Oh, ho: Why Marlborough Street reverses direction the block before the Public Garden

Mike the Mad Biologist explains it was an attempt to cut into the business of the streetwalkers who used to ply their wares at the corner of Marlborough and Arlington in the 1970s:

People would hop off Storrow Drive and drive around the block, find, erm, a 'friend', and drive off. Not exactly the kind of tourism the city was hoping for, so the traffic pattern was changed. Hard to believe today, since the penthouse of Zero Marlborough (the corner of Arlington and Marlborough) recently went for $8.8 million.

He actually wrote that as an aside in a post about the new traffic lights that are going in at that intersection, which means the former red-light district is, finally, going to get some red lights.



Free tagging: 


Male Prostitutes

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Yes, but the "streetwalkers" at the corner of Marlborough and Arlington were exclusively male. In gay circles in the mid-late 70s this area was known as "The Block". I believe it was Arlington, Marlborough, Berkeley and Comm. Ave. where male hustlers would sell their wares. There was "activity" at the old bus station on St. James, but much more went on on "The Block". And suddenly out of nowhere one day (or night) the traffic pattern was changed with no explanation. But a lot of us knew the reason why.

Sorry,you're wrong on that!

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"The Block" was the the area around the Park Square Building. It was Boylston, Arlington, Berkeley, and St. James Streets.

In the wild days of the 80's, I spent many nights cruising the block with gay clients looking for companionship. The best part was always seeing high end cars from the suburbs cruising the block and the fact the cops rarely (if ever) pinched men who frequented the young men of the block, due to what I always heard was the fact that the cops really didn't want to know who was driving those expensive cars.

Another classic institution ruined by the Internet!


Park Square was a little later

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The Arlington/Marlborough axis was definitely "The Block" in the 70s, and was referred to as such. It shifted to the Park Square area you refer to AFTER the traffic pattern was changed on Marlborough. There was even a Phoenix (or maybe Real Paper) article about the Marlborough "block" back in the day. It said something like "more action is going on under the elegant gas streetlights of Marlborough Street than on all of LaGrange Street". LaGrange being, of course, where the female hookers of the day were. The implication of this article was that all this male prostitution activity was going on right under everyone's nose on toney Marlborough. Female hookers, by design, can be seen from a mile away. Male hookers generally blend into the surroundings and are noticed only if you are looking for them.


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I was speaking to the old man this morning and he did clarify that the original block was the Arlington/Beacon/Marlborough stretch. I did not start driving until it moved over to Park Square.

As a matter of fact as soon as I mentioned it, the old man said his fellow cabbies used to call that stretch "Lollypop Row".

Yes and no

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It's not quite that Marlborough St stopped and Park Sq started. In the 70s and up to the change on Marlborough, I remember activity in both places. There was a bus station on St. James that was in the middle of it, with activity on St James and Arlington. At one time you could circle around both blocks if you wanted although the St James/Arlington crowd was a little more rough.

When they changed the direction of Marlborough, activity on the Park Sq block started to pick up, so to speak. there are still a few working boys on Arlington and St James from time to time.

Park Square was like that in the 90s

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I worked in the Park Plaza building then, and one night had to come into the office very late. (Tech hours, you know.)

As I was trying to parallel park on Arlington just south of Stuart, I saw a transvestite hooker very patiently sitting on some steps looking at me and waiting for me to finish. I felt sorry having to disappoint.


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I've been wondering about this block since I started having to drive up Berkeley Street once or twice a week. The Marlborough block causes back-ups that probably add a block or two to the gridlock Berkeley gets during rush hour.

There are a number of one ways around downtown that make the city harder to get around, cause more traffic, and in many cases don't improve things for pedestrians. I'm enraged to hear that this one still exists because of a 40 year old attempt to make traffic patterns impact crime.


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One thing that this does is it stops people from using Marlborough as cut-through from Mass Ave or Charlesgate East all the way to Arlington which would avoid all the traffic lights that are on Comm Ave. This probably eliminates a lot of traffic the street would otherwise get (it goes down Comm, Boylston, or illegally down Back Street instead) which I'm sure many of the people who live on Marlborough Street appreciate.

If the street got more traffic, then it would need more traffic lights to try and prevent all the asshats from running the Stop signs. :)

What's illegal about using

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What's illegal about using Back Street?

Turning from Back onto the Storrow onramp at the end of Berkeley was one of the scariest driving situations I've ever been in. There was zero visibility around the garage at the corner, and a steady stream of traffic pouring down Berkeley. http://goo.gl/maps/mPzE0

I'm never going that way again. But I didn't see any signs saying it was illegal to use Back Street.

If I were in charge, I'd reverse the direction of Back to make it go west from Berkeley to Clarendon, to solve this serious safety issue.

Did the light at Berkeley and

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Did the light at Berkeley and Marlborough always have separate green phases for the two halves of Marlborough? Those lights looked like they've been replaced recently.

That's what wastes so much time -- people on Berkeley have to sit there for two separate Marlborough greens which nobody is using most of the time.

I think it would work just fine to have one green phase shared by both directions of Marlborough and pedestrians crossing Berkeley.

In other words, the one way pattern and the inefficient traffic light are two separate issues.

Feel free to take your

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Feel free to take your karaoke machine and bar games elsewhere. In fact, please, leave. We're quite happy with our backwardness if you're the norm. Will.

I'm confused. Can someone

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I'm confused. Can someone explain the traffic pattern that was being changed? Even if Marlborough didn't reverse direction, it would still be impossible to drive around that block, especially if coming from Storrow—in fact it would be even more difficult in that case, no? Blocking cars coming from the Mass Ave direction makes sense, but I can't figure out what else it does.

The good old days

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The old traffic pattern let you exit Storrow, jog across Beacon, to Arlington, right on Comm, right on Berkley, right on Marlborough, then right on Arlington and go around as many times as you wanted. It was not "The Block" but it was close to the block and more quiet and darker than the Block (for those who wanted quiet and dark). Or you could do a larger loop that included The Block, and Marlborough St. and double your pleasure.

There still are a few working boys from time to time on The Block, but not like the good old days, and the traffic change on Marlborough worked. The activity stopped immediately.


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You could get off Storrow at Clarendon - left on Marlborough and straight to Arlington - and then circle the block until your heart's content. Or you could get off at Arlington, right on Comm and again circle to your heart's content. You can't do that any more without going all the way around the Common via Clarendon, Boylston and Charles after every trip down the first block of Marlborough.

I'm guessing because Marlborough was a much quieter street than Beacon or Comm, it lent itself to this behavior.

Fascinating history. I just

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Fascinating history. I just wish they'd put a contra-flow bike lane on that block of Marlborough. It's a nice quite street to bike down since it doesn't have much through traffic, but getting to Arlington St legally once you get to Berkeley is a royal pain!

Sure, Charlie

We know you just want to circle around the block offering nice young men a ride on your fender.

Must be pretty tough for you,

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Must be pretty tough for you, ay? Maybe you should seek therapy to help alleviate your burden.

Well into the 80s-mid 90s

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St. James street, especially the Park Sq, building area, was filled at night with male hustlers. They'd literally be basically lined up. Funny because BPDHQ was right around the corner. I remember distinctly coming home from HS school one night, and this young man/kid with a southern accent who said he was from N. Carolina stopped me by Copley Sq., and asked me where did young guys hustle in Boston. I guess he assumed I was a hustler. I wasn't, but told him where to hang.

Don't be surprised!

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One of the area's most well known (or not) cruising spots is the area of beach right across the street from the State Police barracks on Revere Beach!

Why did it work?

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Why didn't the traffic just loop around Marlborough/Berkeley/Beacon/Clarendon instead. It's even closer to the Storrow exit that way. As evidenced by dvdoff's posts, this didn't exactly "solve" the problem, it just moved it a few blocks away.

Their goal

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I don't think their main goal was to specifically "solve" the male hustler situation or eradicate it completely, which would have been impossible. The goal was to get it off Marlborough. If I recall, Marlborough residents were complaining. It was basically a cosmetic action.

And on the other hand..

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When the Combat Zone was in it's last days, I recall the working girls moving over to Bay Village until the residents there went bananas on the cops when their kids would see used condoms on the street in the morning.

Girls will be boys

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Many (most?) of the working girls in Bay Village were/are boys

Oh, ho: Why Marlborough Street reverses direction the block befo

AS a former hustler who worked boston in the 70s when both I can say to the best of my recollection that Marlborough Street was "the block" and Park Square was known as the bus station. Of course, Johns could confuse this easily so there is really no correct answer.
I also live (with my girlfriend) at number one Marlborough Street when it was still a hustler spot. The reversing of Marlborough Street was very successful, because it prevented the Johns from circling around the block from Commonwealth Ave.
I also remember a seedy dive bar where the johns would go in the Greyhound bus station. The drinking age was 18 back then, but most hustlers were too young for even that!