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Scollay Square: 1905

Scollay Square: 1905

Boston circa 1905. "Scollay Square Station." Drug store sodas 5 cents -- "None Better." 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Not Much Left

The only buildings depicted in this photograph that are still in existence are the brick building at the left edge, housing the drug store at street level, and the Suffolk County Courthouse, which is the building directly in the middle, with the columns and the clock. The space where the drug store was once located is now a branch of Bank of America, but the rest of the building is still pretty much untouched - a fine, old, red brick office building, with lots of nice masonry detail. The Courthouse was expanded, with some extra floors added on, sometime shortly after this photo was taken. More recently, the entire building was completely renovated and made the home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court. Everything else in the photo is gone, and lively, old, honky-tonk Scollay Square itself was replaced by the vast, paved, soul-less desert of Government Center - one of the uglier examples of urban "renewal" in the history of Boston.

Origin of "Charlie on the MTA"

It was a political jingle from a 1949 Boston Mayoral race:

(Fares on the MBTA are going up today, July 1.)

Boston's Tenderloin

The great comedian Fred Allen said that in 1912. Also that "If the Boston of those days was as proper and conservative as the high-button shoe, the average man's answer to conservatism was Scollay Square. Scollay Square was the hot foot applied to the high-button shoe." Within the square were many vaudeville theatres including the Beacon, the Palace, the Comique, the Bowdoin Square Theatre and the Old Howard. Also two museums, Walker's Nickelodeon and Austin and Stone's. The latter, at the corner of Howard St., had by 1912, been a landmark for thirty years, made famous by P. T. Barnum. It was the ultimate freak show Mecca of the day. The Nickelodeon was a penny arcade and shooting gallery, but for 10¢ extra over the regular 5¢ admission fee, you could see the "Big Girl Show". The Old Howard became the leading amusement emporium as Austin & Stone's declined, serving up burlesque and vaudeville. Along with the entertainment, there were several eateries such as Higgins' Famous Oyster House, the Revere House, the Grotto and the Daisy Lunch. In the Higgins' cellar was the Bucket of Blood, a poolroom for the betting crowd.

The Square apparently was the place to be around the turn of the century. By the 1950's, when Allen wrote this book, it had pretty much achieved ghost town status. But reading his description of Scollay Square as well as other places played a big part in my attraction to Shorpy. The high resolution pictures of that bygone era bring those descriptions to life to a great degree. It's a shame this photo wasn't taken on a busy afternoon near Austin & Stone's or the Old Howard.

Stone powered time machines

I decided to pursue the name "Geo. M. Stevens, Boston Mass." shown on the turret clocks and found some conversation and history. Clocks powered by long ropes and stone weights in wooden crates.
The National Association of Watch and Clock-

Two different stations

The subway station entrance in the foreground is the entrance to Court Street station in the East Boston Tunnel while the more ornate entrance is for Scollay Sq station. The two stations were on the same level but separated by a thin wall of concrete. Scollay Under, mentioned in one of the other comments, would not exist until 1916 when Court St. station (much of which still exists but is inaccessible) was closed permanently.

Get Charlie off the Train?

Charlie's wife handed him a sandwich at the Scollay Square Station, but I've always wondered why she didn't hand him a nickel, too, so he could get off that train.

The resurfacing of Scollay Under

Bostonians will know that the Government Center MBTA station, which sits roughly in this same location, is currently closed for two years for renovations. During the renovations they've uncovered some of the original tile mosaic signs from "Scollay Under," which was the subway line that you see the headhouses for in this photo (so called "Under" to distinguish it from the streetcar line that stopped at street level - note the "2-Car Stop" sign in the photo).

The plan is to keep them and include them in the station redesign, as they've done elsewhere in renovated stations where the tiles were uncovered. But nothing can bring back the buildings of Scollay Square, alas.

Where his wife handed Charlie a sandwich.

Scollay Square vanished to typically destructive urban renewal in the early 1960s, but the station survives in the "M.T.A. Song" about "the man who never returned" from his subway ride. The song was popularized by the Kingston Trio in 1959, but it was actually written ten years earlier.

Frugal New Englanders

Now that's what I call a bargain -- a ten-cent seegar for seven cents.


Whatever happened to the fold up and down window awnings, do they still make any?
Is that a Woolworth's 5 and 10 I see at the bottom right?

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