The Oriental Theater in Mattapan was an old-time movie palace, spacious and elegant. It was flea-bitten by the time I started frequenting it, but I was so young it never struck me as anything other than beautiful. There were gigantic statues of Buddha high up on each side wall with electrically-glowing red and green eyes (one statue had the red eyes and the other the green.) If you got tired of the film, you leaned back and looked at the ceiling. There you found a rolling projection of an outdoor starlit night. I would give ten years to be able to spend one more afternoon in that place – at least, if I knew I was destined to live to 120 and I wasn’t 110. It is now an electrical supply store.
The Baker's Chocolate factory was headquartered a couple of blocks from my childhood home in Dorchester. When I was a kid, the entire neighborhood smelled of chocolate. Baker’s moved and much of the factory was converted into condominiums. Other sections were razed to make a parking lot.
The Gilbert Stuart was my grade school, a three-story brick building on Richmond Street in Lower Mills. The public library was just up the street. It was also a lovely old brick building, with many odd nooks and crannies that endeared it to kids like me. I spent hours of immense pleasure there, exploring the myriad worlds opened to me once the school taught me to read.
The library building was sold and turned into offices. They then tore down my school to build a new library. Two memories killed for the price of one.
The Elevated – then part of the Orange Line - was considered an eyesore by many. But it was what I rode to my grandparent’s home for many Easters, Christmases and other special occasions, so I loved it. There was opposition to its removal from people in the neighborhoods it served, but the MBTA promised alternate means of transportation. Some of those people are still waiting for that alternate transportation, but the el is no more.
So many places gone and a piece of my heart with them. Most of the candlepin bowling alleys where I played that uniquely New England sport with friends; The Rat, Kenmore Square’s answer to CBGB's and the most famous venue I played as a bum musician; My neighborhood store, where Charlie Capabianco let us kids go behind the counter to pick out penny candy, trusting us to be honest - which we were 19 times out of 20; Grant's, Woolworth's, Kresge's, Lechmere's, Gilchrist's, Zayre's, Raymond's, Kennedy's, Mickey Finn's, Filene’s and the granddaddy of them all that nobody from my age group could even imagine not existing in downtown Boston, Jordan Marsh; all gone.
Among other things, I lost a chocolate-scented neighborhood, floating Buddhas, an indoor starlit sky and a railway that traveled through the air. I lost magic.
You may not realize it yet, if you’re younger, but they’re going to take away your magic, too. You probably won’t be able to stop them any more than I did. About the best you can hope for is a nice editor who will occasionally let you be an old grump and write a column about it.