Goodbye neighbor!

On May 4, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

del_ponte_3_webLife in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte

This article first appeared in the July 16, 2008 edition of The Somerville News.

(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.)

Well, we just lost another longtime family home on my street (near Davis Square). They had been here for over 50 years – both parents are deceased and the adult kids decided it was time to sell – they had been my neighbors for 48 years. I heard that the new owner is going to convert the two-family into condos, what an original idea!

Though I am sad to see the family leave, I stand to get something out of the deal – the common fence between our properties needs replacing – go get ‘em, Carli Fence! You know what they do when they perform a condo conversion. They’ll give the joint beautiful hardwood floors, except the kitchen and bath, which will receive some kind of extravagant tile. They’ll throw in central air conditioning, and divide the basement into equal storage stalls with chicken wire and locks. They’ll update all the systems. The kitchens will have shiny stainless steel appliances and marble counter tops. Then the price tag will be at least $450,000 each (location, location, location).

The first thing I will do is buy one of those bamboo curtains to put on my back porch so I don’t have to watch the emotional metamorphosis. It’s going to be noisy and dusty over there for a while that’s for sure. One neighbor sold her duplex for around $800,000 and they got nearly a million each for them after the conversion – I’m holding out.

What I am mostly sad about is that another family home that was up and running when we moved on the street in 1960 is gone. I know it’s the circle of life and all that stuff, but it still makes me a little blue. I think back to a time when the street was full of kids playing relieve-e-o, buck buck, and dodge ball. We had a mob of kids.

I can remember hearing the Beach Boys playing on a radio coming out of one of the older kids rooms. Sometimes we would all flock into someone’s yard, but we rarely left the street. Hall Avenue was a two way then, but it seemed like cars never came by. Mr. Pine, who lived across the street from us, worked for Drake’s Cakes and sometimes brought Ring Dings and Yankee Doodles home in his trunk for us kids. The O’Neal’s owned Alpine Tree and Landscape Company – when they were finished with a day of cutting, pruning and de-stumping, a convoy of trucks came by on the way back to the garage up the street. One family had six girls and one boy and another had five girls and one boy. We had three, and most had at least two. There were kids everywhere!

Summer vacation seemed to last longer back then, but the same thing always happened – we would find a really cool new activity three days before school started. One year it was making bows and arrows out of sticks, string and bottle caps. It was someone’s bright idea to bend the cap over the stick to make an arrowhead. We were inventive but not necessarily safe. We didn’t always get along great either. I seem to recall being called a certain derogatory Italian slur, which prompted a visit from my older cousin.

I remember sitting in my backyard playing Mr. Tambourine Man on guitars with my friends. When we could finally afford electric guitars one of my neighbors called the cops on us for being too loud. We called her Mrs. Rat lady. There was a rock group rehearsing on both ends of the street. The PJ Five up the top of the street, and the Mini-Squirts at our end.

It’s also been a plus having my godmother, Auntie Marie living on the street – she and my Uncle Carl have added a nice feeling of security for me over these many years. I can go up and down the street and remember each house and the families that lived there. There are only a few parents still in the homes. The grown kids come over to visit occasionally, and finally, sadly to pack up and sell. The list keeps growing.

So with the passing of another family home into history, I will as always cherish the memories. Occasionally, I would clear snow off my departing neighbors walk and the mother would make me the most delicious cookies ever. She use to give me an “atta boy Jim” when I was outside cleaning my trailer park of a yard, once a year. There was never anything but a friendly word between us. I miss the dodge ball, the cookies and the Ring Dings, but not as much as I will miss my neighbors and friends.


17 Responses to “Goodbye neighbor!”

  1. Ray Spitzer says:

    Condo conversion should be banned at this point. It destroys the charm of Somerville neighborhoods.

  2. A. Moore says:

    Don’t dare try that in Newton. They don’t like condo conversions. Sadly everywhere you look in Somerville they do it. I think it destroys more than just the charm of the neighborhood.

  3. ritepride says:

    Another great article Jimmy. The neighborhoods definitely have not changed for the better in this new “Big Brother” type of comunity mentality.

    Our neighborhood only has only about five of the original families left. Rest of neighborhood is transients, mostly students. No one knows anybody else. They cannot tell you the names of the people next door. I will say “Hi” to them, some respond back, others would step on you to get by, always rush…rush. It is “Somerville Sad”!

  4. BLMosher says:

    That’s the problem with Somerville. I was born & raised in that great city, lived there for 46 yrs. I had to leave and move to another city because all the condo conversion raised rent prices and I could no longer find a 2 bedroom for 1200 a month. I still work in Somerville & my daughter goes to a private school in Somerville. Its not like old times were.

  5. ! sure do miss playing on the streets of somerville all those games untill dark there were no condos only houses every one knew each other no crime didnt even lock our doors at night the last time i went home to vist my old school northeastern jr high was a condo and the streets were so dirty we used to take PRIDE of our streets now its a mess so sad i sure do miss those days thanks for your stories jimmy

  6. David Lewis says:

    I moved from Somervile 18 years ago, from the Ball Square neighborhood, and everytime I go back I feel like a stranger in my own back yard. It is sad but the phrase “circle of life” fits well. I have since moved to New Hampshire and have that old neighborhood feel again with my current neighbors.

    Some day one of my new neighborhood kids will say “remember old man Lewis?” and “the old neighborhood is not the same anymore!” and you know that the circle will be complete!

  7. Steve Keenan says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I am positive that many years ago the City of Somerville passed a Condo Conversion Bill or Ordinance of some sort to prevent exactly just what is happening now. Can anybody recall this or comment on it. I believe it was in the 1970’s or 1980’s.

  8. Somerbreeze says:

    The Somerville Patch features real estate ads showing Somerville properties priced in the MILLIONS…

    Villens, is it the fate of the working class/middle class to be broomed out of the city by exorbitant property values, greedy developers and rampant gentrification?

    City Hall has become a stalking horse for developers–a $25 million dollar bond–YOUR MONEY–gets approved by genuflecting aldermen for development that most Villens will NEVER afford to live in!

  9. MarketMan says:

    BLMosher: I’m interested in knowing how condo conversions raised rent prices.

    Gloria: No crime??!

  10. CD says:

    Many of the commentors here and to a lesser extent the author seem to imply that condo conversion is somehow responsible for having fewer children growing up in Somerville. My wife and I are in our mid 30s and are residents of Somerville, and our friends with young children seem to be leaving the city at an alarming rate. It has nothing to do with the size of their living space and everything to do with the bad reputation of the Someville schools. No new law or ordinance will put kids back on the street if people think raising a family in Somerville will mean their child will have a harder time getting into college.

  11. glenn eastman says:

    i miss the good old days growing up in somerville, playing street hockey or football in the street and we all knew our neighbors.its just not like that anymore,i still love living in somerville,im a lifelong resident,but things really are not the same.we need more people buying homes and raising a family rather than just collage kids moving in and out all the time

  12. Steve Keenan says:

    I think I can answer MarketMan’s question. With the large scale conversion of former rental units into condos, the supply of rental units decreases. This is where the economic realty of Supply and Demand kicks in.

    Less rental units coupled with the same or increasing demand for rental units causes rents to go up. The supply of RENTAL units is down because they are now condos. This creates a market for landlords to charge higher rents-supply is down,but not demand.

    Think of the situation with the price of a barrel of oil. When we had oil gluts(and those days are over)oil was cheap. Now with limited supply and production, oil cost much more.

    Now some might say that you can rent the condo that used to be a rental unit. That might be the case, but when you factor in the mortgage cost of the condo, the condo owner will charge a high rent to cover his mortgage and other costs. It’s Supply and Demand,pure and simple.

    On another note I want to commend everyone who turned out for the Blood Drive yesterday at Somerville High School. Hold your head up high all of you-you did a very worthy,kind, and charitable act. People from all walks of life were there. God bless all of you!!

  13. SomMom says:

    CD, actually Somerville High School graduates who are good students have little trouble getting into great schools. We have recent graduates at Harvard, UPenn, Yale, Brown, a couple at Wellesley, Smith, Barnard, Trinity, BU, BC, Tufts, and many other top-tier colleges. And they have great scholarships. Colleges love to get kids from low-performing city schools.

    People are fleeing Somerville schools because of their misperceptions and the MCAS scores.

  14. Biff Jones says:

    I’ve lived here since the late 1980’s but didn’t grow up here. From my perspective:

    1. The city looks nicer than it used to and feels safer.
    2. Among the folks I know with kids who’ve left / want to leave I’d say it’s about 50% need more living space but can’t afford to upgrade in the city, 25% want a yard, and 25% worry about schools. I’ve noticed a marked uptick of optimism about the school situation, though officially the test scores (for what they’re worth) are still in the doldrums.
    3. The problem with condos is that the vast majority are too small for people to raise families with 2+ kids – at least by “modern” housing standards. The developers get more bang for their buck with a greater number of smaller units. If you want to fix that then find some way to make incentives for fewer / larger units. Back a few generations we were content with that 2/3 bedroom apartment / small ranch. A family with 2 kids now feels cramped in a 2 bedroom condo & the only way out is often to leave the city, since there aren’t that many single family houses on the market here.
    4. I remember well how the neighborhoods felt as a newcomer back in the 1980’s. The neighborhoods felt a bit more run down, there was about as much activity in the streets as there is now, and if you were a newcomer nobody wanted to deal with you. After enough of that the feeling becomes mutual & you begin to seek out the comaraderie of other newcomers. Hence the newcomers seem cold / different.
    5. The folks to blame for high property values are the locals who’ve been selling their houses for top dollar for decades & then getting the heck out of town (hmm – wonder if they’re driving up property values in places like Tewksbury..) Developers pay that top dollar and then charge their own top dollar. It’s the American way. If you don’t like it then sell your house for 1/2 price to someone who needs a break to stay in the city.
    6. It’s probably a bit inaccurate to say the city is going down the tubes because everyone you used to know left (to be fair, the author is not saying that, but others seem to be). If you look carefully there might well be a vibrant community on your own street that’s left you in the dust because they think of you as that bitter old neighbor who doesn’t like all the new people. But that’s just conjecture.

  15. Bill Shelton says:

    I think of these words from Lennon and McCartney: “There are places I remember in my life, and some have changed, some forever, not for better, and some remain.”

    Biff, it’s not just a matter or ‘Villens leaving and their properties getting spruced up by newcomers. The ‘Villens were the ones who volunteered for everything from coaching little league to being a church deacon. As they leave, the fabric of community grows thinner and thinner. Their replacements don’t participate as much.

    This is beginning to change, as some of the newcomers have decided to put down roots. Their first involvement in the community has to do with their kids and schools. Their decisions to stay come from the fact that the schools are getting better. Som Mom is right about that.

    But the inflationary pressure on housing continues, for reasons that Steve Keenan accurately describes. And no one is building family housing. It outrages me to see young people who grew up here forced out because they can’t pay the rent–or find work that would enable them to do so.

    And that $25 million bond (for which we’ll end up paying much more than $25 million) is to support construction of expensive condos for people without kids by developers who, in 2004, got Assembly Square rezoned on the promise that they would pay for their own infrastructure.

    If we can bond projects like that, we can bond affordable housing development–not in pockets of poverty, but in mixed-income developments where the affordable units remain permanently so, and our kids remain in the community they grew up in.

  16. philb says:

    Oh the good old days when crime was rampant, and if you were part of a tight knit social community, it was fun, but if you weren’t or you were a different skin color, you were not welcome.

  17. Jay says:

    Crime wasnt as rampant as people made it out to be,The Crime Rate went up when Mayor Brune Decided Somerville was to be a Sanctuary City…..One Of the major Reasons for Selling your Childhood home in Somerville is simply taxes……

    In My Families Case I was born and raised in Somerville and for the first couple of years enjoyed Cheap Rent in the First Floor of my mother’s Double Decker but Taxes Went through the Roof and I had to move so she could rent the Apartment for more in order for her to keep the house….I moved to NH and now my Kids are 15 and 20…What Should I do move back to my childhood home and rip my children away from their childhood home or sink myself into debt with the upkeep and taxes….I have no real choice but to sell…..AND Yes IT IS THE NEW COMERS Fault……

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