Days of Future Past*

On February 25th I’ll be presenting my talk about Commonwealth Avenue’s Automobile Row for the Brighton-Allston Historical Society at the Brighton Marine Center on Warren Street. It’s a version of a talk I gave last September at WBUR’s CitySpace and again at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum earlier this month.

But while this presentation is a repeat performance of my latest talk it is also a return to my own past, to my origin story (so to speak) as both a librarian and a local historian.

Back in the late 1980s I lived in Allston and had my own small public relations firm, working out of a shabby office on the second floor of this building at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Harvard Street. Riley’s Roast Beef—the owner also owned the building—occupied the storefront at the corner, a former Liggett’s drugstore.

Inspired, perhaps, by this postcard—I can’t remember for sure—I became interested in the history of the retail district that ran north and south on Harvard Street and east and west on Brighton Avenue. I began visiting the microfilm room at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square where they had city directories dating back to the 1860s.

From 1930 to 1981, each year’s directory—they were large volumes bound in red hardcovers—included a reverse directory showing listings street-by-street, address-by-address, in addition to the longer-standing alphabetical listings.

Excerpt from the 1930 Boston city directory

Over several months of visits, I painstakingly copied the information into a notebook. Back in Allston, I typed the info into my computer. When I was done, I put it all on a floppy disk and gave it to Bill Marchione at the Brighton-Allston Historical Society. (Bill was and is an inspiration to me.) BAHS didn’t even have a computer, but Bill graciously accepted the disk.

About a year-and-a-half ago I contacted BAHS to see if, by chance, they still had the floppy disk. They didn’t, but they did find a printout of the database that I gave them, with some notes. Nice to know I was so organized back then.

Part of the printout showing changes in one Allston retail address over the years

Some time later as I was thinking about new career directions, I realized how much I enjoyed working in the library. I started to investigate getting a master’s in library science. I had informational interviews with librarians at historical organizations and newspapers. (I had been a newspaper reporter for a few years after college.)

I got my MLS from Simmons College in 1991. My first job as a librarian was at the Brighton Branch of the Boston Public Library. I joined the board of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society, though I had moved to Roslindale in 1990, and stayed on the board until I started a new job in 1993.

A few years later I moved with my family to Brookline where my interest in local history continued to grow. I joined the Brookline Historical Society board in 2006 and became president three years later. I’ve even been working on a Coolidge Corner version of that long-ago Allston retail project that got it all started.

Portion of a spreadsheet showing stores on Harvard Street in the 1920s

So, back to Allston and Brighton it is, and to my days of future past.

* When the phrase “Days of Future Past” popped into my head as the title for this post, I was (showing my age and past musical tastes) thinking of the old Moody Blues album. Little did I know that most people (and Google’s search) associate the phrase with the 2014 X-Men movie.

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