Old Ball Square

On April 21, 2012, 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.)

I lived in Lenny and Louise Scott’s house on Pearson Ave. from 1956 to 1961. Ball Square was a short walk and we spent a lot of time there. As a matter of fact, former alderman and school committee member Lenny Scott gave me a 1882 silver dollar for my birthday one year. I went to Savel’s 5 and 10 and bought my mother an apron. My dad went down there shortly after that and got the silver dollar back (and gave him another one). I still have that coin. I also have many memories of those days long ago in Ball Square. To add to my own memories, I interviewed a very knowledgeable friend of mine with an excellent memory, who told me about Ball Square in the 1940’s and 50’s. She wishes to remain anonymous, but the interesting and historic information she gave me is here in this column for us to enjoy.

Ball Square was the place my friend and her classmates came to after classes were finished at St. Clement School. After a long day with Sisters Adele, Benedict, Ethelbert, Verecunda and Eulina, Steven’s Ice Cream was one of the places they hung out. They would walk to the old Lincoln Junior High School in Medford to perform in St. Clement’s March play. Sometimes they would have to go to Tufts Field in Medford to skate if they didn’t flood Trum Field.

At the corner of Josephine Ave. and Broadway was a First National store. During World War II you had to have ration coupons. Red coupons were for meat and blue ones were for groceries. There was the Ball Square Bakery, The Ball Square Grill, and, of course, the Fryers, with their fabulous pizza and fried shrimp. There was a men’s clothing store or haberdasher, called Margets. At 7 a.m., people stood in line at Lyndell’s ( which was at a different location back then) for savory baked beans and fresh brown bread.

Who could forget Ball Square Fish Market? Frankie and his family were so friendly, not to mention the unforgettable fish and chips. I can still see Frank’s smiling face. The staff at Crowley’s Liquor store were always pleasant and you’d never know who you would see in there. Let’s also not forget Harold’s Luncheonette. Todis Subs was a fun place to pop into also. His mom was in the back cutting veggies and no one could beat his pepper and eggs, and crab meat salad. Todi was quite a character. That brings us to the famous barbershop. I am happy to say that I got haircuts from Lionel, then Artie, and finally “fast” Phil Rotondo. But did you know there was another barbershop on the bridge? It was run by Mike Caliri and you could get your ears lowered for 60 cents! Now, my wonderful friend who I interviewed for this story told me the locations of these places but two things happened. One, I couldn’t write that fast, and two, I have trouble reading my hen-scratch note writing. Anyway, there was another market called Homsy’s ( I hope I spelled that right!) It was run by Charlie and his son, and his daughter Margie. There was O’Brien’s Bar and Grille, Linda’s Donuts, and Tomeo’s Meat Market where Tony and Maria hammered and tenderized the veal cutlets to perfection.

Mitchells was at the corner of Josephine for years. I remember watching those two brothers go from young men, to adults, and then finally retire and sell the place. Mitchell’s always reminded me of Hoodsies. Don’t forget Ray’s fruit, Bo Bo’s Chinese Restaurant, Victors’ Florist, McDonald Florist, Kennedy Butter and Egg, Ace Carpet, and Lepore’s pharmacy. I have a picture from around 1965 of the St Clement Boy Scout troop 71, singing Christmas carols in front of Johnnies Super market. We also must note the Willow Café, Hyde’s Lunch, and good old Dr Walsh the dentist. How many of you went to Dr Harry Goldenberg on Broadway across from Powder House Park? I did. He used to make house calls no matter what time of day and in all kinds of weather.

One of my favorite places in Ball Square was Surabian Drugs. I remember a fellow named Lud who always smiled as he greeted you in his grey pharmacists smock. Surabian’s also had a soda fountain run by a man named Ray.

I’d like to thank my friend for sitting down with me and sharing her precious memories. As we were talking I could picture her as a child going into the Ball Square Theatre, or the bowling alley, or getting some candy from one of the many stores back then. I could tell those days were very special to her by the way she smiled when she reminisced about those times years ago. Ball Square has certainly changed a lot over the years, but in a lot of people’s hearts it will always be a happy place, with great friends, and memories that will never go out of business.


Join us for a ROAST AND TOAST FOR ROBERT (Bobby) RACICOT on Tuesday, April 24 at Montvale Plaza at 7:00 pm. The cost is $50 a person or $500 a table. Enjoy Tony V, DJs, food, dancing, silent auction and raffle prizes. All proceeds to fund the Parkinson’s and Liver Cancer treatment. Anyone interested in tickets can contact Gary Gartland at gmgartland@gmail.com, Billy Murphy at the YMCA in Somerville (617-625-5050) or Roland or Yvonne Racicot at Roland’s Jewelers, 70 High St. in Medford Square, 781-391-9889. Also check out The Friends Of Robert Racicot page on Facebook.


23 Responses to “Old Ball Square”

  1. j. connelly says:

    Wow Jimmy that brought back some great memories. I too went to the great Dr. Harry Goldenberg.
    If there were an accident nearby he would come running out of his office to help. One day [when the trackless trolley buses were around] the MTA repair crew truck with the platform on top that rose up so they could repair the lines was on Broadway near Warner St. One of the workers came into contact with both wires at once and got shocked. There was Dr.Goldenberg with his black bag climbing up the truck to care for the injured man… I used to mow his lawn and sometimes he would drive me up to his house in Lexington to do yard work for him.

  2. Eileen says:

    And don’t forget Girard’s Donut Shop…..They had the best donuts in Somerville.

    Steven’s was noted for their vanilla cokes and English Muffins – everybody would go their after Mass on Sunday and get “the usual”.

    Great Memories of Ball Square – thanks Jimmy

  3. mike bonanno says:

    Great memories, I loved Ball Square so did my Brother. Great story.

  4. Some Ole Villen says:

    Excellent article on what was in Ball Square back in the day. Just to add a few things as I stretch my memory to its limits. Where CVS recently was, Johnnies Super Market held that location however when it first opened it was smaller and that block was shared with Von’s Cleaners and McCue’s Variety Store. Wasn’t Marget’s a smoke shop where you could place a bet on anything? Steven’s became Harold’s Lunch. My favorite place for Mom to take me was Saval’s Five and 10 where it seemed to have everything a kid could want. Don’t forget Patsy’s Barber Shop right next to Mitchell’s.
    Does anybody remember the Sign Shop right next to the Fryers.

  5. Gary K says:

    I remember one day it was cool and rainy, no good for farmers to pick corn so some of them came and sat in the Chatterbox Cafe for a while and tried to comfort each other by telling a few familiar jokes. Roger and Rollie and Harold and Virgil Berge, sitting in the back booth, began with a few clean ones about animals walking into a bar and asking for a drink, and a cannibal joke, and the pig-in-the-apple-tree joke, and the ventriloquist who spends the night at the sheep farmer’s, and the one about the Norweigian trying to get into heaven. Then Harold started one about a seed salesman who was traveling through. His voice dropped as he came to the part where the lady tiptoes out to the privy in the moonlight and her dog follows her, and everyone leaned in close, and Mr Lundberg and Bud and Russell came and huddled over the booth, waiting to be killed by this beloved old classic and he said, “So Clarissa seen a petunia growing near the path and bent down to pick it up..and the dog he.” and Harold, who has been under a lot of pressure lately, began to slowly explode. He leaked air out of his nose and his ears. He gasped and whinnied, tears running down his face, he grabbed in to the table, out of control, he stood up and motioned to be let out, but they were starting to leak too and he couldn’t move. Uncle Al was there, having a bite of meat loaf. He told me later, “You know, some people only know how to tell a joke, but Harold knows how to make people laugh.”

  6. j. connelly says:

    Wow all the great memories and times. Cannot wait to attend the book signing of Jimmies Book on all this stuff. Now where & when is that happening Jimmy?????

  7. Jimmy says:

    I am still toying with the idea of compiling some of the stories from the News. It gets into some $ . Publishers are looking for novels and love drama. I am still thinking of it and thanks for your interest !

  8. Jimmy says:

    I wasnt sure about Margets,,, but I know they got busted for taking numbers !

  9. JAR says:

    Another great article Jimmy.

    The Ball Square institution that I often think of (and miss) was Knox Bros. Dodge. Although it wasn’t in the middle of the Square, it was technically “located” there. Going in there was a throwback to an earlier era in car dealerships in a way… an old concrete building that always seemed more suited to 1920s-vintage automobiles than the 1980s and ’90s ones they sold there until their closure. It was really the last surviving of the “old” car dealerships in Somerville.

    This should probably come under the heading of “older” Ball Square (which was, at one time, known as “Willow Bridge” on the railroad and later “North Somerville”). There is an interesting story from 1913 about an Irish immigrant girl named Annie Cullen who was killed by a moving train after throwing the baby she was holding clear. The story of her life-saving heroics took place at a somewhat critical juncture during the debate about restricting immigration at the time, and adds to the lore and legend of Ball Square…

    “Annie is said to have made several friends in her short time in Boston and had spent a lot of her time visiting. One such friend lived in Ball Square, Somerville – perhaps another girl she met on the ship.

    It was Annie’s habit to take her little cousin, Josephine, out with her when she went on her visits and on June 4th 1913 she and Josephine were returning home from Ball Square. Josephine, at two years of age, was unable to walk long distances, but liked to toddle along after Annie. Whenever she tired, or Annie wished to hurry, she would have to carry the child.

    It had been just over two hours since they left home, and after their visit, started on their return journey. Annie had to cross the railway track at North Somerville Station to get to where her aunt lived just 200 yards beyond.

    It was a quiet time of day with very few people at the train station and little Josephine was in her arms as she waited on the platform for an in-bound freight train to pass. Once out of sight, she proceeded to cross the tracks, but the train’s smoke still lay under a nearby bridge and had obscured another on-coming train on the other track. At this stage, Annie and the little girl, were in the centre of the second line of track with the black locomotive bearing down upon them. Annie screamed as she saw it and in a split second, threw the little girl onto the wooden platform facing her.

    Little Josephine rolled over and cried on the platform holding a sore left leg, but the mangled body of Annie lay some 50 feet beyond. Annie was struck by the huge engine and knocked 30 feet ahead. Her body landed on the track, and although the engineer was putting all the emergency brakes down hard, it was still 30 feet more before the huge engine came to a full stop.

    The train caught the body of the girl again and had dragged it the intervening distance. The body lay against a telegraph pole by the side of the tracks. Annie Cullen had sustained a fracture of the scull and left leg and died in a few minutes. At 3.09 p.m. on the 4th June 1913, Annie Cullen’s short visit to America had ended, just 10 weeks short of her 18th birthday. Medical Examiner, Dr. Durnell of Somerville, viewed the body and she was removed by an undertaker around 3.45 p.m.

    The same day, a Bill was introduced in the United States Senate, proposing to restrict immigration. That bill might have excluded this eighteen year old girl from this country. A newspaper editorial, the next day, wrote: “How many of our ninety million people could surpass her in nobility? She stood on a railroad track in front of an oncoming express train. She had time only to choose between herself and the little child. She chose the child and threw it to safety on the station platform. If that girl could have lived, would this country not have been richer for her presence?

    No general test, whether of literacy or of the possession of worldly goods, can ascertain the desirability of an immigrant. If they have character and health and the capacity to be assimilated by our people without deterioration, they are desirable immigrants. They bring to us an ample surplus of capital when they bring us character, good health, energy and ambition.

    Whether Annie Cullen could read or write is not reported. But no books could ever give her the character and noble unselfishness which made her forget herself and yet permitted her to retain her self-possession and self-control while she saved the child. No one knows what Annie Cullen might have done for this country if it had been given her to live.

    Girls like Annie Cullen have been the mothers of great men. In the approaching emancipation of women, perhaps this girl might have been a Joan of Arc to the people of this country in some social or political crisis of the years to come”.

    Annie Cullen’s funeral service was held on Saturday, the 7th June 1913 at St. Clement’s Church, South Medford and she was buried at St. Paul’s Cemetery, Arlington, which was part of the Catholic Cemetery Association of Boston.

  10. GPratt says:

    Thanks Jimmy (and others) for the great trip down memory lane. I went to St. C’s from Gr. 1-12 and like anyone who went to school there spent a lot a time in Ball Square. We actually lived closer to Teele Sq but my mom always bought her meat from Tony (I loved to slide across the saw dust on the floor when I was a kid) and her fruit and veg from Ray and Anna next door. then we’d hit Lyndells for heir great breads (Honeycomb!) and desserts. we didn’t own a car so we would walk to the square and take a taxi home with our big bundles full of fresh food. That was in the 50’s and 60’s. Imagine how thrilled I was to return to Ball Sq. ( Bay State Ave) for the first 7 years of marriage (1976-83) when those places were still there
    and I was able to shop like my mom did! Great memories all. I also recently read your column from last year about the Old and New Davis Sq. It brought back so many memories (waiting FOREVER for those long freight trains to pass through). I live in Southeastern Mass now (country, when compared to Somerville!) but made a nice trip down memory lane courtesy of your great columns.

  11. j. connelly says:

    “JAR” What a sad but great important story. Evidently she was a great lady and a true heroe….Excellent article.

  12. MF says:

    How about Lambros and Handy Andy donuts? The Italian Bakery.. There was Somerville Savings Bank before it became Somerset Savings.. this was more late 60’s and 70’s. Leo’s Pizza was where the theater was after a fire, Modern Shoe Store..beside the Pub. and let’s not forget the short time the pinball arcades were there in two different places. Lot’s of memories of the square over the years.. Always a great place. I loved growing up on Rogers Avenue.

  13. Ron Newman says:

    I did not know Lyndell’s used to be in a different location. Where was it?

  14. A Moore says:

    The 2 brothers who owned Modern shoe store were very nice people. After the fire they lost a lot of stock as it was stolen. Due to their age and money they just gave up the idea of starting over. Mr. Ardolino who had the doughnut shop has passed away a while back. He was known as batman. His wife told me there were a lot of bats in the area and he was often called upon to remove them, especially for her as she was afraid of them. Nice people..

  15. Vinnie Keiley says:

    Now I will go way back… Ball Sq Jewlers was approx where Bo Bo’s ended up. Al not only sold jewelry but booked air travel. Facing Johnie’s on the corner to the right…cant remember the street name,,,,,was a typical “croner store” named McHughs . I went to Bobby Racicot’s time WOW talk about som old Somervile faces..

  16. Pat Walker says:

    Love the stories listed. I also went to St. Clements and I took dancing lessons from Aleta Ray. The dance studio was on the second floor above the Willow Grill. U remember a deli where the bank is now but don’t remember the name of it. I lived on Josephine Ave until @ 1983 until we sold the house for a lot less than they are worth now.

  17. Boston Kate says:

    Vinnie – I think you mean Lowden Avenue.

  18. Ray Walker–The name of the deli was “Hy’s”. Used to go there after a class at Tufts for a sandwich and beer.

  19. George Fales says:

    I use to shine shoes there in front of Obrien’s. Went to the Ball Sq. Theater and bowling alleys.

  20. Donna says:

    OMG just stumbled upon this article. I also went to St. Clement’s and took dance from Aleta Ray. I lived on Prichard Ave. I believe the name of the Deli below the dance studio was Hy’s Deli. GREAT article. Brought back so many memories. I also remember Lyndell Bakery–the best apple turnovers I ever had. I also have memories of Powder House Park and that little candy store across the street from it–barley lollipops and fresh popped pop corn. Those were “true good old days”.

  21. Frank Pignone says:

    I so remember Ball Square. It was part of our life growing up in the late 40’s and early 50’s..Hy’s Deli, where my dad worked part time… Coming out of the long afternoon at the theater we’d see that beautiful glass which housed Lyndells or maybe another baker…Across the street was the 5 and 10 where I purchased all those metal soldiers… ( wish I had them now )….loved that place……….So many stores…..The bowling alley, I believe is still open part time perhaps… Pins were set up by hand ! The huge liquor store on the corner.. and oh yes the ‘hair cut’ on top of the bridge..We called him ‘bachagaloop’…..We knew him like a father…The car dealership was right across the street and the ‘Jenny’ Gas station was right next to it……….Boy, my mind is going ‘both ways.. as it travels to Trum Park and then back to Powder House Park…..Thanks, and I’ll visit here once in a while.. Makes this old man feel 10 again………..Good luck….’Frank’

  22. Patti Bergin says:

    Let’s not forget Linda’s Donuts….that was our Sunday Mass..Lyndell’s now is not as good it was back then. Harold’s fresh fruit orange was the bomb!

  23. Phil O'D says:

    Don’t forget the Ball Square Theater. Saturday matinee was 10 cents. I remember My friend Joe Salemme won a bike there one Saturday. Marget’s was a smoke shop. The evening Herald was dropped off at Mitchell’s around 7 every night & everyone waited to see what the “Number” was that day. Johnnie’s was First National store when we first moved to Willow Ave in 1957.

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