Hangin’ Around in Lowell: Back Central
(aka: The Flats, South End, Chapel Hill)
By Gary Mastas
I lived in this section for the first thirty-one years of my life and still have great memories of the area. I was born in 1947 and my family resided at 39 Whipple Street in a six-tenement, three-storied block on the comer of Mead Street. In retrospect, when I’m driving through this area now, I never realized how close the homes were to each other and how narrow the streets truly are in this great section. Remember years ago (1950s and 1960s) cars didn’t take up all available spaces like today.
Churches in this section were plentiful. St. Peter’s and St. Anthony’s (Catholic), St. Vartanantz (Armenian Apostolic) along with St. John’s and the Eliot Church (Protestant), solidifying the name also used for this area “Chapel Hill.” These churches were key to the lives of many people who claimed “roots” in the Back Central Street area.
The geography offered major roads such as Gorham Street, Central Street and lower Lawrence Street, Gorham Street up to around Butler Avenue, Lawrence Street to around Watson Street. Thorndike Street and points such as Hale Street belonged to the lower Highlands. Terms such as Ayer’s City, Swede Village and Wigginville were areas out of
“our realm.” Points on the other side of the Concord River were not in the Flats. The South Common and Hudson Field offered recreation and leisure time for “our people.” Architectural diversification and beauty is seen throughout this section. The Asahel Puffer house (62 Highland Street) and the Samuel Wood house (648 Central Street) offer examples of a Mansard roof which originated in France during the Napoleon III time (1852-1870). The Hocum Hosford house (574 Central Street) offers an example of Italian elegance. Greek Revival architecture is on display at the old Coburn School on Lawrence Street, perfect architecture for narrow but long lots.
Growing up on Whipple Street (off Central Street) was an education about old neighborhoods with many stores and businesses around your home. On Whipple Street alone we had Nora’s Bar Room, Mike’s Market, O’Brien's Funeral Home, Harry’s Market and Nickles’ Variety at the corner of Kinsman Street. To my generation, you always included Frank and Ernie’s at 810 Central Street, which is still in business. Also, across the street from St. Anthony’s Rectory was Charlie’s Market on the comer of
Central and Floyd Streets.
Hudson Field offered baseball time for kids like Steve Walsh, Joe Branco, Mike Geyer and me along with many others. The South Common was home to the St. Peter’s Little League and Cadets. Memories: Monsignor John J. Twiss throwing out the yearly “first pitch,” a nice sight to the kids. Remember the Fourth of July time at the South Common? JUST GREAT! Some other personal memories of mine were the home run exploits of “Joe” Gallagher and “Mickey” Sarault both kids from the Flats. My brother Tony Mastas, a very good athlete, learned all of his hitting and catching skills in our neighborhood. Some other individuals who come to mind include Jim and Marilyn Davhn, Frances and Ellen Gath, Diane Sousa, Louise Harzigian, Peggy Lorrey, fishing in Billy Montbleau, Eric Chaisson, Mickey and Butch Connors, Ed Fontes, Manny Cunha along with Billy and Steve Walsh.
As the fifties turned into the sixties, many kids and their parents turned to the new Rialto duck pin alleys as Lowell was always a “Mecca” for duck pin bowling. The Rialto opened the week President Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961. I will always remember bowling with my father on OPENING NIGHT. Mr. Norman Glassman, proprietor of alleys, was previously the owner of the Rialto Theatre, and was a great owner. Many a night Mr. Glassman had given me a ride home when he closed the alleys and my mother would call the alleys looking for her "delinquent" son. Bowling cost $30 cents before 5:00 pm, $35 cents after 5:00 pm, Shoe rental was $.15 cents. To young bowlers, some heroes were names like Joe Barros, Cleo Surprenant, Ray Daniels, Tex Weed and the Dinnigan family from Chelmsford. I would be remiss if I failed to remember the Rialto Desk Manager Steve Norkiewicz, a great guy who managed the Rex and Rialto alleys for years.
A very prominent Lowellian, Hocum Hosford, has a square named after him. Hosford Square at the top of Central Street near Wamesit Street Mr. Hosford was a two time mayor in the 1800s who built the Masonic Temple in Lowell. The Hosford Building on Middle Street still stands (look for the letter “H”). The Brentwood Bowling Alleys, Santoro’s Sandwich Shop, Pioneer Market, Turcotte’s Package Store, O’Connor and Hill Hardware, Cushman’s Bakery, Hogan’s Bakery, Finnegan’s and Colonial Bar Rooms were busy spots as was Danas Market.
One final comment, remember the Commodore Ballroom? My father, Nick Mastas who is originally from the Acre, met my mother (Mary Welch from Whipple Street) there in 1936.