Old School: West Newton Square, pre-Pike

Had my late summer haircut with George, the old-time barber and former U.S. Army veteran who still plies his trade every Thursday at Trundle's Hair Trends in the River Street Plaza in Waltham.

In the course of learning about his barbering career (which started in 1934 after graduating from Waltham High, he attended barber school after jobs were impossible to come by) I found out that he had once owned a barber shop in West Newton Square, in the 1950s, before the Pike was built. His place was near Harney's, next to a bar. All three no longer exist, but he remembers the Square as hive of activity.

"West Newton Square was a different place. A lot of people used to go there," he recalled to me.

We reminisced about some of the old places, a few of which I knew (Barbara Jeans) and a few that I had never heard of: the bar, a third hardware store, a place called Todo's (not to be confused with Tody's Towing, which is still there). All of these businesses had moved on by the time I started going to the Square in the mid-1970s with my parents.

"Before the Pike was built, what was on the other side of the tracks? Were there businesses that had to relocate?" (railroad or trolley tracks have been running through West Newton Square for more than 100 years)

"Mostly houses. There was a big neighborhood behind St. Bernards, all of that was knocked down."

"What did people think about that?"

"They didn't like it! But there was nothing they could do, they had to move out."

"How did that affect business in the Square?"

George kind of laughed. "That really hurt the small businesses. Used to be a lot of people going through, and Washington Street [where his shop was] was a two-way street, with parking on both sides. After, it was only one-way."

He explained that the income from his shop dropped to 15% (!) of its pre-Pike levels, which prompted a visit from the IRS. "They asked me what was going on. I said, 'stick around, and you'll see what's going on.'"

When people talk about redevelopment in the 1950s and 1960s, you always hear about the neighborhoods in Boston that were affected -- the South End, the no-longer-extant West End, the North End, Allston -- but never about the changes inflicted upon nearby suburbs as huge highway projects rolled through. In Newton, the villages of Auburndale, West Newton, Newtonville, and Newton Corner were literally ripped in half by I-90 (The Massachusetts Turnpike), and Newton Lower Falls was cut off from the rest of Newton by I-95 (Rte. 128). Houses were torn down. People moved out. Neighbors were seperated by six lanes of traffic. Businesses closed down. The damage to small businesses is still apparent -- have you ever tried getting from the businesses on the north side of Newton Corner, to those on the south side of the Pike?

George also had to move along. His barber shop closed. For a while, he worked for a friend's barbershop further down Washington Street in West Newton. It was next to a funeral home that used to exist on or near where the Dunkin' Donuts is now. In 1975 he moved again, and bought the barbershop in the River Street Plaza in Waltham. He sold it in 1989 to Bob (Trundle?) who still runs it now. George works there every Thursday, "for golf money," and to keep in touch with his trade and his customers. He says business there has been harder since Raytheon and Barry (Controls?) closed up their facitilities on the other side of River Street, but when I stopped by, there were lots of people still waiting for a haircut.


Blogger Tom said...

I moved to West Newton after the Pike and worked a while at Harney Hardware.

You don't mention Lincoln Park, which was located right where the Pike rotary sits. This was in the early '70s and there were still heavy morning drinkers wandering around on Washington Street looking for the park, which had been a drinker's resort.

Another bit of Square lore. The building which once held Quinn News, now a new Thai takeout place, once faced on Washington Street and was turned 90 degrees to make room for the building that Harney once occupied, now the Blue Ribbon and Keltic Krust. You can see this by the doorway to the Thai place, which was designed to be on a corner, cut at 45 degrees.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

It's more trouble than it's worth to make comments under these conditions. and with such a confusing interface.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Godofhelfire said...

You must be talking about George Rizzo. My dad would take me there. Next door, there was a butcher, Dave, and his son, Irving, who then worked at Harney's Hardware after the Turnpike. There was another hardware store, Harris's, one door east of the theatre, that had a candy store. West of the threatre was the Newton Co-Operative Bank where Mr. Chase directed the bank. The big bank on Highland St., opposite the police station, was the West Newton Saving Bank.
The Boston and Albany RR divided West Newton. Tony's Drug Store had a building adjacent to the train bridge and a Black church and office building, where I can there was an architect. After there, there was Tommy Lyon's funeral parlor, a torn-down building next to the funeral place, then the St. Bernard's RC Covent, school and the church. Maybe the convent was the razed Convent.
East of the tracks was the old B.F. Eddy Co. offices and coal yead which morph into a oil-heat company. Above that, was the Virgina Hotel, a flophouse. Next Dave's Market, George's barbershop, them Toto's, next the store I don't remember, Bob's Lunch, another bar, then Harney's.
Ed ran Quinn's on the west side of ELm St., behind Harney's and then there was a Texaco gas station. I think there were several gas companies in there.
East of Elm (pronounced Alum) was Marden's Seafood Store on the corner, another business, and then the big First National market, Jackie Matthews insurance busines and a travel agency. Lawyer Billy Matthews has he's law firm and some other offices on the second floor. Billy went on to be mayor.
After the police station, a liquor store and the big Liggest Rexall Drug Store on the corner of Waltham St.
On the northeast corner was the big department, Barron's, where we had our Boy Scout uniforms.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please post something that says if you are still adding to this site. I have lots of memories of pre-pike West Newton, but I don't want to take the time if you're not at the site. I have a great George the barber story as well)
Gino from Tennyson Road

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I attended the old Peirce School in kindergarten (Auburn Street & Chestnut-Miss Berry) when I first moved to West Newton in 1948. The next year, the new Peirce was built on Temple Street. When I got a liitle older...say around 8-9-10...my daily route with my friend, Tommy Gallagher from Tennyson Road, would take us down Prospect, making a stop at St. Bernards recreation building at the corner of Prospect and Washington. (Basketball and a bowling alley, where we had to set our own pins) Then we'd walk further down past St Bernard's church and walk through "The Village". This is what we called the area behind St Berbard's, and it was predominantly an African American neighborhood, some of whose small buildings and houses dated from the Civil War. (Curve Street, Virginia Street...look at some old maps) We always made a stop at a one room broom factory and helped the old "Rev" with his brooms. This whole area sat right on the railroad tracks, and many of the older residents worked as domestic help for the big houses on West Newton Hill some years before. Most of these streets were removed to make way for the Mass Pike around 1962-3. I had many friends who lived in that area because we all went to Warren Jr High. (The Houstons, The Greens, to name just a couple of families) Our next stop was always Tony's Drug Store that sat on a small block next to an old sho repair shop on the railroad bridge. (That was always a special dare...to walk the top of the bridge trestle) We would sit and have our vanilla cokes while we harrassed Tony Poland, a wonderful gentleman, and his top man, Rae, a tall African American who was kind and gentle. (They really took a lot of abuse from us, but we were just kids) My mother would send me down to George's Barber Shop for my "whiffle cuts"...He had a poster on the wall with different numbered hair styles, and little drawn pictures of what they would look like. I always wanted to keep my hair longer, so I would always ask for a "number 5". It never worked because my mother would always call him and say, "cut it all off"! (George also did not like cutting the hair of his black neighbors, so a sign would say, "Haircuts: $1.25; Specialty Haircuts: $10.00" We all knew what that meant.) We'd meander down the street past Harney's Hardware (where our family always bought everything for the house, including our appliances...there weren't those suburban big box stores then...), past Captain Marden's fish market, and would always make a stop at Woolworth's (I can still smell that store, with its old wooden floor, notion section, etc) And, yes,we would pocket a few things now and then, but only got caught once, and Officer Feeley let us have it. We'd walk across to the park, play a little ball, then work our way down to Barbara Jeans Candy store near the theater (I could write forever about the theater!) Anyway, I do remember so much more. I was a kid when Temple Shalom was built on Temple Street (and helped my friend Reggie, the brick layer, carry some bricks) The new Peirce school was a dream school...so modern...Miss Berry, Miss Love, and the wonderful Miss Ruth J. O'Donnell, who actually ran the school...although Miss Caldwell was the principal.And then there was the custodian, Mr. Kritch (who fell in a ditch, found a penny and thought he was rich) He's the one that used to prepare the basement for halloween...it was the "house of horrors"...I hope this prompts some other memories...I'd love to write more, but, as I said, I could go on forever. It was a wonderful time.

4:21 PM  

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