Watertown’s John Airasian’s ‘Love Letter’ to Coolidge Square

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Charlie Breitrose

East Watertown's John Airasian recalled his memories of Coolidge Square during the celebration of the new mural painted by Watertown High School students.

East Watertown's John Airasian recalled his memories of Coolidge Square during the celebration of the new mural painted by Watertown High School students.

Charlie Breitrose

East Watertown’s John Airasian recalled his memories of Coolidge Square during the celebration of the new mural painted by Watertown High School students.

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.

35 thoughts on “Watertown’s John Airasian’s ‘Love Letter’ to Coolidge Square

  1. Dear John, Thank you so much for the trip down memory lane !!! Thank you so much for remembering our father and his beloved gas station. He was so proud to be 40 years on “the square.” Peter Toomasian was so proud to have lived his life in Watertown, MA !!! The Mural is a beautiful addition to the corner. Eileen Toomasian Nichols

  2. If you love Coolidge Square, please join us for a meeting of the Coolidge Square Neighborhood Group, which will be devoted to preserving the small business, ethnic, food oriented and neighborly characteristics of the Square which Mr. Airasian so aptly describes. Time and place will be announced soon.

  3. Lovely tribute to a wonderful area. Is there a Coolidge Square small business association? I don’t have a storefront but I would love to get to know other small business owners in the neighborhood.

  4. Thank you John, it was so nice to hear the stories of Coolidge Square and the East End. I rememer some of the business and locations you mentioned, but rememer mostly bing your neighbor growing up on Oakley Road!

  5. Hello John, Your article brought back so many wonderful memories. I do not know of any other community that has so much to offer. Living around Coolidge Sq is the epitome. With or with out transportation ,it is extremely convenient for any type of shopping,post office hardware store sub shop’s and of course Dunkin’s. Let us keep this up with all our diversity of our establishment’s. GREAT JOB JOHN.

  6. Nice comments, John, at the celebration of the colorful mural. And it was a nice occasion. Not mentioned by you is the CVS store under construction which I think will be an asset. Granted traffic is already congested at times, but this will be a plus for the square. We have lived five years at Coolidge School senior apartments on Arlington and appreciate East Watertown.

      • As someone who lives 100 yard from the CVS, I am pretty certain that I will not be happy about it. Nor will most of my neighbors in the East End as far as I can tell. Bill and John, if you want to speak for yourselves, fine, but I’d be careful about saying we will all be glad. That is dismissive of the hundreds of people who opposed such a store of this size in Coolidge Square and spoke against it at the PB and ZBA. Over 400 people signed a petition and I haven’t heard many who are changing their opinion, especially with the invasion of the rats.

        What we do agree on however is a love of Coolidge Square. I am very interested in the history, which I was not around to witness.

  7. John such a great LOVE story and terrific speech. I have been a lifetime resident,you brought me back into my childhood memories. Such wonderful memories. Thank You and especially our wonderful talented students at W.H.S.
    Mary Russo

    • Hi Mary,
      They did a wonderful job and this community art is
      one more feather in Watertown’s cap.
      I remember your father fondly.
      Keep up the good work with the schools.

    • Hi Ed,
      I remember the contributions you made when you were here Ed.
      It is good to hear from you.
      Hope all is well with you.
      We miss having you here.

  8. A beautiful tribute to a dynamic community in my home town. Now living in Sweden, I use growing up in Watertown to demonstrate that there is success in having diverse backgrounds and coming together in local unity.

    My favourite line: “Coolidge Square was diversity at its best long before diversity was celebrated.”

  9. What a wonderful tribute by you, John, and a trip down memory lane for me. My parents drove us to Watertown every weekend during our growing up years to visit grandparents – one set on Spruce St, and the other – which included aunts, uncles and cousins – on Oakley Road. I think these treks were Mom and Dad’s weekly touchstone and it became ours as well. These days if I get to the area Eastern Lamejune is a must.

    • Hi Joan,

      I remember your folks Jack and Lucy fondly and I remember you kids.
      It was the Ovoians you visited and your mother was good friends
      with my mother’s niece Betty who stayed with us sometime.
      Thanks for the remarks!

  10. article emailed to me by my niece….ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! I graduated from WHS in 1951 so you can imagine how far back my memory goes. I worked after school at Charlies bakery and later at the cookie factory with so many of my classmates. I wonder if there is anybody in Watertown that remembers when we could walk straight down School St. to the River . That was before the Arsenal was expanded across School St. ( during WW2.) You know, John, I do believe my parents me t each other at Kondazians clothing factory in the early 1920s…so many new immigrants were given jobs there, and YES, I vividly remember when your family built that brand new brick building on School St. on the empty lot so many played baseball on and flew kites on. (one of my CLASSMATES was electrocuted flying his kite there, losing several fingers…tragically he died in our senior year when struck in the head by a baseball at a game.) I miss Watertown so much and always hoped to return there but property values soared way beyond our means. My 3 siblings are still alive and one still lives in our “family home” on Putnam St. THANK YOU, THANK YOU AND I HOPE MY NIECE CAN SEND ME THE ENTIRE PAPER. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOURS.

    • Hi Alyce,
      I am glad you enjoyed the speech.
      I have spent the last 48 years in the Kondazian factory which we now own.
      I have been collecting history of the building some of which is displayed
      in our retail store located there.
      If you are in the area stop by and take a look. Or if you have any
      pictures of the factory I would love to see them.
      The fact that you remember our factory going up and the boys playing
      baseball there is great.
      I had heard the story of the boy hit with the baseball.
      My dad employed many folks on Putnam street.
      I agree about the real estate values.
      Nice hearing from you and God Bless you also.


      • am so glad my comments went through and niece sent them to me. I don’t have any pictures of your factory…back then very few had cameras but because of my Papa’s experience he was given at the factory he opened his own 1-man tailor shop in Somerville (I called it a sweatshop) but he was able to support a family of 6 (later 7 when he brought my Granma over from France.) We lived on Walnut St. then before he was able to buy the house on Putnam St. He or I should say, they, often talked about their single days at Kondazians and was very grateful for the opportunity to learn enou gh about tailoring to venture into his own business. I personally thank you for that. I am positive if he were still alive he would have many stories to relate to you. I live in Hershey, Pa. where folks here talk about Milton Hershey with the fond memories they recall just as I recall mine growing up in Watertown. It’s a wonderful area BUT only very recently have been experiencing diversification, mainly due to the huge Medical Center here. Sad to say so many have never heard of Armenians ….but I try hard to educate them. If you find a copy of the 1951 WHS yearbook you will see a memorial picture of the classmate that lost his fingers flying his kite. He used to sit beside me in art class and tried so hard to copy my watercolors.

  11. I greatly enjoy your flashbacks. One of my favorite memories is getting lehmejune at noon on Saturdays and then spending the afternoon at a Coolidge Theater double feature. I got them for 10 cents but you paid 11. Anyhow: $1 a dozen

    • Hi Bob nice to hear from you.
      Hope all is well.
      We miss you around here as you and you family were always a big part of Watertown.
      All the best to you!

  12. Dear John
    I read your article and it brought back such happy memories of growing up in such a wonderful time and place. I remember when I first came to the states not speaking a word of English and your kindness to me at the Hosmer School, Growing up on East Boylston St. & Langdon Ave was ideal because we were surrounded by the best neighbors from so many ethnic background and everyone got along. Thank you John, Maria (Mia) Child

  13. Hi Maria,
    It is so good to hear from you and those were great days.
    I remember when you first got to Hosmer with that beautiful smile and the warmth coming out on your face.
    All you had to do was look at you to know how good you were.
    I hope things go well for you.
    Saw Sal at the bank this morning and told him about your email and he sends his best.
    Also, was with Bob Kaprielian this morning and he sends his best.
    Your email was so welcome!
    Thank you,

  14. I will always remember the Armenian ladies (my grandmother was one) greeting each other on Mount Auburn with kisses and arguing with Kirk at Kay’s Market while exchanging gossip with Mrs K at her register in the back of the store. My grandmother would always buy Columbo yoghurt at Kay’s, never at Star Market or anyway else. She was convinced that the Columbosian family sent their best product to Kay’s since it was an Armenian market. I also remember when my grandfather died, Mrs Bedrosian herself worked out the details while sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen drinking Turkish coffee.

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