In June of 1940 this aerial photograph was taken of Boston, showing us the city about a year and half before U.S. entry into World War Two. In the upper left we see that Fan Pier is still mostly rail yards. In the city proper only the Custom House and the 1939 Courthouse in Pemberton Square make any dent in the skyline, and already signs of decay are evident in Scollay Square (lower right corner) as we can see a number of buildings have been torn down and the lots used for parking. Not a good sign.
(Click on the photo for a close-up view of Scollay Square in the lower right)
Another aerial, this one taken in 1957. We're looking towards Pemberton Square, and on our right
one can see the street leading from the Square up to the Courthouse. Look down Tremont Row
and you can see the marvelous facade of Scollay's Olympia. Further to our right is Howard Street,
just splitting off from Cambridge Street, which itself heads into the West End. Must be a Sunday -
there's not much activity on the streets and the parking lot on Brattle Street is empty.
(Click on the photo for a close-up view of Scollay Square in the middle left)
A walk around Scollay Square
The first three of the next five photos (by a B.R.A. photographer surveying the area) were taken one right after the other sometime in the late 1950s:
Could still be a Sunday morning as we look up Howard Street. The Old Howard cannot be seen because it is on the left side of the street. Cambridge Street can be seen on the far right.
The photographer has moved to take a photo of the liquor store from the Cambridge Street side.
Now all the way across Cambridge Street, the photographer gives us a complete view of the building which housed this liquor store. Scollay Square is on our left, down Cambridge Street. We can also see the "new" Courthouse, on the upper right, looming above everything .
Taken a few years after the previous shot, this B.R.A. photo shows us the rest of the block, all the way to Stoddard Street, where Joe and Nemo's restaurant is still in operation.
It's February 8, 1962 and we've turned to the left so we can look up Cambridge Street into the Square, and we can see we're just a few stores away from Sudbury Street. We can also see the old Court House (now the School Department building) on Court Street off in the distance. Demolition of just about everything you see here is about to begin, in preparation for the construction of the new City Hall.
Now then, if you stood where the previous photo was taken and turned right to look north, up Cambridge Street into Bowdoin Square, you would have seen this: on the right a string of liquor stores and bars that came to symbolize the decay of this once vibrant part of Boston.
For this photo we've moved further down Cambridge Street into - and above - Bowdoin Square, and then turned around to look back into the Square. The phone company building is on our far left. The marquee for Jack's Lighthouse can be seen down at the far right of this image from the late 1950s (cyburbia.org) Jack's Lighthouse... wow, let's see if we can get a closer look...
We can, thanks to the wonderful Dirty Old Boston Facebook page we can zoom in on these two "landmarks" down Cambridge Street; the 'Gansett sign and, to the right, the marquee for Jack's Lighthouse (which has clearly seen better days.) Historically, it's no small matter that the space next Jack's is a parking lot; it was happening a lot here in the area as older buildings that landlords could no longer rent were being torn down and the property used for parking to handle the surge in traffic as the new, elevated Central Artery brought more and more cars into the city.
It is 1962 on Hanover Street as Jack's Joke Shop, the Casino Theatre, and other businesses hang on for dear life as the wrecking ball makes its way through Scollay Square. (B.R.A.)
There is still time to get a haircut in the barbershop just above the famous Court Street Tavern (the sign says: U ARE NEXT) but across the street another sign fortells the future of both endeavors: "Boston's most modern ofice building," which will be One-Two-Three Center Plaza. (Library of Congress)
Across Cornhill from the Court Street Tavern, a few years earlier than the above image. The chipped and peeling sign for the venerable Simpson's Loan company is just one clue to the effects of a depressed Boston economy that, during the late 1940s and 1950s, prompted city officials to consider drastic measures to revitalize this part of Boston's downtown. (Library of Congress)
Before we move on, I can't resist taking a closer look at the three men in front of the tattoo parlor on the left...
Here they are, and aren't they great? Can't you just hear one of the them singing "I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere..." Don't they visually sum up the impression most people had of Scollay Square in the 1950s - old, maybe quaint, but, with all due respect, just a bit seedy?