Category Archives: Photography

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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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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Somerville in Photos: More Architecture

Prettying Up Union Square

Deriving its name from the Civil War era, Union Square was once a major recruitment center for the Union Army. Today it is a melting pot where the working class of East Somerville intersects with the city’s fashionable western parts, and is one of the oldest and largest commercial areas in town.

There is much to say about bustling Union Square, but for today I wanted to write specifically about one step that was taken a few years ago to better the community through art and the active involvement of its residents, a hallmark of Mayor Curtatone’s legacy.

In 2005 the Somerville Arts Council held a design competition for local artists and craftsmen to design and build street furniture. The competition was based on 4 objectives: to engage local artists/craftsmen in design and fabrication, to recognize the city’s cultural diversity, to celebrate Union Square’s unique character, and to create beautiful and innovative new street furniture designs. The uncommon furniture can be found throughout Union Square.

Glass-top benches: Aaron Binkley; copper benches: Mitch Ryerson; trash barrel covers: Christina Lanzl, Phil Manker; engraved design on glass: Heather Townsend, Jeff Czekaj, Julie Chen, Wes Boyd.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The Queen Anne residential building at 113 College Ave. became a major national focus in 1968 for an alternative Jewish religious movement; it is still the home of the Havurat Shalom community.

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Powder House Park

The Nathan Tufts Park, known locally as Powder House, is a place rich in colonial history. The Massachuset Indians were drawn to the area for the abundance of alewife in the nearby Mystic River, and the natural stone outcroppings that defined the landscape provided an abundance of materials for tools as well as a clear vantage point for surveying the area.

By the early 1700’s the Two Penny Brook Quarry was established on the land to make use of the blue-brown bedrock known today as Somerville Slate or Cambridge Mudstone.  A French refugee by the name of Jean Maillet bought the quarry in 1704 and erected a windmill, which was unique to the area in that it was built of stone and operated with only the top part moving to catch the wind, instead of the entire body.

The province of Massachusetts purchased the stone mill in 1747 and began using it as a gunpowder storage facility. During the 1775-76 siege of Boston the Powder House was a critical Continental Army munitions depot, or ‘powder magazine’. Peter Tufts, a farmer, purchased this land in 1818, and the Tufts family bequeathed it to the City of Somerville in 1892 to be turned  into a public park.

The Field House was constructed in 1935 using stones from the demolished Highland Railroad Station as a testimony to F. D. Roosevelt’s efforts to create jobs during the Great Depression. The building is available today for public use by petition.

The Powder House mill remains the oldest stone building in Massachusetts, and is depicted in the City of Somerville’s official seal.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Local legend is that a virtuous young woman once took refuge in the mill to hide from a man with dishonorable intentions, and that when he came for her, became tangled in the mill’s machinery and died.

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Murals I

Murals painted alongside the Rogers Foam Corp. building, Central Street.

Winter Hill Liquors on Broadway Street

Holy Bathtubs of Somerville

Somerville, MA has been known to have an exceptional number of “bathtub shrines”. Clustered in spots throughout the country that were heavily settled by Roman Catholics, these lawn shrines were historically made by burying an old bathtub halfway into the ground and placing a statue of the Virgin Mary inside. Though the bathtubs usually house a model of Mary, other prominent Catholic figures are occasionally displayed.

Traditional bathtub Madonna shrine in Somerville

High concentrations of traditional bathtub shrines are found in places around the country including Wisconsin and Minnesota. Though a handful of those still exist here, more common are the scallop-shelled or fluted stone shrines mass-produced for the bathtub lawn shrine industry that apparently had a boom in Somerville not so long ago. I think I’ve heard that there are over 400 of these shrines on various lawns throughout the city, though don’t quote (and feel free to correct) me on the number. Click to enlarge:

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DAILY TRIVIA: The first Somerville public library opened in 1873.

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The Castle

Prospect Hill, Somerville, MA

The Prospect Hill Monument is  important not only to Somerville’s history but to that of the birth of America. Though the monument itself wasn’t built until 1902, it marks the spot where on January 1, 1776 General George Washington raised the first true American flag at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. A more detailed historical account can be found here.

Prospect Hill Monument

Often referred to locally as “the castle” that overlooks Union Square, Prospect Hill is a familiar destination for families exploring the stone structure or visiting the adjacent park and playground. It’s also a popular spot for folks to congregate on July 4, in an effort to get a glimpse of the Boston fireworks while avoiding the Boston crowds.  I did this on the last fourth of July, and in my opinion it’s not worth the trek. The view’s not too shabby in the winter, but once the leaves grow back on the trees it’s an entirely different story.

View of Boston from Prospect Hill

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville used to be referred to as the “City of the Hills”.

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Slumerville? Pshaw…

Somerville, Massachusetts has been my home for the better part of the past 15 years. Truth be told, no place has ever felt more like home to me than here. I decided to start this blog as an homage to this bustling suburb of Boston with so much to offer.

Brasher Falls, NY

First of all, let me explain. I came of age in rural America during the 80s and early 90s far from any metropolitan area. I was also far from cable television, highways and civilization; the first indoor mall within a hundred miles’ drive wasn’t built until I was 16 years old. You think the pre-internet days were bad? I’m guessing that at least your family, unlike mine, didn’t have to share a ‘party line’ with several neighbors due to the limited phone lines available in your county.

One might be tempted to label me an easily impressible sap who just happened to land here on my stumble out of the North Country. (For the record, this is the third state I’ve lived in, and the sixth town in metro Boston I’ve called home.)  I would have to respectfully beg to differ, and insist that growing up with such meager surroundings and little opportunity has made me appreciate the things that surround me now on a much deeper level than most folks probably ever even notice.

There are lots of things I appreciate daily about Somerville. It’s only miles from downtown Boston, yet possesses its own thriving economy and vibrant community. This hasn’t always been the case, as the colloquial ‘Slumerville’ nickname from the not-so-distant past reminds us. Things started to really turn around here in the 90s, beginning with the revitalization of Davis Square. The gentrification  over the past decade or so has attracted many people who are interested in (among other things)  sustainable living, eco-friendly transportation, composting, buying local, and of course, art. Freecycle is a way of life here, as is working on reducing the impact of one’s carbon footprint. And despite the gentrification, which comes with its own list of positives and negatives, much diversity has been preserved here. There are  epicenters throughout the city that are home to Brazilians, Haitians, El Salvadorians, Indians and many other immigrant cultures. There are also folks working to preserve those diverse communities and engage those who live there, encouraging them to be a part of the ever-changing landscape.

So, as of this moment I do declare that beginning tomorrow I will write once per day about something I deem great about living here.  Thanks for reading my first post, and stay tuned…

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was a 2009 recipient of the prestigious All-America City Award.

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