1964: Views of Arlington Center east of Mystic Street


Individual snapshots were assembled to create a panoramic view, three inches high and 27 inches wide.

It’s 1964. Comets could be seen streaking down Massachusetts Avenue.

The Comet automobile, that is. Some likely purchased at Arlington’s Bonnell & Stokes Lincoln-Mercury-Comet dealership located between the Center and the Heights. But I digress . . . .

This post continues one from last month, offering a unique tour of Arlington Center over a half-century ago. The photographs were snapshots taken to create an illustration for a sidewalk landscaping proposal. The images were glued together, approximately aligned, and roughly cropped to create a sort of panoramic view. Thus the startling sight of a car missing its front or rear end, or parts of passing trucks obscuring storefronts. The emulsion on the prints is damaged in places, but most of the business storefronts shine through in this wonderful photographic artifact.

The scene is the north side of Massachusetts Avenue, and this narration will move from left to right (west to east) as the businesses are discussed.

Before getting down to business, attention is called to the barren expanse of the recent (1960) reconfiguration of the Mystic Street and Massachusetts Avenue junction. While aligning Mystic Street with Pleasant Street was a long-overdue improvement to eliminate multiple bottleneck points for north-south vehicular travel, the design promoted a bit too much speed by including what essentially was an “exit ramp” from Massachusetts Avenue to Mystic Street and a two-sided parking lot on the former Mystic Street roadway.  Three decades later, the intersection was beautified and made safer for pedestrians by creating leafy Whittemore Park and relocating the 1819 Jefferson Cutter House (home to the Cyrus Dallin Museum) as the centerpiece of a historically themed green space.

Detail from a Norman Hurst photograph, taken a decade later.  From the historical collection of Robbins Library.

At the former eastern corner of Mystic Street and Massachusetts Avenue stands the red-brick Finance Building.  The street-level tenant wrapping around corner was the recently opened Poly Clean Center, which was not merely a laundromat, but touted the economy of coin-operated do-it-yourself dry cleaning.  The results were rarely as successful as professional dry cleaning, and the fad faded.

Adjacent was Sheehy’s, one of several places in town that specialized in greeting cards, such as Driscoll’s in East Arlington.

Next door, the wide storefront whose name is mostly obscured by the drawings of trees pasted onto the image, is Arlington Furniture, one of two large furniture stores (the other was Gordon’s) in the Center.  Gordon’s selection leaned more towards contemporary furnishings, while Arlington Furniture was a proud Ethan Allen gallery, featuring “Early American” designs that were extremely popular in the 1960s.

The Edison shop was operated by electric utility company Boston Edison.  It sold a wide array of major appliances, available through the convenience of an installment-purchase plan integrated with the customer’s monthly electric bill.  In 1964, the Norge brand of washing machines and clothes dryers was prominently featured, with periodic payments as low as two dollars.  Also in Arlington Center, at the corner of Broadway and Alton Street, was a the appliance showroom of the Mystic Valley Gas Company (formerly the Arlington Gas Light Company), offering competitive deals.

Brigham’s ice cream parlor was one of two in Arlington, the other location being in Arlington Heights.   It would be another few years before Brigham’s would acquire Buttrick’s, move its headquarters to Mill Street in Arlington, and thus operate a third restaurant location in the town.

F. W. Woolworth Co. (known informally as Woolworth’s, Woolie’s, or just the five-and-dime), would have been one of the most frequently visited establishments in Arlington Center, due to the wide variety of its merchandise.  By 1964, its Arlington Center neighbor and national competitor, S.S. Kresge, had already left town.

Alson’s Shoes was a multi-generation family business.  Its “Family Shoe Club”  offered a 13th pair free after the purchase of twelve pairs.  A featured children’s brand was Jumping Jacks, making Alson’s go head-to-head with one of its Arlington Center competitors, Plotkin’s.

The Sherwin-Williams store of course carried a full line of house paints, and offered the loan of a “color harmony guide” in the era before mass-produced color strips  and folders became ubiquitous giveaways.  At Christmastime, the store advertised craft and light-carpentry project kits.

The Center Delicatessen’s neon sign and boldly striped awning conjure nostalgia for the simple sandwich shops of yesteryear.

The Stork Club, a playful take on the name of the renowned New York nightclub that would abruptly close its doors in 1965, would seem to be a maternity apparel shop.  No advertisements have been found for The Stork Club, so perhaps readers will be able to share memories of this business.

The Mary Alyce Shop was an Arlington ladies’ store, in business at the same location since the mid-1930s.

At the west corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Medford Street is the Crisafi Pharmacy.  It replaced a Cole’s drug store at that location, and thus was an example of an independent taking over from a chain “discount” operator.

On the east corner is a Liggett Rexall drug store.  Despite the prominence of the Liggett and Rexall names, very few of the stores were company-owned in the way that CVS and Walgreens operate today.  They were mostly independent franchises for whom the cooperative purchasing arrangement of branded products occupied a much larger spot in the U.S. pharmacy marketplace than exists today.  The orange-with-blue-lettering Rexall signs made bold graphic statements on streetscapes from coast to coast.

The view straight down Medford Street gives a tantalizing glimpse of the individual places there, but just a few are identifiable.  To this day, there still are doughnuts, Arlington Catholic High School (the newcomer on the block), and St. Agnes Church–all important Arlington institutions!  On the right is the Nevaire gift shop, with an eclectic merchandise array–from religious goods to portable manual typewriters.

And–of course, and since 1916–stands the Regent Theatre.  Note its rooftop neon sign, from which the E. M. Loew’s name was removed after the Regent exited that chain.  The cinema marquee advertises the film “From Russia With  Love,” allowing us to precisely date this image to the last week of June 1964.  The movie had previously played for two weeks at the Capitol Theatre in East Arlington (then called the New Capitol), before its seven-day second run at the Regent.  Sean Connery’s second James Bond thriller was considered mature audience fare, so the matinee show was the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello outing, “Muscle Beach Party”–just right for the youth of the Summer of ’64 in Arlington, Massachusetts.

4 thoughts on “1964: Views of Arlington Center east of Mystic Street

  1. Thank you for posting this Richard! I still miss Brigham’s ice cream, and the chocolates and fudge.

  2. The Deli! Some don’t believe me saying we would go get beans at Helen’s and fish cakes on a Friday at a deli! Great piece, thanks!

  3. If I am correct: Yes- Woolworth’s was in the center and Grant’s was up Mass Avenue going towards the library. Both were within walking distance.

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