A recent post to the Arlington List (a local “listserv” subscription mailing list) seeking to know the name of a long-gone sandwich shop where today’s Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant is located drew the correct response by me that it was Dewey’s Luncheonette. This was followed by an informative and entertaining series of posts by Arlington List members, remembering different aspects of commercial life in Arlington Center a half-century ago.
This inspired me to share the following series of photographs made in June 1964. These are previously unpublished images of buildings that were shot head-on. The individual prints were roughly aligned, glued, and physically cropped to simulate a panoramic image. Thus, unusual elements may be noticed, such as automobiles missing their front or rear sections. Pasted onto these images are hand-drawn trees that obscure some of the storefronts, suggesting that these photographs were assembled as part of a streetscape-improvement proposal. The uneven scissor-cut borders, cracked emulsion, and other condition issues of this photo-collage suggest that these images were intended for one-time use and to end up in the trash. The many flaws of this historical artifact make us realize how fortunate it is that these images have survived.
We’ll take our tour heading east to west (right to left in the images), with the street number of Massachusetts Avenue provided in parentheses next to the business being discussed.
In this first image we see the recently opened (1960) route of Mystic Street at the far right, which aligned it directly with Pleasant Street, away from its original junction with Massachusetts Avenue on the east side of today’s Whittemore Park. To accomplish this, the old Arlington town hall (in service as such from 1853 to 1913) was demolished. The Uncle Sam statue would be erected in 1976 on the open space between Mystic Street and the former Arlington National Bank building (no. 635).
The Arlington National Bank was chartered in 1921 and fifty years later, in July 1971, was acquired by Coolidge Bank and Trust of Watertown. But not without Arlington National’s president and one of its directors being sued along the way to this sale by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1970. Their insider-trading scheme was foiled. In 1991, a disgraced Coolidge Bank would be closed by regulators during the New England real estate and banking crisis, Coolidge’s case including revelation of unseemly management practices.
But back in 1964, the Arlington National Bank was cheerfully serving the community, and advertising its popular “Christmas Club” to help customers save in weekly installments (at typical 4% passbook savings interest) and receive a payout check in time for early holiday shopping. Notice the “Walk Up Teller” exterior feature at the right corner of the building. This was a convenience in the era before ATMs, to expand available hours for basic bank services when the rest of the bank was closed.
The street next to the Arlington National Bank building was then called Railroad Avenue (in the year 2000 it was renamed David Lamson Way, after a local African-American Revolutionary War combatant). Railroad Avenue was the object of considerable attention in the early 1960s, as part of a plan to extend it as a traffic loop to Water Street, and to raze the railroad station (partially seen in the background) for parking spaces. The rail depot was built in 1883 and had been purchased by the Town of Arlington, who was renting it to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1775. The wrecking ball would not strike for another decade, something that many wish could be undone and the station restored, now that the rail line has become the Minuteman Bikeway.
The above image shows the building whose ground floor has been is entirely occupied since 2002 by Not Your Average Joe’s (no. 645). The sign for Dewey’s Luncheonette can be seen facing Railroad Avenue. Dewey’s also operated its taxi cab office and stand at this location. One of the “partial cars” mentioned above can be seen in this image, and it’s one of Dewey’s cabs.
Sharing the building with Dewey’s Luncheonette are the Variety Smoke Shop (both at no. 645), Farrington’s phonograph record store (no. 649)–notice the black platters decorating its sign; and The Shop Unique (no. 651), which sold greeting cards and gifts, featuring Hummel figurines. Longtime Society member Bill Mahoney has observed that what is the current bar area of Not Your Average Joe’s is at a raised floor height compared to the seating area of the restaurant, reflecting the fact that when there was a separate business occupying the storefront, its physical configuration differed from that of its neighbors.
As a restaurant site, it was the Town House Restaurant (a.k.a. Garron’s) that truly made history in Arlington as being the first in modern times to serve alcoholic beverages. In 1979, after many decades as a “dry” town, Arlington took the first tentative steps towards licensing larger dining establishments to serve alcohol. Liberalized attitudes and policies towards alcoholic beverages have evolved over decades as a key aspect of Arlington becoming a destination for foodies, as well as having some attractive package stores.
Continuing west on Massachusetts Avenue we have come upon the Harvard Trust Company (no. 655), which acquired the Menotomy Trust Company in 1947 and remodeled the building to its more-or-less present appearance. The Menotomy Trust Company was the successor institution to the First National Bank of Arlington (unrelated to the Arlington National Bank), converting from a national bank charter to a state-chartered trust company in 1912. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, the building has been home to a Bank of America branch since 2004.
It’s hard to imagine, but the Harvard Trust building facade hides the original yellow-brick Renaissance Revival architecture that inspired the design of the Associates Block next door. (To be fair, the Menotomy Trust Company was the first to camouflage the building in the 1920s by applying then-fashionable decorative-cast concrete, a faux-stone material that did not stand up to the elements).
In front of the Harvard Trust Company is a clear view of parking meters, which arrived in Arlington Center in 1948, about the same time as the bank. The street meters were removed in the 1980s, but have been reinstalled in recent weeks. Everything old is new again, at least where trying to manage parking is concerned.
On the ground floor of the Associates Block was a business (no. 659) whose entire name is hidden by the pasted-on tree. Ironically, it is the only local retailer in these images that is in business today: Swanson jewelers, founded in 1938. This was Swanson’s second location; the store moved in 1988 to its present home at 717 Massachusetts Ave. Next door (no. 663) is the ladies apparel establishment Kathryn’s Fashion Shoppe. A Christmas advertising message was: “Your gift from Kathryn’s conveys good taste and careful selection with confidence and reliability”–studiously avoiding any notion of what we would call “fashion forward” nowadays.
The two-story building adjacent is actually the Associates Block extension, built about a half-dozen years after the main block, in 1907. Here we see Belden & Snow (no. 665), “The Men’s and Young Men’s” clothing store (originally a branch of its successful Somerville shop).
The last business on this tour is Sears & Tibbetts Prescription Pharmacy (no. 669), owned then by Leonard Tibbetts, and proud to advertise a staff of “eight pharmacists to serve you.” Discount chain pharmacies had for decades been making inroads into the domain of the independents. Sears & Tibbetts had an extensive print advertising theme that was quite serious in tone, and was geared towards a clientele seeking reassurances of safety and quality. The neon signs above the door conveyed modernity in their era, and are remembered as literal bright spots of artistic nostalgia today.
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In January a post in this blog will feature another detailed view of the “panorama,” also of the north side of Massachusetts Avenue in 1964, heading eastbound from Mystic Street to Medford Street.