant (the seemed like giants to a 2-year-old) locomotives cutting right across the square. Having never gotten to grow up in Somerville, I’m feeling I missed a lot. My parents moved to Brockton when I was 3. What can I say? I still love Davis Square to this day.

  16. Bill Nelson says:

    I rememba being a little kid in the 60’s and going shopping in Davis Square because the only shopping malls were in Peabody and Natick and we weren’t gonna drive out there. Besides my mother never had a license so we had to get there by bus. I think my mother thought the world ended outside 128 and all there was outside of it was savages and the inbread. So until S. Lester Ralph killed what was left of the businesses by taking government money forcing us to change the traffic flow, it was a vibrant shopping center. then it became a depressed waste land in the 70’s and early 80’s where even McDonalds was closed because the manager got attacked with a hammer. So now when I lament about what was lost in Davis Square I realize how lucky I was to see it in its hey days past and present.

  17. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Kresge and Woolworth, a yarn shop next to Somerville Theatre and a Stop & Shop where McKinnons is today. I can still recall the two way traffic in Davis Square, by bus Stpp & Shop would be on your right. It would be great to see some photos of the old square during the sixties. It was definitely the hub of our city since many housewives had the convenience of running to the square to shop during the week and Saturday’s. It was a one stop shopping experience.

  18. Dan Conley says:

    The little jewelry store someone mentioned that was located between the Somerville Theater and old railroad crossing was Henry the Jeweler. I bought my wife’s and my wedding bands there in 1975. Yes, we’re still married and still living in Somerville or Slummerville as it was known then.

  19. Jack Luciano says:

    Just stumbled on this page by accident,while doing a search of “Davis Square” in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I wanted to find out, and still do, if anyone knows when the original “McDonalds” next to the then FFC store, opened. Back then McDonalds was the place.This was my first job,I think I was like 15, since I was born in 1955. It either opened in 1969 or 1970. I wanted to know if anyone else reading this,worked there? Love to start a reunion,even though I live in South Florida now, I would fly home just to be there for that..I truly have great memories of Davis Square, and some horror stories of “McDonalds” at night. The gangs that came in there, and the damage they did..The gangs at night at closing and how they threw a manager thru “Gorins” Plate Glass Window at 1am.Almost killed him.
    It is sad walking thru Davis and Medford,Teele Squares now and remembering what once was great memories, eateries, hang outs, and seeing all that gone to waste..Medford Square is a ghost town,and the city should be ashamed of themselves for ruining it. I hate to see change, and wish time could have just stood still. Remember the 5 cent bottles of Coke,etc…Popcicles,Baseball cards with the bubble gum in the pack, penny candy, etc…Where is all that now? GONE FOREVER.. There is a post on here I read from a man named Gary. Dated Aug.5th 2011. Well,Gary,we are Cousins…Your grandfather that had the variety store when you were a kid,well he and my grandfather were brothers, and the rest is the same…write me anytime and we can connect…Italoredsox@yahoo.com Jack Luciano

  20. Brian Scurio says:

    My grandparents Phyllis and Ted Ferdinand owned Phyllis & Ted’s in Davis Sq. I had a menu item named after me (The Brian Special). Miss that place. It burned down in the late 80’s. Shortly after, my parents opened The Breakfast Nook in Medford Sq. My uncle Ed Sullivan was a bartender at Sligos and my first hair cut was at Al Dente, used to bowl there, go to the movies. Love Davis sq.

  21. Freebie says:

    Check out the new italian deli where Sessas was – now its Pepe Bocca! Reminds me of so much of the food my Nonna used to make.

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