Central Square Oral History Book
Crossroads: Stories of Central Square is available at the Cambridge Historical Commission office (831 Massachusetts Avenue) and in several local bookstores. The price is $18.95 per copy; payment can be made by check or cash. Additionally, the book can be ordered by mail.
Download order form and instructions.
Contact Person: Sarah Boyer, Tel: 617/349-6171; TTY: 617/349-6112
The Cambridge Historical Commission announces the publication of:
Crossroads: Stories of Central Square
Cambridge, Massachusetts 1912-2000
The book is the product of a 3 1/2-year oral history project, sponsored by the city of Cambridge to capture the memories of storeowners and workers, residents, and shoppers during the 20th century. Author Sarah Boyer conducted over 100 interviews which, together with more than 200 historic and family photographs, provide a much-needed historical record and richly detailed look at an area once considered Cambridge's true downtown.
J.H. Corcoran's and Harvard Bazar come alive once again through the voices of storeowners Paul Corcoran, Jr. and Stanley Gaynor. Older residents remember dancing under revolving lights at Cyprus Hall, attending vaudeville at Gordon's Theater, and watching the 1918 World War I victory parade march down Mass. Ave. Younger storytellers recall the fight against the Inner Belt, Central Square in the '60s, and recent changes in the Square. The recent experiences of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean are remarkably similar to those of European and West Indian immigrants who came to Central Square in the early 1900s.
When the project began in July 1998, the Holmes Block was about to be torn down in a storm of controversy. Since then, the Central Square retail district and residential area have also undergone tremendous change. For residents who remember the Square in its heyday, community activists and business owners now involved in the area's development, and anyone interested in Cambridge history, Crossroads provides a look back to Central Square's past and a glimpse at its present and future.
The book is available at the Cambridge Historical Commission office (831 Massachusetts Avenue) and in several local bookstores. The price is $18.95 per copy. We can ship the book for an additional $2.50 (book rate) or $5.00 (first class). Several presentations and book signings are planned. If you would like a book signing for your organization, please call Sarah Boyer at 617 349-6171.
BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT
Under the auspices of the Historical Commission, the Central Square Oral History Project began to focus on Central Square in July 1998, studying it from both a historical perspective and the personal remembrances of residents, workers, storeowners, and shoppers. Once Cambridges downtown, Central Square has experienced countless changes in the twentieth century and is now home to a diverse population, from second- and third-generation European immigrants to more recent arrivals from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. These changes are reflected in the stories of more than 75 individuals who have shared their memories with the project director Sarah Boyer.
These personal histories explore the Square at different periods: the completion of the subway in 1912 to 1938, just before World War II; the years 1939 to 1955, when Central Square was a thriving shopping district, attracting shoppers from Cambridge and the surrounding towns; and 1956 to the present, when the Square experienced a period of decline and is now experiencing rapid, and often controversial, development.
IMMIGRATION STORIES FROM CENTRAL SQUARE
A recurring theme throughout this project has been immigration into Central Square, which occurred in several waves first, from 1850 to 1890, were the Irish, who joined the already established families from England and Canada; followed in the late 1800s by Swedish, Portuguese, and Russians and small numbers of Northern and Eastern Europeans; and by the turn of the century, Greeks, Syrians, and Armenians had arrived.
African Americans who had lived in Cambridge for generations were later joined by blacks from the American South, Nova Scotia, and the West Indies. Immigrants, in general, were treated well and accepted as newcomers in Central Square. The majority of African American participants in the oral history project, who come from well-established Cambridge families or from the South and other countries, recalled an integrated and happy childhood but suffered the racism prevalent throughout the United States in the 20th century.
Central Square was a meeting place where associations, groups, and fraternal organizations, such as the Greek-American Political Club and the Dunbar Club, helped their members adjust to their new country and supported ethnic and racial pride. Central Square has long enjoyed an uncommon ethnic, racial, and social diversity.
When you read these excerpts, try to determine when these project participants settled in Central Square. Think about your own family history and how these experiences may be like those of your grandmother, your uncle, or your own.
family had a restaurant in the living room of our house and served lunch
and supper. Factory workers from Cambridge Rubber, Lever Brothers, Boston
Woven Hose, and Neccos came in, got their food, and left. Wed
serve a bowl of chop suey, maybe some rice, and a cup of tea for 15 cents.
Later we opened the Oriental Restaurant at 710 Mass. Ave. The restaurant
opened at 11 a.m., and we closed at 1 a.m. We never had liquor. The Honey
Bee and the Cantab closed at midnight, and their customers all came to us."
Annie Chin Bombard
to Central Square from Chile. Central Square looked much more like Santiago
than Watertown, where I first was staying. This is how I came to love
this place. When we got here, there were no agencies to help us. From
Watertown, we came here to Central Square because H.s brother worked
at American Biltrite. I found a job at Fenton Shoe, where they had piecework.
I was there a year. The heavy glue was hot. It got in my hands, and the
smell of it affected my asthma and my health. I went to Fanny Farmer on
Sidney St. because the piecework rate was better. There was one Latino
supervisor at Fanny Farmer so that was a good thing; I could rely on the
person. I could see people in Central Square who had my own face, spoke
my language, and made me feel welcome. It was a place where I felt warm
as an immigrant. Yes, you are different but to us, you are equal. That
sense of community is what attracted me to Central Square."
were born in Greece and came to America. We lived on Main St. and Clarke
Place. The Greek colony was there. People were different then, because
of the Depression. If you had milk out on the steps, it was there until
you got it. Cyprus Hall was an upstairs dance hall on Prospect St. People
went there on the weekends, especially Saturday night, to dance the Charleston
and foxtrot. One of the cops, Jimmy Shea, would dress up, go to Cyprus
Hall, and dance with his girlfriend, Lulu. From Cyprus Hall, everyone
went to Hayes-Bickfords. It was a hangout for the cops."
was teaching and doing research at the University of Guatemala and helping
rural communities develop and implement different projects. Those kinds
of projects were affecting the interests of some business people. We began
receiving phone threats that our work was no longer welcome in the area,
and that it was better for us to move to other places. I came to Boston
because my sister-in-law was here. Centro Presente, in Central Square, was
working with Central Americans, and they helped me with my immigrant status.
I started there as a volunteer, then began teaching Spanish classes, and
became ESL Director. In the summertime, I usually go to Central Square to
eat lunch. I like to watch people. Sometimes I sit close to the window and
see people from all over the world, with their native clothes and traditions,
going to different restaurants. People are in no hurry here, enjoying the
Juan Gonzalez, from Guatemala
father went up to the Cambridgeport Bank to rent an apartment on Allston
St. that the bank owned. As soon as somebody heard his name, he said, "You
will never get in there. You are Irish Catholic." When I was just out
of high school, I went to the Cambridge Electric Light & Gas Company
for a job. The first thing the personnel guy said to me was, "Whats
your religion?" I said, "Why do you want to know?" "I
have to know," he answered. I said, "Ill see you later.
Im not going to get any job because Im Catholic." "Oh,
dont be like that," he said. A year after, a Catholic guy from
the corner, Fran Shields, was hired, and he became one of the standouts
for the company."
came to the United States from Dunville-Placentia, near St. Johns,
Newfoundland. The Cyprus Café was next door to the Buffet on Prospect St.
During Prohibition, it was an ice cream parlor. After Prohibition, I waitressed
nights at the Cyprus. When TV came in, they got one. The guys sat at the
bar and watched the ballgame and the fights at night. Women didnt
sit at the bar then, but they came in with their boyfriends. The Cyprus
closed at 12 oclock, and we would go up to the Blue and Gold and have
Helen Smith, from Canada
was about 18 when I went to work at the Manhattan Market. I was there when
the union started; at that time I was making 29 cents an hour.When I quit,
I was making around 60 cents an hour and got a weeks vacation. I worked
ten hours a day, six days a week. We wouldnt get paid for being sick."
George Babcock, from Nova Scotia
she was about 16, my grandmother, Virginia Welford Woods, came [to New Bedford]
from Virginia, where she had been a slave. She met a sea captain, Peter
C. Woods. They became engaged, and he sent her to a friend in Cambridge
to keep her safe and promised to give up the sea. They were married at St.
Peters Episcopal Church. They bought a lot at 192 and 194 Franklin
St. with two houses, a two-family and a one-family. My mother would always
say, "You have to do better than anybody else." Sometimes we would
get really tired of it. Once my mother came home from the Manhattan Market.
She said that the man behind the counter waited on everyone around her before
he waited on here, and shed been there longer. "It was just because
Im colored," she said. We had a lot of friends in the neighborhood
people who were Portuguese, French Canadian, colored, and Irish.
We played games in the streets together: scrub, a form of baseball, and
"Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Susie Right Over."
Takako Sato-Salvi and Ruth Marshall
Wolf opened a coffee shop on Mass. Ave. Everyone who comes in has their
own story. People come here from all over the world at different stages
in their lives, having done all kinds of things. One man is a locksmith
from Colombia. I have a little Army shoulder bag with a patch on the side
of it. He came up and asked me if it was a paratrooper insignia. He said,
"Thats what I did. I was in the army in Colombia and did 36 paratrooper
runs." Heres this guy Ive been giving coffee to everyday,
and hes jumped out of an airplane 36 times."
These first person accounts in their entirety, along with many others, have been published in a book entitled Crossroads: Stories of Central Square 1912-2000. The book contains an historical narrative of Central Square, written by Charles Sullivan, along with 300 historic and family photographs and maps of the area over time. The book is available at the Cambridge Historical Commission office (831 Massachusetts Avenue) and in several local bookstores. The price is $18.95 per copy. We can ship the book for an additional $2.50 (book rate) or $5.00 (first class). Click here for order form and instructions.
Oral History Project Coordinator
Cambridge Historical Commission
Tel: (617) 349-6171 or TTY: (617) 349-6112
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