Saturday, December 9, 2017

Artist Thinks: "I HAF to Fix That Smokestack"

From Dave Brigham:

It took me 11 months, but I finally got my beer-lovin' behind to the Boston Beer Co. in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. "How was the beer?" you're asking. While I drink the company's Sam Adams beer all the time, I wasn't at the brewery to tip my elbow. You know that. I was there to check out their refurbished smokestack.

Boston Beer is one of the most well-known independent brewers in the U.S.. The building complex the company occupies was once home to the Haffenreffer brewery. When I was in high school, Haffenreffer -- known for rebus puzzles on the inside of its bottle caps -- was known as Green Death, due to its high alcohol content. You see, the stuff inside those big avocado-shaded bottles was malt liquor ("works quicker") and had an alcohol content of 5.9%. The swill we usually drank -- Old Milwaukee, Meister Brau, etc. -- rated 4.5 or 4.6%.

I could tell you the story of the time one of my friends drank a few Haffen-wreckers (another great nickname) and yakked all over the inside of my buddy Andy's Toyota Corolla station wagon, resulting in the quickest evacuation you've ever seen. But I won't.

Rather, I'll tell you about how the smokestack from the circa-1870 brewery was restored to something akin to its former glory.

After Haffenreffer left Boston for Rhode Island in the 1960s, the complex sat empty for quite some time. In 1983, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation bought the buildings. In addition to Boston Beer, tenants include a restaurant, food companies, a design company, a woodworking shop and much more.

In 1986, the development corporation had the top 30 feet of the original smokestack removed due to its state of disrepair, according to the Boston Globe. This resulted in the monolith touting "FENREFFER BREWERS." In more recent years, more letters had to be removed in order for the smokestack -- which no longer functions -- to be repaired and restored, per the Globe.

A neighbor who's an artist, Bob Maloney, finally decided to rectify the situation after many years of looking at the shortened brewery name, according to this Globe article. He manufactured a properly scaled stainless steel structure with the letters "HAF" and had it installed on the top of the stack in December 2016.

(The restyled Haffenreffer smokestack rising over the Boston Beer Company brewing complex.)

For more about Boston's beer brewing past, check out:'s "Mapping 21 of Boston's Lost Breweries and Their Second Acts".

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society's "Boston's Lost Breweries".

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up post about some cool things I stumbled across in the neighborhood around the brewery complex.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stone Cold Monuments

From Dave Brigham:

I've had my eye on this place since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. OK, maybe not that long. Perhaps it's only been about 17 years or so, since I lived in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

In business since starting in Quincy, Mass., in 1896, W.C. Canniff & Sons is a family-owned and operated memorial stone company, and has made memorials through the years for legendary Thoroughbred racehorse Seabiscuit as well as the Suffolk Downs horse track, according to The Historic Shops and Restaurants of Boston by Phyllis Meras (2007, New York Review of Books). In addition to its Quincy location and this memorial showroom in West Roxbury, the company operates one in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood, as well as Cambridge.

I love everything about this old building, from the plywood sheets on the small porch, to the hints of red paint, the "BRANCH OFFICE" sign over the door to the old-school phone number, "PARKWAY 3690," near the top of the facade. The building is situated directly across LaGrange Street from rival memorial dealer Thomas Carigg & Son, which opened in 1890. The Holyhood and St. Joseph Cemeteries are located just up the street.

The company's showroom in Cambridge is located in a former comfort station and waiting room for Mount Auburn Cemetery, for visitors who took the trolley, according to Meras's book. The trolley was replaced by trackless trolleys (aka electrified buses) a long time ago.

(W.C. Canniff & Sons Cambridge showroom.)

While I love both of the above buildings, I've saved my favorite for last.

(Canniff's showroom in Roslindale.)

Built in 1935, this memorial showroom and office located in a very urban setting looks like it shares an architect with The Alamo. The place is in somewhat rough shape on the outside, and I'm guessing the inside ain't so great either, but all of that mange is saved by the presence of this in the front yard.

The American Tank and Pump Company manufactured and sold pumps from 1909 until 1949, when the company was sold, according to a posting at This is the kind of relic that the guys on "American Pickers" love to stumble across.

For more cemetery-related posts, see below:

July 18, 2013, "Cool Stones."

March 5, 2016, "Shakin' All Over."

December 17, 2015, "Bring Out Your Dead."

January 13, 2012, "Peaceful Rest."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Punk Farm?

From Dave Brigham:

The most obvious ulterior motive in my life manifests itself on this blog. I've taken my wife, my kids and even my mother along on explorations in service of the backside of America. A few Thanksgivings ago, I managed to roust a fair number of my extended family to trek along an old stagecoach route in my hometown (see February 4, 2016, "Stealing Back Into the Past of My Hometown"). On occasion I drive the long way to get places in order to snap photos of a piece of hidden history.

Sometimes, though, I head out for a hike just for hiking's sake. And yet my quest for the forgotten world wins out anyway.

Such was the case on a recent outing with my son, Owen.

After searching Google maps for a nearby conservation area, I decided on Rock Meadow in Belmont, Mass. I've hiked near this spot over the years, but had forgotten until Owen and I arrived at Rock Meadow that this was the entry point I'd used two decades ago when mountain biking with my wife and a friend to get to the abandoned Metropolitan State Hospital (see March 20, 2017, "Brigham in Waltham, Part III").

Owen and I saw numerous mountain bikers during the course of our short walk. The paths are well-worn and easy to traverse. We chatted about how things were going in school, said "Hi" to several dogs and their owners and enjoyed the cool autumn temperatures.

Returning to the small dirt parking lot, I saw through the woods something that I'd missed upon our arrival.

Originally part of the McLean Hospital farming operation, the building dates to around 1918 and was used as a dairy barn. Located across the street, McLean sold the land now known as Rock Meadow to the town of Belmont after the hospital's farming efforts petered out. The building is solid despite its appearance. There have been efforts by preservationists to resurrect the brick edifice, but to date nothing is planned.

The barn is quite stately, and I'm sure that with a lot of elbow grease and an even greater amount of money, it could be turned into a fabulous place for meetings, concerts (all-ages punk shows!) and other events. I hope this happens and will of course keep readers updated.

I understand, of course, why this building has been saved. But I'm not sure why the low outbuilding next to it hasn't been fully torn down and removed.

For more about barns and Belmont, read "Crouching Barn, Hidden Mill," a post I wrote in November 2012.

Monday, November 13, 2017

UPDATE: St. Philip Neri Church

From Dave Brigham:

You know a city has reached the acme of teardown fever when churches start getting razed.

This is the former St. Philip Neri Church, which was built in 1930 in the Waban section of Newton, Mass. Closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2007, it was used by a Korean congregation until 2014 (see June 3, 2016, "I Seek Newton, Part IV: Waban").

A developer put forth a few redevelopment plans for the church property before finally coming to an agreement with the city and neighbors. See this article for the plan.

And this is what the lot looked like as of mid-October.

What was once a peaceful, shady corner of Waban with a quaint, brick house of worship is being turned into yet another cookie-cutter assortment of houses that neighbors will for the most part disdain. I prefer when churches and synagogues are turned into housing, as has been the case in other parts of Newton.

The beautiful former First Church of Christ, Scientist on Walnut Street in Newtonville was converted to condos in 2004.

The condominiums below are in the circa-1910 former Newton Methodist Congregation Church on Centre Street in Newton Corner. The building was converted to homes in 2001.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

UPDATE: Your Standard Empty Plant

From: Who Else?

Nobody tells me nuthin'!

Just three months after I wrote about the empty Standard-Thomson factory in -- where else? -- Waltham, Mass., a Chicago real estate developer announced plans to transform the site (see November 21, 2015, "Your Standard Empty Plant").

According to this Boston Business Journal article, Hilco Redevelopment Partners purchased the 8.2-acre property in July 2015. The company plans to spend about $30 million to turn the former site of the automotive thermostat manufacturer into "three separate office and R&D facilities spanning a total of 130,000 square feet," per the article. The facility will be known as The Gauge, in a nod to Standard-Thomson's history.

Standard-Thomson closed the plant in 2009.

I recently noticed some site work going on, and hustled over to shoot some photos.

I'm so happy that this site is being redeveloped, using the existing buildings, rather than being torn down.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Set Yourself Free on Prison Point

From Dave Brigham:

When I'm walking along, minding my own business, and spy a building that says "Prison Point Pumping Station" on it, you know I don't have a choice but to take a boring picture of it and commit myself to finding out the story.

On one of my regular trips along Boston's subway system with my son, I requested of him that we check out the Lynch Family Skatepark. Located under an Interstate 93 offramp in the easternmost section of Cambridge, the skatepark opened last November after years in planning and development, and has become quite popular.

Check out the Creating Skate Space video from Leslie Tuttle to learn how the park came to be, hear from the people who sculpted it out of a former wasteland, and listen and watch as the young'uns who use it describe what it means to them.

After watching the skaters for a few minutes, we turned to walk toward Lechmere MBTA station to continue our journey. Just a few steps from the skate park we saw the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pumping station, pictured above, behind a chain-link fence. It's not much to look at, but that name.

Why is this area called Prison Point?

Let's take a quick look at the larger area where Cambridge meets Boston down by the river Charles, shall we? Many of you are likely familiar with Boston's Museum of Science. Directly across the busy four-lane road from the museum sits the Lechmere viaduct, on which MBTA Green line trolleys run. Under the viaduct the Charles River is squeezed through a lock before opening up a bit on its way toward Boston's Charlestown neighborhood and on to Boston Harbor. If you were drifting by on a boat and looked to your left, you'd see North Point Park, a lush area popular with sun worshippers, dog walkers and the baby stroller crowd. The park in its former life was an industrial dumping ground and staging area for the construction of the massive Big Dig highway project. Moving a bit more northeast, you find yourself at Boston Sand & Gravel, which, like the above-mentioned skate park, sits under highway ramps. Finally, another quick jaunt to the northeast, under Interstate 93, and you're at Bunker Hill Community College, situated on the former site of -- wait for it -- Charlestown State Prison.

Opened in 1805, the prison was in operation for a century and a half. This area of Charlestown/Cambridge was filled in long ago, but when the prison was built the Charles River flowed right on by. Eventually railroad tracks, industry and housing were sighted nearby. The prison closed in 1955 and inmates were moved to a new big house in Walpole. By 1973 the imposing brick institution had been razed, replaced by the community college.

Check out this blog post from And This Is Good Old Boston for prints, maps, photos and history of the hoosegow.

I plan to return to the skate park, as it's fun watching people perform stunts I could never dream of doing. I also want to walk across the North Bank pedestrian bridge that connects North Point Park to Paul Revere Park in Charlestown.

I've enjoyed watching the evolution of this whole area of Greater Boston. In the coming years, plans call for the development of what is called NorthPoint, a 45-acre site that could eventually feature 5.2 million square feet of commercial, residential, hotel and mixed-use development. Some buildings have already been completed. I will surely keep an eye on this.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dead Reckoning

From Dave Brigham:

Ah, the dead! They let us walk over their heads and stumble on their crumbling architecture. They tolerate us rubbing their headstones and pondering their out-of-fashion names. They know that we only come out during the day; the night belongs to them.

To get myself ready for Halloween, I recently bothered the good folks at the Old & New North Cemetery in Sudbury, Mass. Here's what I found.

The first fellow I ran into was Abel Hunt.

I love the Biblical names you find in old New England boneyards. Abel, of course, was the good son of Adam and Eve. Slain by his brother, Cain, Abel nonetheless has won out in the end, as his name (which means "breath" in Hebrew) was the 137th most popular on some random baby name list I found online, as opposed to Cain (meaning: "possessed"), which ranked 750th. Take that, evil brother!

Abel's relative, Asahel, got a much cooler tombstone, but, man, that name had to be tough to live with. Yes, it's pronounced just the way you think it is. Don't stifle your chuckle. Just let it out. Anyway, Asahel is another name from Biblical times. And, alas, like Abel, Asahel was slain. His death dealer was Abner. No, not this guy. This guy.

The name Mehitable is brought to you by the Old Testament. A girl's name, it means "God rejoices," according to the Bible of online information, Wikipedia.

Haynes Road intersects with the road that the Old & New North Cemetery sits on. You'd think, therefore, that the family might have some pull and get the lichen cleared from the family tombstone. Actually, there are those who argue that lichen doesn't harm the stone, but rather gives older cemeteries a nice patina. I agree.

How cool is it that a family of pelagic seabirds is buried in this graveyard! Oh wait, what? Not puffins? Oh, Puffer. Anyway, they've got a nice spot.

Aren't Rebecca and Mary just the best? You can tell that Rebecca takes care of Mary. "Just lean on me," she sings. And Mary really appreciates that.

Adelaide Whelpley was the name that John Lennon and Paul McCartney planned on using for their song about "all the lonely people." But then through various lyrical twists and turns, the name changed a few times, before becoming a little something called "Eleanor Rigby."

Louisa means "renowned warrior," according to the Internet. I'm guessing not only is she safe in Jesus' fold, but that she provides more than a little protection for her fellow foldees.

Hoo boy. No goofy comments here. Can you imagine anything sadder than this tombstone?

These aren't the parents of the infant in the photo above. This headstone is powerful. Despite being cracked, this relationship is eternal.

The cemetery dates to 1843, but for the most part it holds up well. There are some signs of aging, however.

The most impressive memorial in the graveyard belongs to the Maynard family. I assume these folks are related to those for whom the neighboring town of Maynard is named for.

Below is a detail from the Maynard statue.

There are numerous graves of war veterans, as you'd expect. Still, I found the markers for these guys very cool.

(Spanish War veteran.)

(Grand Army of the Republic veteran, meaning he served in the Union Army, Navy or Marines during the Civil War.)

(Veteran of the War of 1812.)

Seeing these three veterans' graves made me realize just how little I know about the military history of this country. Ain't that odd....

(Speaking of odd, here's a guy who was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.)

And here's a video of an R.E.M. song:

So there are just some of the folks from your friendly neighborhood graveyard. Sit down and have a chat with them this Halloween.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Closed Circle: UPDATE

From Dave Brigham:

On my regular subway trips around Boston with my son, I regularly walk past the site of the former Circle Cinema in Cleveland Circle. Located on the border of Boston and Brookline, the movie house opened in 1965 and closed in 2008. The theater sat empty for a number of years while developers worked with both city governments and residents to hash out an acceptable redevelopment plan (see January 5, 2015, "Closed Circle").

National Development recently installed the old cinema sign -- round, 7-foot-tall letters -- on the top of one of the new buildings, a 92-apartment independent living community for seniors. A second building will be a 162-room hotel operated by Marriott. The site also contains underground parking and a few retail slots.

I like this project, although of course I haven't seen the inside yet because the new buildings aren't slated to open until next year. I like that the new buildings aren't just more high-priced condos (although I suspect the senior community ain't gonna be cheap). I think siting a hotel on this spot (where there once also stood a restaurant, most recently an Applebee's, before that a Ground Round and a Howard Johson's) is smart, as it sits next to not one, but two, branches of the MBTA's Green line trolley system, providing relatively quick and inexpensive access into Boston.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

On Thin Ice

From Dave Brigham:

By the time you read this, the quaint warming hut abutting Bullough's Pond in Newton, Mass., will be gone. I'm not sure how old the building is, but I'm guessing it dates to the 1920s or '30s, when ice skating was at its peak on the pond.

Situated close to the imaginary line separating Newtonville from Newton Centre, the pond is surrounded by lovely homes and has benefited greatly from the stewardship of the Bullough's Pond Association. According to the association's web site, "People have been ice skating and playing hockey on Bullough’s Pond since, at least, the early 1900’s." Digital Commonwealth, a priceless online archive that contains photos, manuscripts, books, audio recordings and more from Massachusetts, features a photo of what is called a bath house at Bullough's Pond circa 1925. I'm not positive, but I'm guessing this is the same structure.

The city of Newton discourages ice skating on the pond, due to the fact that the water doesn't freeze as easily as it once did. This is because of silt build-up, according to the association web site.

(This is where skaters would walk to get from the warming hut to the ice.)

More than 350 years ago, John Spring dammed the Smelt Brook and built a grist mill on what became known as Spring's Pond, according to the Bullough's Pond Association web site. Up through the 1850's, the pond, which became known as Pearl Lake before being named Bullough's Pond, was much larger. Due to an expanding population after the addition of a rail line nearby, Newtonville began to grow and Walnut Street was extended south and bisected the pond, per the association. Eventually the southern portion of the pond " filled in and put into culverts, with remnants reappearing years later as the City Hall ponds and the library retention pools," according to the BPA web site.

One might look at the warming hut in the above photo and think, "That place looks great!" Well, I thought the same thing. Great minds....

But as you may be aware, the name of this blog is The Backside of America. So I needed to walk around the building....

(The first sign of trouble.)

(I would love to know what this place looked like in its heyday. Not sure why it looks so great on the outside but hasn't been maintained on the inside.)

Although no longer as large as it once was, the pond is still scenic enough to attract the attention of Hollywood. Per the association's web site, the pond has been used as a backdrop for TV shows and movies, including 2008's "The Women," directed by Diane English and starring Meg Ryan and Annette Bening, and featuring one of my favorite actresses, Debi Mazar.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

No Yachts, No Mansions

From Dave Brigham:

What's the first thing you think of when I say Newport? Mansions built by 19th century robber barons that they referred to as summer cottages? The America's Cup yacht race? The International Tennis Hall of Fame? Loads of windburned preps with names like Muffy and Skip wearing Nantucket Reds and spilling white wine while howling with laughter over tales of cheating on exams at Hahvahd?

On a recent family mini-vacation to Rhode Island's toniest address, we managed to miss all of that. But we saw plenty, on both the front and back sides of this wonderful, historic city on Narragansett Bay.

As regular readers of this blog know, whenever I'm on vacation, I make time to find the backside of whatever city I'm in. I spent part of one early morning doing just that, but a lot of my discoveries were made while just walking through Newport's commercial and restaurant areas, as well as on a tour of a fort just a few miles from downtown.

(Fort Adams)

(View across the front yard of the fort, with housing in the background.)

Built between 1824 and 1857, the current Fort Adams replaced a predecessor established in 1799. It was an active Army post until 1950. We toured part of fort (there was a reenactment going on taking up a lot of the interior space), including some of the listening tunnels.

(Our tour guide took us on a short walk through some low listening tunnels, in which soldiers garrisoned at the fort could station themselves so they could hear attempts by the enemy to dig under the fort.)

We had lunch one day at Buskers Pub, a quiet respite from the overflow crowds at so many other eateries. Amid all the memorabilia, both real items and knockoff ones peddled by restaurant decor companies to give diners that oh-so-important cozy feeling of fake nostalgia, my wife spied this beaut.

Know what it is? I'll give you a hint: it's used in a game that few Americans have seen, and even fewer understand, a game that originated in the Basque region of Spain. Give up? It's a jai-alai cesta! Newport used to have a fronton -- what you call the enclosed court where jai-alai is played -- but it's been closed for years. Now the building holds a casino. My friends and I frequented the Hartford fronton back in the '80s.

There are loads of cool historic buildings along the main drags and in the neighborhoods of Newport.

(Now housing retail and office space, this circa-1894 music hall looks great, and surely must have been the cat's pajamas in the 20th century.)

(Home to the Newport Blues Cafe, the former Kinsley Building started life in 1892 as a Aquidneck National Bank, hence the "SAFE DEPOSIT" etched into its facade.)

(The Seamen's Church Institute provides "education, hospitality and a safe haven for those who work, live and play on or by the sea." This building was erected in 1930.)

Driving up to our hotel, I looked across the street and my heart skipped a beat.

The park had a similar feel to Doubleday Field at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which I had the pleasure of playing on a number of years ago. So I knew it was old.

Bernardo Cardines Memorial Field is indeed long in the tooth, and is considered one of the oldest baseball fields in the good ol' US of A. Home to the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, a summer league sanctioned by the NCAA and Major League Baseball, the field isn't anything fancy, but I really wanted to get inside to watch a few innings.

Alas, there were no tickets to be had, as the season had ended earlier in August.

Meandering just a little ways from the hotel and ballpark, I came across The Point neighborhood (also known as Easton's Point), one of the oldest in Newport.

(The Callender School in The Point. Built in 1862, closed in 1974 and renovated into apartments in 1979-81, it was named for John Callender Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church in Newport, who lived from 1706 to 1748.)

(The Point is filled with so many amazing old houses that have been beautifully restored. The neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial homes in in the U.S., per Wikipedia.)

(The Sarah Kendall House in The Point dates to 1871, when it was built for the wife of a wealthy shipping merchant, according to the inn's web site.)

(On the outskirts of The Point sits Ten Speed Spokes, a bike store with a cool retro sign.)

Inevitably, I stumbled across some railroad tracks.

Once part of the Old Colony & Newport Railway that connected to Boston, these tracks have been abandoned for quite some time. But there's a small, restored station just up the railbed.

About 20 minutes out of town you can ride the rails. Not on a train, mind you, but on a rail cart. No, not a handcar like you've seen in old-timey movies. You pedal along for about six miles, hands-free, while you enjoy views of Narragansett Bay and the quaint surrounding towns. Here's some video of the trip my wife, kids and I took with Rail Explorers:

Pretty cool, eh?

Finally, while we didn't hit any mansions or board any yachts, we did check out one of Newport's major tourist attractions: the Cliff Walk. Sandwiched between the Newport shoreline and the backyards of Gilded Age mansions, the walk extends 3.5 miles, although we only walked a small portion of it because my kids are kinda lame.

(Mystery box located along the Cliff Walk, at Salve Regina University.)

We had a great time in Newport. There were so many great restaurants, shops and museums that we only strolled past, because again, our kids were with us. I'd love to get there with my wife and take advantage of more of what this great little city has to offer.