Boston in the 50s, Italian neighborhood/s

Would appreciate some insight on which 'hoods were predominantly Italian in the 1940-1950s; doing research for a new novel and want it based in fact although the story is entirely fiction. Thanks very much for any info on this. Am a midwesterner but my way-back grandfather settled near Boston in 1630-something, so maybe that counts?

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At least two

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The North End and East Boston.

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Easy

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North End, East Boston, Hyde Park & a little bit of Roslindale.

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Shawmut Avenue in the South

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Shawmut Avenue in the South End was once an Italian neighborhood in the early 1900s
Jamaica Plain was also a neighborhood which has a number of Italian families.

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South End

My husband's father and family lived in the South End - he was born in 1922.

They were not Italian, but the majority of their neighbors were. Pretty much the same - most of the families were still living there until the 1950s.

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That was a period of interesting transition

The North End was, at various times, Jewish and later Italian. South Boston mainly Irish, although Lithuanians ran a close, but not often mentioned, ,second place. By the time of your novel, East Boston ("East-a-Bost" as the old timers called it) had supplanted the North End as the center of Italian family life, although everyone who wasn't Italian still thought "North End" when you said "Italian neighborhood."

But postwar prosperity, expansion of transit lines, and the affordability of the automobile began to change that -- Generally speaking, Italians moved to northern suburbs (for example to Revere and Saugus) and Irish, while they stayed in South Boston to a greater degree than the Italians stayed in the North End and East Boston, started moving south. to southern suburbs. Jews moved southwest along a corridor that roughly follows Blue Hill ave out into Canton, Sharon, etc.

During the period your'e writing about, this migration itself was a constant conversation -- to stay in the neighborhood with "the people" or to strike out into the wild unknowns of suburban assimilation.

https://globalboston.bc.edu/index.php/home/ethnic-groups/italians/
https://globalboston.bc.edu/index.php/home/immigrant-places/east-boston/...

Best of luck! Enjoy the process!

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East Arlington and South Medford

East Arlington had a substantial Italian population starting when people worked the farms in the early 1900s. It was alternating Italian and Irish by street until after WWII.

South Medford has received wave after wave of Portuguese and Italian immigrants, starting before 1900. Many worked in the brickmaking operations. Would have definitely been an Italian area in the 40s, 50s ... many businesses on Main St. have been there at least that long.

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Definitely South Medford, we

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Definitely South Medford, we still have the restaurants and bakeries.

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"East-a-Bost"

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"East Boston ("East-a-Bost" as the old timers called it) had supplanted the North End as the center of Italian family life"

East Boston was not called "East-a-Bost" by the Italian-American inhabitants themselves (or at least not intentionally), but was a derisive term used by others outside the community to negatively describe the Italian-American inhabitants therein.

East Boston was a primarily Italian-American neighborhood, and well known as such, from at least the 1920s straight through to the 80s when there was a sudden and swift shift of demographic to the Latino community it is known as today.

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North End Italians went on to

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North End Italians went on to Somerville in the 1940’s after the war and bought massive homes that cost a tiny fraction of what they cost today, Some of those families passed on the same homes down the family line and still have the houses today , and now they are worth over a million.
Some families stayed in the North End held onto their Brick six family and sold them during the mid 1980s.

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Revere was heavily Italian before the post war period.

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In the late 19th Century a character named Loomis Griswold (and his brother?) would run real estate scams on North Enders. They owned large swaths of swampish land in Revere and drew up plans with hundreds of tiny lots. They went into the Boston neighborhoods and hustled people fresh of the boat telling them to buy now before the roads were built: It will get more expensive and you don't have the money to move for a few years anyway. So they sold the lots to Italian immigrants, but never put any roads or utilities in. Others copied this winning formula. Decades later the streets would be built and it remained an Italian enclave through the 20th century. Today the area is known as West Revere which the residents always try to get snobby about, if only to explain they don't live near Shirley Ave.

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"But postwar prosperity,

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"But postwar prosperity, expansion of transit lines, and the affordability of the automobile began to change that -- Generally speaking, Italians moved to northern suburbs (for example to Revere and Saugus) and Irish, while they stayed in South Boston to a greater degree than the Italians stayed in the North End and East Boston, started moving south. to southern suburbs. Jews moved southwest along a corridor that roughly follows Blue Hill ave out into Canton, Sharon, etc."

Doesn't this really gloss over the white flight related to blockbusting, and eventually bussing brought? That gross element to it can't be left out either, unfortunately.

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One doesn’t exclude the other.

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It was an element no doubt. But remember that a lot of the migration to the suburbs happened earlier than bussing and blockbusting and was a pretty natural result of wanting to escape crowded city life (there was a bit more room, I think, in Irish enclaves like South Boston than there was in the North and West Ends).

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To answer your question

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Related to Italians in Boston, no. Those areas where Italians predominated in 1945 did not have predominately Black populations, or even predominantly nonwhite populations, in 1980.

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The Jews settled in Revere,

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The Jews settled in Revere, Chelsea and Lynn, long before the Italians moved in. There is still Jewish temples in the Shirley ave areas of Revere. The Jews then branched out to Swampscott and Marblehead and theJews that lived in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain in the 1920s branched out to neighboring Brookline and Newton and south shore areas like Randolph and Sharon. Boston was always segregated sad to say, and still is at some point.

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Nonantum

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in Newton next to Brighton.

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you, Tom?

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you, Tom?

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Coy ...

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... ye moy. I’m called a jivil.

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I was going to add Brighton

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I was going to add Brighton Center. Both Bug City and down by Fenuel st.

I know a number of my current neighbors moved from San Donanto (which is where many of the people form the lake came from as well) to the streets around me in the mid 60s.

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Garlic

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And you might want to consider having the character pontificate on what constitutes good garlic and how to correctly use it, but when asked the secrets of growing good garlic, they say 'you just put it in the ground!'.

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Also this during the war:

https://vita-brevis.org/2014/07/prisoners-peddocks-island/

I know an ancient Italian guy who has pretty significant dementia, so I don't know how many of his stories are factually true in every regard (Does it matter? They're good stories), but he says that lots of fishermen went out to the harbor Islands in the warm weather and even camped there overnight or for a week or so at a time, sometimes with their families. During the war years there were Italian POWs on one of the islands; the kids were absolutely forbidden to go down to the end of the island where the POW camp was, which of course meant it was the first thing they did, and they talked to the Italian soldiers through the fence.

https://vita-brevis.org/2014/07/prisoners-peddocks-island/

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Italian POWs

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I’m not sure or aware of Italian POWs in any of the harbor islands, but there were POW camps on East First Street in Southie and Columbia Ponit in Dorchester.
They were treated so well by Italian Americans, who brought them food and cigarettes, many stayed after the war.

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Yes, stayed but...

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Also a small group was housed in Hyde Park.

After the war they sought to re-patriot but many found out while imprisoned that there was nothing to go back to. Their homes and families and entire towns were gone. That also contributed to their decision to stay here. It was not all roses.

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The Italian POWS and kids

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Interesting; my best friend, older than I, walked to school past a POW camp here in Michigan. These were Germans, and she said she and her brother talked to them through the fence and the soldiers showed them photos of their families back home.

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Peddocks Island

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There were plenty of non-prisoners who camped on Peddocks Island. One part of the island was an old US Army facility - it was called Fort Something but it didn't really resemble a fortification - and that's where prisoners of war would have been held. But another part of the island was open to the public. People camped there and many families even built cottages which they would use every summer. Ownership of the land, and the cottages, was disputed between the families and the state. I went on a walking tour of the island in the early 1980s and many of the cottages were still there. State officials were talking at the time about kicking the families out and tearing down the cottages. I'm not sure what the final result was. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the cottage owners were Italian, but the people leading the tour made no reference to their ethnicity.

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Some of the earliest non aboriginals ...

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... to settle on Peddocks were Portuguese fishermen and their families after they were displaced from the North End and Long Island ( or it may have been Thompson’s Island). Some of their descendants still have grandfathered in rights to keep using the cottages on a section of the island called Crab Alley.

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Hoods and I are Olde Friends

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I went to the local Hoods in Laconia for lunch frequently when working at Laconia Clinic. One particular lunch of clam chowder and lemon pie/vanilla ice cream sent me up the hill to Lakes Region General Hospital for an emergency gall bladder surgery! Oh, do I remember Hoods!

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While not predominantly Italian

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I would like to note that Roslindale and Hyde Park had large Italian populations at the time. Think Tom Menino. There were factories in Hyde Park that had "ethnics" working in them.

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I look forward to learning more about this...

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Be sure to post info about your novel when it's done.

The obvious answer is The North End. It had a high concentration of Italians back then.

Also, East Boston, across the harbor from the North End.

I've also heard stories about Italians living in Tenement houses in the West End (a neighborhood near the North End which was largely destroyed by "urban renewal" in the 1950s).

I look forward to seeing more posts here from people much more in the know than I am. Also look forward to your book. Good luck.

PS you should plan a few fact-finding missions to the area. there are no-doubt a lot of local history resources to delve into around here.

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The Novel-to-B

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I will put a diary on my calendar to remember to do this; thanks for your interest!

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I'm very humbled by the response to my 'simple' question

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@Brighton-ite: I had already written in North End but wanted to be more sure it was a good choice. The detailed and very informative answers here, the wide variety of historical background offered, and the depth of obvious feeling for the area revealed in these comments is awesome. My modest novel, pure fiction, will not be a historical tome that could possibly reflect the level of professionalism you might be anticipating. At best, I will hope that you might find it entertaining. Part of it may be disturbing, but as a whole it should be just plain recreational.

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One section of South Boston

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Even though there were many Italians living in Southie prior to WW2, particularly those POW's who were held in prison camps in Southie that stayed after WW2, the area from I Street to K Street and East First Street to East Third Street had many Italian families. Emmet Street in particular had the IA (Italian American) restaurant on one end and the Italian Club (complete with bocci courts) on the other end. The old timers today still refer that street as Guinea Emmet.

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Emmet & POWs

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I wrote a dissertation on the Italian POWs (actually a subset called Italian Service Units, or ISUs) housed in Boston during WWII and their relationship to the local community. In my interviews with local Italian Americans who grew up in the small Italian-American enclave in Southie, they noted that the enclave around Emmet Street existed before WWII (they thought the small ethnic community was drawn to the area by an Italian Franciscan priest who once led the local Gate of Heaven Catholic Church, though it's likely at least some of the Italian community was there prior to the priest). As for POWs staying around in the area post-war, all were required to go home to Italy due to the Geneva Conventions, but some definitely came back post-war and married local women they had met in wartime Boston (the POWs got to go visit with local Italian Americans as a reward for good work and behavior during the war). Also, re: prior mentions of the POWs in these comments, the POWs were housed first at Camp McKay on Columbia Point just south of Carson Beach. Due to rioting in reaction to their interactions with locals in the summer of 1944, the POWs were moved to Fort Andrews on Peddocks Island in the harbor, where they remained until the fall of 1945, taking daily boats to work at Castle Island Terminal, the Boston Army Base, and various shorter term assignments (gardening in Franklin Park, rehabbing hotels in Kenmore, hurricane clean up, etc). Another large Italian POW group was based at Camp Myles Standish in Taunton south of the city (where there's now talk of a casino) - they too traveled to nearby Italian-American enclaves (near Boston and Providence) to visit during their free time. While small groups of Italian POWs may have been temporarily housed elsewhere for short labor assignments (and other POWs may have been temporarily housed near the port if they disembarked in Boston and were being shipped inland), McKay, Andrews and Myles Standish were the only permanent Italian POW locales in Eastern Mass during the war. A few Italians were mixed in with the Germans at a POW camp west of Boston at Fort Devens, but only if they had been captured while fighting under the Nazi flag.

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Parallel Thinking

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This almost rattled my cage a little; the very first book I wrote as an adult was set in WWII, occupied Belgium. It was my self-treatment to try to stop a recurring nightmare I'd had since my earliest teens until 50s, but it got so long and complicated that I just turned it into three books, the same 'nightmare story' told three different ways. Some of the points in your comment are strikingly similar to the circumstances of characters in my trilogy. Weird, eh?

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Social clubs

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Southie, predominately Irish, never had an Irish or Hibernian club. Southie had a German, Polish, Lithuanian, Italian and Dante clubs but no Irish club.

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Dorchester

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and someone wrote a book about it. For more info contact the archivist of the City of Boston (John McColgan) for the name, etc. can't remember

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Stella restaurant

In the 60's, the best-known, most popular restaurant in the North End was Stella, on Fleet St. They served decent food, but most importantly, Jack & Jackie Kennedy were known to dine there.

But Stella was not named for a woman of that name (even though many people referred to the place as "Stella's"). The place had been named Stella d'Italia (Star of Italy), but the owners dropped the d'Italia part in 1941 when Mussolini-led Italy was allied with Germany in war against the U.S.

(By the 70's, the restaurant had moved from the North End to the newly-opened Harbor Towers. Stella's popularity faded quickly.)

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parts of brighton were still

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parts of brighton were still holding strong with Italians into the mid 2000's. winship street seemed to be a hotbed of old italian guys tending their massive tomato gardens.

also, wellesley had a very large italian population through the 60's/70's - see the italo-american club on oak street, still open to this day.

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bug village brighton

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winship street area. i think they filmed the wedding scene from The Godfather in one of the yards on sheppard street.

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Definitely the West End in

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Definitely the West End in Boston; I had family there. And if we're including the suburbs, South Quincy had a sizable Italian population, many working in the granite quarries there. Check out Stephen Puleo's book "The Boston Italians" for more local history.

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North End and West End obv

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But many other smaller pockets. Somerville had tons of Italians through the 80s-90s—it was such a marker of “old-school” Somerville to have the grape arbor trained over the driveway for the annual wine-making, and a small yard filled with fruit trees and tomatoes.

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Fig tree

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You can still find the occasional fig tree wrapped up for the winter in South Medford.

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Yes!

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A lot of the nurseries on American Legion hwy seem to be Italian-owned and there’s one Italian guy out there with a huge greenhouse full of figs. I always loved going through Somerville and seeing peaches and plums being cultivated in pretty small yards—you still a bit in Roslindale etc.

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Why they moved to Medford

There was already a community here working in the brickyards. Not sure if the same was true of Revere.

I would also suggest looking at the oldest census records you can get for the entire area - surnames are included in those records and will give a block by block picture of where people were when. Records are available through the 1940 census.

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You need more research?

Go to the 24 hour Dunkie's at Wellington between the hours of 6 and 9PM and you'll be able to get all the answers you need from all the old paisans that hang around there yelling at each other in Italian.

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24-hour dunkies

Ah yes - my son worked the night shift there over two summers. Says those guys were displaced from Meadow Glenn when they ripped out the food court for Wegman's.

They didn't bus their tables, but they left tips (which wasn't supposed to happen, either).

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The Heart of All Villages

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The 'BS tables' in local mom-and-pop restaurants and now Dunkie's is where you get the real news and the true feel for an area; that has always held true for me whether in NH, VT, MI, or Bath, Avon. Sit and listen; it's like feeling the pulse of the region.

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East Boston and "white flight"

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For Italian-American families, moving from East Boston to Revere was almost a lateral move and did not really signify "a step up". A large number of the East Boston Italian-American families who moved in the 70s due to "white flight" went to Saugus, Peabody and Lynnfield on the North Shore. Those areas are basically "East Boston North" to this day. Today you will find more of the stereotypical "Boston accent" in those regions than in Boston itself.

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North Boston accent

I remember this being pretty distinct from the South Boston accent back in the early 70s. Not sure if these are as differentiated still today (don't hear enough of the northerly accent anymore).

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Madonna on the Half Shell

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Not exclusively Italian (Portuguese people did it, too) but a unique Boston-area phenomenon was the practice of placing a statue of a Madonna (in the North End, that would be the Madonna della Cava, among others: depends on what part of Sicily you were from) inside an upended claw foot bathtub displayed in the front yard. The shape and color of the tub suggested Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" hence the less-than-reverent moniker. Some were simple, others more striking with spotlights lights, plexiglass doors, floral arrangements, etc.

Someone published a book of photos of all the bathtub Madonnas he found in Somerville as it was being gentrified in the 1990's - I think they totalled over 200.

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a unique Boston-area phenomenon

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Naah. We had the madonnas in bathtubs in the more Italian parts of the (mostly Irish, some Germans, Lithuanians to the west) neighborhood I grew up in on the South Side of Chicago in the 50s and 60s.

--gpm

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Similar research tracks

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Hey there! I'm also looking for historical info on this, but in the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe we could compare notes? My novel is complete but I'm still editing it for accuracy.

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If I Could, I Would

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My knowledge and research is basically limited to this site and the great content contributed by the readers, along with the bits and pieces I've picked up via a limited number of friends who used to live in the Greater Boston area. Sadly, I'd be a poor source. My real Italian (and Sicilian) contacts are from Jersey originally.

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Youz guys

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Everyone who replied, thanks so much! This is priceless. The book is total fiction but I want those characters to inhabit a very realistic environment with factual background. (Youz have now been introduced to the Thumb of the Big Mitten dialect...but no, I'm not from there either!)

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Hey Pal

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Is that your car outside . . ?

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My recollection

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is that there is a bit, but not very much, about the North End and Boston neighborhoods in Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Not available as an ebook the last time I looked.

--gpm

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If you want to cross the Charles....

East Cambridge between Lechmere & Inman Squares was an Italian enclave. The concentration was greatest several blocks in either direction on Cambridge Street from St Francis’ Church (a Protestant meeting house bought & retrofitted as a Catholic church by the locals who then invited the Franciscans to staff it). The area is now more heavily Portuguese. There were always enough immigrants, mostly from the Azores & Madeira, to support a church, but their new dominance is represented by the modern St. Anthony’s. My grandparents lived, met, and married in East Cambridge (him- Portuguese; her- Italian). They built a house in Medford in 1939, but family owned the apartment building my grandmother grew up in & where my mother was born into the mid-70’s.

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For those who asked to be notified of the 1950s novel's release

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It is out now, titled, "A Woman What?" on Amazon. Fast way to find it, search Naomi Bigelow Books, A Woman What?

I had more fun writing this than any other one yet; laughed sometimes at what characters came up with, got angry all over again for the boy in one thread, etc. And along the way, I discovered this great site, something I can use when I plan my next trip back East.

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