East Watertown native John Airasian was asked to give a history of Coolidge Square during the celebration of the new mural in the area. He provided a wealth of memories along with the history of the square in his speech – or love letter, if you will.
Here are his remarks, which he supplemented with some stories during the celebration on Sept. 19, 2015.:
Coolidge Square is the heart of East Watertown and that heart has always beat strong and it keeps getting stronger.
Let me take you back to the late ’40s and the ’50s in Coolidge Square.
I remember the square then, Peter Tomasian had the gas station, in the block next door was Aintab Lahmejunes. The Casabian’s were next door with Cass the Florist. Then the Ovoian’s with Paramount Cleaners, then Jim Tegakis with Watertown Plumbing, Charles Mosesian with Euphrates Bakery and on the corner was Armen Vahe Radio and Record Store.
When you drove into Coolidge Square you could smell the lahmejunes from Aintab, the bread from Euphrates and hear the Armenian music Armen Vahe’s.
Armenian businessmen all working hard, most with their wives beside them.
Those were good days, days that never leave you. That was the beginning of the Middle Eastern character of Coolidge Square. That today is known and cherished throughout the Greater Boston Area.
I remember my family stopping at Pet’s for gas in our 1965 Buick Roadmaster and while the tank was being filled we ran over to Aintab to buy lahmejunes for the trip, which were 11 cents each at the time.
Most of our immigrants in East Watertown were Armenian, Greek, Italian and some Irish.
Coolidge Square was a place the immigrants could run their whole life cycle.
Where they were comfortable and where an average worker’s job could make ends meet. Without all the financial pressures of today. Or they could start a business like so many did.
Their children could be born at Mt. Auburn Hospital or delivered by Dr. Zovickian.
They could reside in East Watertown. Work at the Hood Rubber, the Watertown Arsenal, Western Electric, the Cookie Factory, Eastern Clothing or Kondazian and Sons Clothing, who were manufacturing at the time. All of these within walking distance.
They could attend church at St. James Armenian Church, or Sacred Heart and St. Theresa’s Catholic churches.
They could shop for their groceries in the square. And send their kids to the Hosmer and the Coolidge schools.
And when their time came, could be buried by Bedrosian, Mardirosian, Stanton and DeVito Funeral Homes.
Coolidge Square was diversity at its best long before diversity was celebrated.
As an example, my father built a clothing factory on School Street in 1946. Everyone spoke Armenian in the factory, lived on surrounding streets, celebrated holidays by the women bringing all Armenian food and delicacies for a party.
Like everything back then, life was simpler.
Let me quickly lay out a little more of the square for y0u.
Starting at School Street, St. James Armenian Church, Anton Takvorian’s Gas Station, Martin Tomasian’s store block where he had his law practice, lived next door and built the apartments across the street on the corner of Winsor Avenue.
Eddie the Taylor (Bob Kaprelian’s father); Dom Mrcurio, a barber and artist; and Levon Simourian’s Winsor Spa were all tenants on that block.
Where the medical building at 521 Mt. Auburn Street is was the Mount Auburn Chevrolet Dealership owned by Martin Javian.
Next was Albert’s Outlet, a specialty furniture store owned by the Jangigian family and then their daughter Sonia Boyajian.
Some other tenants in the square: Randy’s Bowling Alley, Cappy’s Luncheonette, Frank Hobby Store, Kreem’s Greeting Card Store, Union Market National Bank, Watertown Savings, Town Diner, and on the opposite side of the street, Coolidge Theater, Rand’s Pharmacy, L&M Department Store, Kay’s Market, and Coolidge Hardware.
Fast forward to today, East Watertown has changed for the better. We had factories, a nuclear reactor on the Arsenal and a dump on Grove Street. Today the Boston Globe recently spoke about the “White Hot” East Watertown real estate market!
Today the square is flourishing being led by the Middle Eastern Markets that draw folks from near and far: Sevan Bakery – Chavushian family, Masis Bakery – Ourfalian family, Arax – Basmajian family, Eastern Lamajuen – Dervartanian family, Fastashi – Souren Etyemezian, Nicky Havan and Richie at Coolidge Provisions.
Look at what we have around us. We have three parks here – Filippello, Sullivan Playground and Arsenal Park.
We have public transportation on Mt. Auburn Street, Belmont Street and Arsenal Street.
We have the Charles River Behind us. We have the Mount Auburn Cemetery that is on the National Historic Register. Two golf courses within reach – Oakley and Fresh Pond.
Greenough Boulevard is under construction, which will bring more passive and active recreation.
We have the Arts Center. We have two hotels coming. The Arsenal Project, which will bring more good things.
And we have public housing on Melendy Avenue.
There are very few places that have all these great things.
Today there are six churches in Coolidge Square: St. James Armenian Church, St. Stephen’s Armenian Church, Armenian Memorial Church, The Greek Taxiarche Church, one Catholic Church – Sacred Heart, and Watertown Evangelico Church Non Denominational.
All thriving parishes with large congregations who hold festivals that celebrate their culture.
So, the Middle East flavor of Coolidge Square is alive, well and stronger than ever.
Coolidge Square has always been a great and unique place to be and it continues to get better.
It provides a classic example of the immigrant story.
Be proud of the square, enjoy it, and appreciate it. And this mural that the kids have done makes it a little better.