Gargoyles On the Square

One of my favorite restaurants in Somerville is Gargoyles.The first time I went was during restaurant week a few years ago, and it was love at first sight for me and the delicious tuna poke appetizer – to this day I go back for it every few months, when the cravings become too intense to bear any longer.

I’ve been to Gargoyles a handful of times for dinner, and have yet to order something I didn’t find mouth-wateringly delicious. The menu changes frequently which makes it difficult to recommend a particular entree; my favorite so far was a chicken dish that I’ve noticed is no longer listed. The restaurant itself is quite large, but prime seating is in the bar area near the windows, which is fairly cozy. I’ve heard that they pour some nice mixed drinks and I was almost tempted to try a Manhattan when I was there the other night with a friend, but I resisted and went for a UFO.

Do stop by and try for yourself if you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood for fine dining, stiff drinks and a more upscale ambiance than Red Bones or Johnny D’s.

Shrimp Tempura

Signature Hawaiian Style Tuna Poke

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DAILY TRIVIA: During the Civil War, part of Clarendon Hill was converted to a pre-deployment training base for recruits called Camp Cameron.

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Firefighting In the Olden Days

The first fire engine in Somerville was acquired in 1849. Costing the town more than $1,000, the machine had a modern, state-of-the-art engine with a suction hose and was an enormous step up from the literal tank on wheels – dubbed ‘Mystic No. 6′ – that was relied upon prior to the purchase.

Undated photo of fire station in Somerville, MA.

It’s hard to imagine but before this households were required to keep two buckets of water on-hand in the unfortunate case of a fire, and all present adult males were expected to assist the volunteer firemen. The purchase of the new engine was a vast improvement, but firefighting capabilities were still greatly hindered by the lack of a central plumbing system and the men had to rely on private wells or the reservoirs that had been placed strategically under main roads throughout the town. The days of the Civil War had been the hardest for the town to endure, as almost half the firefighters volunteered to serve in the war. The town was left vulnerable and became an arsonist’s playground, a suspicious fire sweeping through homes and businesses every few days.

By the early 1860s an infrastructure of pipes was assembled to draw water from Cambridge Water Works and the Walnut Hill reservoir, vastly improving access to water. In 1866, firemen begin to receive salaries for their services. The town also upgraded its equipment, trading hand engines for steam engines, hook and ladder carriages and hose carriages. This was shortly followed by the installation of alarm boxes and fire hydrants, immeasurably improving the town’s firefighting abilities.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Boston’s Fisher College was founded in 1903 by brothers Myron and Edmund Fisher. It was originally called the Winter Hill Business College, and was located on Broadway in Somerville.

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Somervillians Getting Healthy

The 2nd annual Mayor’s Fitness Challenge is a six week program designed to move the community toward a higher quality of life by encouraging healthy eating and exercise. It is part of Mayor Curtatone’s successful Shape Up Somerville campaign, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts (like this one).

Last year, Somerville residents lost a collective 390.4 lbs – a pretty impressive start for this annual event. Though the challenge began on April 2 this year, it’s not too late to get involved: there are all kinds of free fitness activities and health events going on in town, like Zumba and pilates. There’s something for all ages and fitness levels, and a schedule of programs can be found here.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was recently named the third nerdiest city, which we will take as a compliment, match.com.

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Louville Niles House

The Louville Niles House at 45 Walnut Street was built in 1890 as a residence for Louville V. Niles, a local developer and businessman of the late 19th century.  Niles’ primary business was in the meatpacking industry and he was one of the original investors in the Fort Worth Stockyards Company, having been offered the opportunity by neighbor Greenleif Simpson, a wealthy Boston capitalist.

The five bedroom Queen Ann Victorian was designed by architect Edwin K. Blaikie, who also designed other houses in the Prospect Hill area commissioned by Niles.  Until the end of the 20th century, the house was painted in faded shades of gray and white. When the current owners purchased the home in 2000, they spent a considerable amount of time researching period paint schemes in order to create a custom pallet design that conjured the beauty of the original architecture.  They received an award in 2003 from the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission in honor of their great attention to detail.

The Louville Niles House was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1989. And a final note of interest: one of the Kennedy brothers used to play pool here regularly while attending Harvard University.

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DAILY TRIVIA: An episode of ‘Spencer: For Hire’ was filmed in the Louville Niles House during the 1980s.

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Building Styles in Somerville: Federal Georgian

Somerville Museum on Central Street, an example of Federal style.

Considered to be the late phase of Georgian style architecture, the Federal style was popular with wealthy merchants and shipbuilders living along coastal New England from 1790 to 1820. Also referred to as “the Adam”, the architectural fashion is said to be inspired by designs of the Adam brothers, three architects from Scotland who were quite famous in Britain during the mid-1700s for their ancient Roman style designs.

In addition to homes, Federal style was also often used for state and public buildings, the popularity of the design coinciding with a time when American government was being born at the end of the Revolutionary War.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Bow Street was once referred to as “Doctors’ Row”, for the many doctors and dentists that established residences with offices there.

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Then and Now: Broadway at Langmaid

Langmaid Terrace in Somerville, where President Obama lived while studying at Harvard.

Langmaid Terrace is an historic apartment complex on Broadway in Winter Hill, Somerville. The building was constructed in 1892, and it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1989.

Click photos to view full size. Langmaid Terrace is your reference point, on the left in both photos below:

Broadway in Winter Hill looking east, circa 1905

Broadway in Winter Hill looking east, circa 2011

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville’s first woman’s club, the Heptorean Club, was formed in 1894.

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Milk Row Cemetary

The Milk Row Cemetery on Somerville Ave is the oldest cemetery in Somerville, and the only burial ground in the area during the time of the Civil War. Established in 1804, it was listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1988, and contains what is thought to be the first monument in the country to honor the soldiers who died in the Civil War.

The Civil War monument in the Milk Row Cemetary contains the names of the 68 Somerville men who died fighting in the Civil War. Overall, 1,135 men from Somerville fought in the war.

Prominent citizens of Somerville were initially buried in the cemetery, but by the mid 1800s the city was burying all of its paupers on the site in mostly unmarked graves. Though only 155 markers remain, it is thought that 1,800 persons are buried in this small patch of land adjacent to Market Basket.

Due to the age and deterioration of the mostly slate markers, the cemetery is only open to the public during periodically scheduled free tours.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The Somerville Theatre Players stock company was formed in 1915. Among the famed actors that got their start here are Ray Bolger (Wizard of Oz) and Francis X. Bushman (Ben Hur).

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Good to the Last Drop

Bloc 11 is the second coffee shop belonging to Tucker Lewis and Jennifer Park, owners of Diesel in Davis Square. It sits at the intersection of Walnut and Bow Streets in Union.  It’s spacious, has both indoor and outdoor seating, and hosts live music and open mic sessions a couple of evenings per week. I’ve heard from others that the food is great, but I’ve only gone for the iced coffee personally – delicious iced coffee with a very subtle hint of cinnamon.

The most unique thing about Bloc 11 is its location. It opened in 2007 in a vacant bank building, complete with vaults in the back in which you can sit and enjoy your latte. I regret that my photo doesn’t do the space justice, as it’s much cooler looking in person.

And speaking of lattes, they do some pretty cool latte flower art.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The first residence in the world to have telephone service was that belonging to Charles Williams Jr., who lived at the corner of Arlington and Lincoln Streets in Somerville. It was in Williams’ telegraphic equipment shop that Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson first transmitted a sound via telephone wire on June 2, 1875.

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Lexington Street Park

I’m a couple of days behind in posts and I apologize. I’m going to catch up tomorrow, but for now I will give you… not the most thoroughly researched or informative post, I’ll admit, but… the Lexington Street Park & Playground in photos. Just to tide you over.

Almost as many parks and playgrounds can be spotted around Somerville as Dunkin Donuts franchises. This one is adjacent to the Somerville Community Path between Cedar Street and Davis, and is always a hub of activity.

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DAILY TRIVIA: According to the most recent statistics from the Mass. Department of Revenue, the average Somervillian spends $832 per year on the state lottery.

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Leone’s in Neon

Leone’s Subs & Pizza has been a Winter Hill fixture since 1954, when Victor Leone Sr. purchased the restaurant from Sam Santoro of the popular Santoro Subway restaurant chain family.

Today, the restaurant is run by Vic Jr. and his brother-in-law Nick Ruccolo in the same spirit as the four generations of family that have worked to make it the neighborhood icon it has remained. They are a friendly group of people who genuinely appreciate their customers, and will somehow remember your face for months after just one visit.

In keeping with tradition, there haven’t been many changes to the menu over the years. They’ve kept prices low by continuing to run a fairly no frills operation – cash only, no delivery, and no seating; just a counter around the perimeter for the regulars who stand around and chat while enjoying a slice or sub on their lunch break.

Leone’s is particularly known for their traditional square Sicilian pies, which they sell by the slice all day long. I love that they always ask which piece you want, giving you the option of corner, middle or crust. It’s usually not too difficult to overindulge on slices when calling out for a large pizza with friends, but at Leone’s one $1.75 slice of cheese pizza will fill me up for hours, and I don’t think it would be possible to eat two in one sitting without bursting. The blend of spices in the sauce and cheese is near perfect, and the crust is thick and spongy and almost melts in your mouth. It’s definitely worth stopping by sometime, but don’t forget to hit the ATM first.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Davis Square was an undefined piece of land until it was named in 1883 after Person Davis, a merchant and member of the first town government who lived in the unofficial center at 255 Elm Street. Gradually the house was surrounded by commercial buildings, eventually changing the landscape from a few dusty crossroads to a major town hub.

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