Tag Archives: Somerville

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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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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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

Old World Charm in Davis Square

It’s great that a place like Sessa’s Italian Specialties has managed to stay afloat for more than 30 years in Davis Square. Walking in the door you are immediately greeted by all sorts of sensory treats: delicious smells emanating from the deli where they serve calzones, sauces, and other homemade foods; fresh loaves of bread stacked in front of a variety of bulk olives; and strands of cured meats, garlic and peppers hanging from the ceiling tiles.

delicious calzones

When I first moved to Somerville I was psyched to discover this place full of Italian imported products. They actually carried the only canned sauce my grandmother would ever allow in her home: Don Peppino. A distant relative in Italy made it and sold it wholesale to Italian restaurants in America and used to bring her and her brothers cases of it when he came to visit, she told me, though the company has long since changed hands.

Being choosy about the bagged pasta and other items with a shorter shelf life is advisable. It’s not unheard of for some of the items on the shelf to have “expired” sometimes years before, and I prefer to go for the canned goods and amazing selection of olive oils. The deli meat and selection of homemade food is also quite delicious.

The owner is about as surly as my great-grandmother looks in all the old family photos, and you’ll read other statements to that effect if you check out their page on yelp. He’s rarely there, though, and it’s usually his much friendlier daughter behind the counter. You won’t find many places like this anymore, however, and it’s well worth stopping in and helping them stick around for hopefully another 30 years.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The first sitting president to visit Somerville was Bill Clinton.

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Freedom of a Zipster

I’ve owned a car since I was 15 years old. My dad was about to trade in his  ’85 Oldsmobile Calais when at the last minute he decided to give it to me, since I was about to turn 16. I was beyond ecstatic and spent many days out in the driveway washing its silver paint until it sparkled and dreaming of all the places I would soon be able to go of my own accord.

To this day I am addicted to owning a car, and tend to view it almost as an extension of my being.  I would like to give up the habit someday if I end up staying in the city indefinitely.  I do feel a little guilty about it for the whole “carbon footprint” aspect, and also know I’d get a heck of a lot more exercise without it. And there’s really no reason to own one living in a place with so many options: trains, buses, cabs, Enterprise Rent-A-Car for those occasional longer trips to see family… and Zipcar, to get around locally at a price so much more affordable than owning a vehicle.

So at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I think a blog about Somerville should include a shout out to Robin Chase and Antje Danielson, Cambridge residents who founded Zipcar right next door about a decade ago. When the weather is lousy and you just don’t feel like walking to the laundromat or grocery store, with a one-time membership fee of $50 you can rent a Zipcar for $8 per hour (or $66 per day). Gas, insurance and maintenance are included.

I’ve heard a lot of raves about Zipcar from friends and co-workers over the years. If I do end up getting rid of the car this spring, which I’m highly considering, I’ll definitely be signing up. If you have Zipcar and agree or disagree with anything I’m saying, you’re welcome to add your thoughts by commenting below.

Looking toward Cambridge/Somerville from Boston.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The famed pirate Captain Kidd once hid from the law at Ten Hills Farm and was rumored to have buried treasure somewhere on the property.

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Murals II

We speak for those who can’t.

This is my favorite local mural. It’s right on the Somerville/Cambridge line and may be technically in Cambridge, but I drive by it nearly every day and have always wanted a reason to pull over and take a picture of it.

Painted by muralist Be Sargent

Though this mural is a “wall of respect for animals” and sponsored by organizations including Massachusetts Network for Animals and Abolish Primate Experiments and Slavery, I like that there is also an infant in the painting. It sends a very powerful message.

Two more murals from around town are below; please click photos to enlarge:

There was once a train that went down Broadway... more about this in an upcoming post!

Union Square; also by Be Sargent.

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DAILY TRIVIA: General Charles H. Taylor, editor and founder of American Homes Magazine, the first 10-cent magazine in this country, lived in Somerville. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Asylum for the Insane

Charlestown Asylum, 1800s

Most people are familiar with Belmont’s McLean Hospital. Affiliated with Harvard Medical School, McLean is one of the most revered psychiatric hospitals in the country. Famous patients throughout the years have included James Taylor, Ray Charles, Rick James, Sylvia Plath (author of The Bell Jar), and  Susanna Kaysen, whose memoir was the basis for the 1999 film Girl, Interrupted.

McLean Hospital was founded in 1811 as the Charlestown Asylum for the Insane and its original location was in the present day Cobble Hill section of Somerville, at the time part of Charlestown.  Though not a trace of the hospital remains — it was demolished and relocated to Belmont in 1895 to make way for the railroad — the entrance to the grounds featured a long driveway lined with Elm trees at the approximate intersection of current day Washington and Franklin Streets.

In the 1790s doctors began to explore the idea that beautiful, peaceful surroundings could alleviate the suffering of the mentally ill, and the Charlestown Asylum was founded on these progressive principles of moral treatment. In the past the insane had been chained and beaten in a misguided attempt to scare them out of their madness. The Charlestown Asylum (later referred to as The Somerville Asylum, The McLean Asylum for the Insane, and eventually McLean Hospital) spanned 18 acres on grounds with picturesque terraces, trees, flowers and vegetable gardens designed to inspire tranquility.

A man by the name of George Folsom, an early apothecary at the asylum, remarked in his diary: “Crazy people are much more pleasant than I expected.”

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DAILY TRIVIA: The nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb” was written about Mary Sawyer, an attendant at the Charlestown Asylum in the 1830s who had adopted a sickly lamb abandoned by its mother and nursed it back to health. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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