OAK HILL PARK – THE EARLY YEARS
Compiled by Jonathan T. Melick
Oak Hill Park, 1952-1977
This story began in the late 1990s, when I sat down at my old computer to record the story of my boyhood house at 6 Caulfield Circle, in the Oak Hill Park neighborhood of Newton Centre, Massachusetts, while I was still able to remember the details, so that I could preserve the story for my future descendants. I added details about the other houses in my immediate neighborhood and about Oak Hill Park, to give the story some context; but as I wrote I realized that I was telling the story not so much of my house, but of Oak Hill Park itself. In the end, I decided to write two parallel stories, one with a detailed description of my house and my immediate neighborhood, and one which was more of a general history of the early years of “the Park” (roughly from 1948 through 1978). Thanks to the advent of Facebook, I have read many other stories about the Park from many of my old contemporaries; and I have folded many of them into this story. I have tried to list the names of everyone whose memories I’ve used at the end; and if I’ve left out any such names, I apologize – after all, we are all getting to the age where we do get a little forgetful, now and then.
After World War II, many returning servicemen were anxious to make up for the time lost to their wartime service; and so, they married and fathered children who would become known as the “baby boomers”. These families needed places to live, and the existing supply of housing was inadequate. Eventually, the City of Newton decided that an area along the southernmost part of the border with West Roxbury, then composed of sand and gravel pits, farms, small ponds, swampland, and glacial-terrain forest, would be transformed into a single-family housing development, with eligibility restricted to war veterans who had lived in Newton before World War II and their families. Sales of houses, other than to the Newton Veterans Housing Department, were barred for the first year after purchase. This area of Newton had historically been mostly farmland; and in 1903, only two houses stood within the future Park boundaries. By 1946, only two other houses had been built, along with some barns, and the Esty Farm store on Dedham Street. Wiswall Road ran in as far as the future McCarthy Road, and then continued down to around where Hay Road would eventually go. A swamp extended between the future sites of the 160 block of Spiers Road, and Bontempo Road; and a dirt road ran in from where the cemeteries were through the site of the 100 block of Spiers Road. An overgrown fragment of this road still survives below the cemeteries, but it was abandoned when the construction of Oak Hill Park began, and was further obliterated when the Roman Catholic cemetery bordering Spiers Road and Caulfield Circle extended its reach to just beyond the property at 16 Caulfield Circle..
Work on the project began in 1946, with construction, in phases, beginning in 1948. Postwar shortages required the construction of a mill, on the future site of Memorial School and the Mullen Playground, so that things like windows and cabinets could be manufactured on the site and installed in whichever house was ready to receive them. The first house was occupied on November 15, 1948, with a total of 73 being occupied by the end of the year, even though utilities were not functional until January of 1949. By that point, 339 houses had been framed, with 219 needing only paint and final inspections before they too could be occupied. The streets were paved in the spring of 1949; and all 412 houses were occupied by September of that year. An article in the May 21, 1995 Boston Sunday Globe Magazine mentioned that there were 412 houses, with six standard models, all with three bedrooms. The “Basic House”, which included a living room, kitchen, bathroom, utility room and three bedrooms (one small, two large) on a concrete slab which contained the radiant heating system, cost $7,820. Cedar shingles cost an extra $319.00; cedar clapboards with gypsum sheathing cost an extra $247.00; a breezeway type porch cost an extra $325.00, and cost an extra $1,250.00 if an attached garage was included. A detached garage cost an extra $925.00.
The houses were all built on the same plan. As viewed from the front yard, the living room, measuring 12’0” x 14’6”, with the front door on the right, was in the near left hand corner. The original plans had the kitchen-dinette, measuring 12’0” x 13’6”, in the far left corner, with the back door next to the sink on the right side; but every Park house which I ever knew had the original back door on the left side of the house. In the middle of the house, in front, was what the plans called “Chamber #3”, with closet in the far right corner, measuring 8’6” x 12’0”; and this was likely intended for use as a nursery, a bedroom for a young child, or a den. The back wall of the closet for “Chamber “1” reduced the area of this room, as did the coat closet which was accessible from the hallway. On the back side of the house was a linen closet immediately to the left of the bathroom, measuring 5’5” x 8’10”; and to the right of the bathroom was the utility room which was 7’4” x 8’10”, with the near right corner occupied by the back wall of the closet for “Chamber #2”. At the near right corner of the house was Chamber #1, intended as the master bedroom and measuring 12’0” x 12’5”; and to its rear, in the far right corner, was Chamber #2, measuring 9’9” x 12’0”.
There were only two varieties of Oak Hill Park houses, with one having a roof ridgeline that extended the full length of the house, and one ended, at both ends, in hip roofs; and the “extras”, being built with the houses, make up the other four standard models. It’s difficult to identify those houses which were built with “extras” and which had them added later, because people would often buy a “basic” house and add other desired features as time and finances permitted. The houses were designed so that later additions would be simple to build. Facing the houses, as they were originally built, the living room would be at the near left; the kitchen, at the far left, with the back door along the left-hand exterior wall; the small bedroom, at the near center, to the right of the front door; the bathroom, at the far center; the utility room (holding the water heater, furnace, and often a washer and/or dryer), to the right of the bathroom; the second bedroom, at the far right; and the master bedroom, at the near right. The kitchens had built-in cabinets, above the sink to the right and opposite it, on the other wall of the kitchen to the right of the back door. 25 years later, most Park houses still maintained most if not all of their original appearance. Heat was provided by an oil furnace, and by a network of copper pipes, embedded in the concrete slabs underneath each house, which circulated hot water throughout the slab. This warmth was especially welcome on cold winter mornings, when bare feet did not have to touch cold floors.
The street system in the Park was similar to those in Levittown, New York and other so-called “greenbelt towns”. There were several streets of normal type, such as Spiers Road, where the front doors of the houses faced the street; but many houses were built on cul-de-sac “Roadways”, with the rear of the house facing the street, and the front door facing a “Path”. For example, a person whose address was Van Wart Path might have the rear of the house, the driveway and the garage (if any) facing either G or H Roadway. This meant that a person who was looking for 10 Keller Path, for example, had to figure out which roadway permitted them to drive up to it. The original concept behind this arrangement was that the housewives (remember, this was the late 40s/early 50s) could socialize together on their front lawns, and that other interactions between neighbors would be fostered. Not many people remember seeing anything like this; and eventually some families remodeled their houses so that the main entrance now faced the roadway. L Roadway was unique in that it had a grassy median in the middle; and Caulfield Circle, Antonellis Circle and Considine Road all were built like roadways, but had houses facing the street since the layout of the lots did not permit pathways to be built along the rear of the property lines. Marvin and Myerson Roads were built as stubs off of McCarthy Road, with the knowledge that they would eventually be extended in another development.
All original Oak Hill Park streets were named after Newton veterans killed in World War II, with the exception of the separate developments in the area of lower Wiswall Road. Saw Mill Brook Parkway was originally intended to be a two-lane highway, divided by a grassy median, linking the Park with the future Route 128; but due to community pressure it was redesigned as a greenbelt boulevard bisecting the park lengthwise, following the course of a brook, now channeled into a culvert, which fed the “Stein Circle” pond and had its outlet just beyond the southwestern end of the Parkway). The names for the streets were drawn at random; and those servicemen not honored with a street or path name were honored collectively by the naming of the Memorial School, with a commemorative plaque on a wall inside the main entrance. Easily the most curious street in the park is O’Connell Road, with only two houses on it. Why that road was built, instead of simply adding more house lots along Wiswall Road is not known; but perhaps there was thought of extending the road up into the Mount Ida Junior College campus. It’s also possible that this was simply a feature of the design for the Park, since apparently a similar short road had been conceived for where 129 Spiers Road was later built, but was deleted from the final layout. In the early years of the Park, family members of veterans whose names were given to a road or path would visit “their” part of the Park; and the Keller family donated crabapple trees to the homeowners with houses on Keller Path.
The Park was bounded by Dedham Street, the Boston city line, the woodland owned by the City of Newton along the Charles River (once part of the city’s water supply watershed), the property of Mt. Ida Junior College (as it was then named) and the houses of the Carlson Road area. Those houses which faced Dedham Street, except for the houses within the Esty Farm area, were technically outside the Park, although children living in them attended Memorial School. Around 1950, two areas comprising Indian Ridge Road and the parts of Wiswall Road, Marvin Lane and Myerson Lane closest to it, were developed separately. In 1953-54, Spiers Road area was opened up between Fredette Road and Dedham Street. There was once a barrier across Spiers Road, just past the houses at #236 and #237; and as early as the spring of 1950, Park residents were asking the City of Newton to extend Spiers Road to Dedham Street. Saw Mill Brook Parkway had these barriers at both ends; and similar barriers prevented vehicles from turning onto the grassy median at Saw Mill Brook Parkway. In 1958-59, the June Lane/Esty Farm Road area was developed by several developers, including Al Halperin and Ben Shaffer; and both areas were considered to be a part of the Park. Sumner Magnet may have done some work there, as well. Within the boundaries of The Park, four houses remained from the old days: the Wiswall house, built in 1703, at the corner of Wiswall Road and McCarthy Road; a farmhouse on the Esty Farm, at 929 Dedham Street, built in 1700; a farmhouse at 75 Indian Ridge Road; and a house on a knoll just south of the Esty Farm (which is the only one of the four to survive in 2020). The Esty family lived in an older house, just to the right of the entrance into their farm; but their house, like the house at 1005 Dedham Street, was never thought of as being within The Park.
The Park was designed so that a family did not have to leave the Park for much. The City of Newton built the (war) Memorial School to serve the schoolchildren that soon flooded the Park, and a strip-mall shopping center was built along Saw Mill Brook Parkway, opening in February of 1955. In the early days, it featured an Amoco gas station, barber and beauty shops, a dry cleaner, a drug store, a grocery store, a bakery, a delicatessen, and a branch of the Newton Free Library. Even though most Park families had automobiles and could easily shop outside the Park, it was not uncommon for many families to do their shopping at “the Stores”. For the children, the Stores were a mixed blessing; they could enjoy the soda fountain at the drug store, buy a comic book or toy, buy a snack, or browse at the library, but they could also be collared by one of their parents and told to run an errand for them. “The Stores” – formally named the Oak Park Shopping Center, in a contest held at Memorial School (although no one ever used that term) also became a hangout for “juvenile delinquents”; and during the first 20 years of the Park, this was an ongoing problem. Delivery trucks were also a regular sight. Back then, most milk was home-delivered in heavy glass bottles; and bread, fruit, vegetables and candy could also be bought. The very first Oak Hill Park map was sponsored by Norman Berkowitz of 209 Spiers Road, who ran “The Shoemobile”. In the earliest years of the Park, he’d come to your house and fit the children for shoes, and then bring the shoes on a later visit (how long that lasted is uncertain). The most memorable deliverymen were Dom and Dutchie, and more will be said about them later.
There was also the Esty Farm. This small truck farm occupied a small plot of land accessible from Dedham Street, or from the circle at the end of Esty Farm Road, via a dirt road which ran through the property. Coming in from Dedham Street, there would be the Esty family house on a small rise, on the right, and a building straight ahead where the produce was sold. Some of it was grown on the agricultural land on the left and the rear of the lot, and other produce was brought in from the wholesale markets downtown. They also had an excellent supply of penny candy, ice cream and other goodies for us kids. A dirt road ran to the right of this one-story building, past a disused gasoline pump (probably dating from the 1940s or 1950s, and incapable of registering a sale greater than $9.99) and the 1700 farmhouse and garage. This road then swung to the left and passed a barn, to the left of the road, which will be mentioned again later. The only other building on the property was a Cape Cod house, at the foot of Indian Ridge Road (it may be the house identified as 75 Indian Ridge Road on early maps of the Park); but the house was derelict by the late 50s, and was demolished soon afterwards. To the left of the road, just before it met up with Esty Farm Road, was a small stock pond, where many Park children remember catching tadpoles from time to time. One of the best-loved teachers at Memorial School, Miss Barbara O’Hara, remembers a pair of… um, “double-decker” frogs being brought into her class when they were studying the animal kingdom and reproduction.
The Oak Hill Park Association was formed in 1949, and functioned much like any other civic association. In the mid-1960s, for example, it bought some land at the end of Walsh Road and Saw Mill Brook Parkway to prevent construction of a road connecting the Park with the future Wells Avenue industrial park, which would have greatly increased outside traffic through the Park. They did a lot more, such as organizing musical productions at Memorial School; but the kids especially noticed the things that were oriented towards their generation, such as the traveling fairs that stopped by every year, the Field days up at the school playground, the annual Santa Claus motorcade (this was an interfaith event; and the main qualification for playing Santa was not religious background, but suitable build), and the various youth groups which the OHPA sponsored. They also organized shows which were acted in by the adults (and any necessary kids) of the Park. In addition, they sponsored a “men’s softball league”; and more than a few Park children entertained fantasies of being invited to join in a game (at least one of them remembers actually being able to play). Their monthly newsletter was always interesting; it contained community news, a list of upcoming events, the names of new babies born, and the names of new OHPA members, among other things. The OHPA also sponsored the Carl C. Mullen Award, named after Newton’s Commissioners of the Veteran’s Housing Department and a key individual in making Oak Hill Park a reality, and the father of the man for whom the Memorial School playground was formally named. It was awarded, annually, to a sixth grader who demonstrated outstanding character, scholarship and citizenship.
The OHPA also campaigned against speeding cars, since there were many small children who could be, and sometimes were, hit by cars traveling too fast. The Park speed limit was 20 MPH; and in the early years, signs to that effect were posted at both Park entrances. Jon Melick remembers being told to look under the cars on either side of a street, when driving, for little legs which might suddenly run out into the street. In the earliest years, as people began to move into the Park, not all of the necessary infrastructure had been completed. Utility poles were sometimes improvised, awaiting the installation of telephone poles; and since there was no way of bring telephone service to individual homes, pay telephones were installed at various locations. One was at the corner of Wiswall Road and Dedham Street; and another was at the corner of Wiswall Road and L Roadway. Others may have existed. These booths were all gone by the late 50s, at the latest. Once “The Stores” were built, there was a pay phone inside the drug store, and one near the gas station. By 1960, a family which did not have telephone service was a family which, for some reason, did not want it.
Memorial School, opened in October of 1950, with Frank Tanner as the Principal, was built for those children (later called “baby boomers”) who were already filling up Oak Hill Park houses; and until February of 1954, it also housed students from across Dedham Street, who would eventually go to Spaulding School. In the fall of 1953, students bound for Spaulding School were placed, if possible, into the same classrooms, so that they could remain together when the new school opened. Memorial School offered classes from kindergarten (morning and afternoon sessions, at least in the early years) through Grade 6, and was located in Stein Circle, just a short walk west from The Stores. The school boundaries probably ran along Dedham Street; but the families living on the west side were probably at least offered a choice as to where their children would attend school. Memorial School was built, like so many contemporary schools including Spaulding and Countryside (on lower Dedham Street), of yellow brick on the outside, with walls of glazed yellow face brick on the inside (the design was of the “International Style”), and was two stories tall. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, classes ran from 8:30 AM until 12:00 Noon, and then from 1:30 PM until 3:30 PM. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there were no classes; but if a child needed “extra help” in a subject, a note would be sent home telling our mothers (almost all of whom did not work outside the home) requesting that we return to school at 1:30. Of course, the school had an active PTA which provided parental support to the school and which, among other things, advised our parents to question their children as to why they ever got these invitations. Before Spaulding School opened, with Ian D. Malcolm of the Park as Principal, classes had to be held in the cafeteria and gymnasium; and students who could eat at home were encouraged to do so, to reduce congestion. Jon Melick cannot remember meals being served there after 1957; but because he always ate at home, he may not have been around to see it.
The best way to describe Memorial School is to take an imaginary walk through it. The main entrance was on the right hand side as viewed from Stein Circle. Walking up the short flight of steps and through the green safety glass doors, we would see the school auditorium, with seats of molded plywood, on the right. Beyond it was Room 7, which was used as a classroom, a music room, and a kitchen. This kitchen was used mainly for functions held at the school, since in those days of stay-at-home mothers, none of the schoolchildren ever ate lunch at school. Straight ahead, looking from the main door, was the gymnasium. Entering the gym, on the left behind a pipe, one saw the flags used by the Boy Scout troop which met in the gym. Against the walls were hung the floor mats used during gym classes. Centered in the far wall were two doors for the storage room that held larger gym equipment. At each end of the gym were two 10-foot-high basketball hoops; and there were 9-foot-high hoops near the door and 8-foot-high hoops on the far end of the floor, for use in half-court games by the younger children in the school. From the ceiling were suspended several climbing ropes (which frustrated those of less than keen athletic ability, as they struggled to climb to the top) At the far corners of the gym, as viewed from the main door, were two doors leading to the outside. A pass-through hatch allowed food to be passed from the kitchen into the gym.
Boy Scout Troop 50 (later, 250) met in the gym; and whenever an election was being held, plywood voting booths were set up around the left side of the gym so that voters could mark their paper ballots (no voting machines!) in privacy. The League of Women Voters generally staffed the polls, meaning that many of the women in the Park could be found there on Election Day. Of course, children could not vote; but many children would go to the polls with their parents, and would sometimes hang around the polls and cadge literature from candidates’ workers, which may have helped to get us used to the idea of voting when we were old enough to do so when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, the voting register at Newton City Hall was filled with the names of our contemporaries. Probably the most significant non-school memory of the gym, though, for most of us, involved Halloween. After going trick-or-treating, we’d head up to Memorial School and head for our classrooms, where our parents and teachers would have a Halloween party for us. At some point, it would be our turn to head to the gym for the (shudder) Chamber of Horrors. This was set up by the parents of the Park; and we’d enter the darkened gym. We might climb up a home playground slide, and then get squirted at the bottom by one of the parents. We’d crawl through tunnels with various scary sights and sounds; and eventually we’d come out at the end, having thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A similar Chamber was set up at the Spaulding School; but by the mid-70s “safety concerns” mandated that the gym not be fully darkened and that nothing be done to risk frightening anyone, which made for a fairly insipid Chamber. Somehow, it was forgotten that almost all of us came through the “old chambers” just fine, since nothing truly frightening was ever done to anyone, and that the almost total darkness in the gym was essential to the Chamber experience.
Leaving the gym through the main doors, there were some large windows on the right, and then the main corridor of the school. Immediately after turning right into this main corridor were some stairs leading to the top floor, and behind them a door which led to the playground in the rear of the school. The school office and nurse’s room were opposite it on the left. Just beyond the stairs was the fire alarm box, where the principal, Dr. Olive F. Eldridge, would stand during fire drills, and a small storage room. Next were some swinging glass doors, which were usually kept open. Beyond them were four classrooms, with Rooms 1 and 2 on the left, and rooms 6 and 5 on the right. Just beyond Room 5, on the right, was a corridor that led to the main rear doors to the school, built (like all of the other school’s doors) like the ones at the main entrance. A corridor on the left led to another set of stairs, another set of school doors, and to a smaller corridor which led to the kindergarten room, to a small “nursery school” room (just outside it were boys’ and girls’ bathrooms with toilets much smaller than usual), and to Room 8, which projected outwards from the main part of the school.
There were small doors to the outside on either end of a small corridor separating Room 8 from the rest of the school. Leaving Room 8, turning left, and leaving the school through the small door ahead, there was a small black-topped area, surrounded by a tall chain link fence, which was used as a parking lot for the teacher’s automobiles. Most Park children got to know that area best when, after school, the parking lot was empty and it could be used for games. Often, these games had to do with the tall windowless wall that appeared between the windows to the kindergarten room and Room 8, and the Chinian Path end of the school. One game involved throwing a ball up against the wall; and depending on how high the ball struck the wall, how far it bounced out into the parking lot, and whether or not it was caught, “base hits” or “outs” could be scored in an imaginary baseball game. This wall was also good for practicing one’s tennis skills. These games could also be played at the other end of the school, against the blank auditorium wall, but here it was too easy for balls to bounce into the neighbors’ yards.
On the sides of the corridor leading to the rear of the school, there was a boys’ room on the right, and a girls’ room on the left. Reentering the main corridor from this direction and turning right, we would find the Custodian room (used by the custodian, Mr. Hayes, and his assistants, one of whom was Mr. Gorgone, and later Mr. Costa), and Rooms 4 and 3, on the right, the Kindergarten room on the left, another set of glass doors, and a set of stairs and small door at the end. The entrance to Room 3 was next to the foot of the stairs. Surprisingly, from the viewpoint of today, none of these doors were ever locked during the school day; kids could enter the school through any of them; and, of course, there were never any security checks as we came into the building. Going up this last set of stairs, arriving at the top, and then going through another set of glass doors, there would be Rooms 13 and 14 (or was it 12A and 14?) on the left, and Room 9 on the right. Past these rooms, on the right, was the school library; and on the left were some storage rooms and the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms. Just past the library were the stairs which led down towards Room 8. Beyond them, on the right, were Rooms 10, 11 and 12, and a smaller room used for occasional activities; and on the left were the Teachers’ Lounge, and Rooms 15 and 16. The stairs leading to the main entrance were beyond Room 16. There were some large glass windows leading to the outside next to these stairs, and the school staff (and the occasional misbehaving student) could get onto the roof from here.
Walking down this set of stairs to the first floor, and then retracing our steps to the corridor leading to the rear of the school and leaving the school by the rear door, we would see some tennis courts on the left, inside a tall chain-link fence. These were flooded during the cold weather, and provided kids with an excellent skating rink (except that you had to dodge the posts for the nets). In the nicer weather, kids could go to the tennis courts with a bat and some baseballs, and use them as a “batting cage” which made it easier to retrieve batted balls (unless one was hit completely over the fence, which for those of modest athletic abilities took quite some time to accomplish). Between the tennis courts and the school was a water bubbler set in a rough concrete base. This bubbler was only installed during the warmer months. In front of the door was a large blacktopped area, extending to the gym and slightly outward, which was used for playing around, usually before school but sometimes during school with one’s class. One year, one of Miss O’Hara’s classes painted a map of the U.S. on it (the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico “hosted” many a game of four-square). Next to the gym was a steel bike rack (locks were rarely used). Many kids rode their bikes to school, if the weather was good; and since there was often a light coating of sand on the blacktop near the door leading into the area of the office, many of the older boys would sometimes ride once around the blacktop and then throw their bikes into a skid, near this door, to see how far around into a circle they could get the skids to extend.
There was a large playground to the rear of the school, named after the deceased son of Carl Mullen. The main Little League diamond was in the far right corner, with a chain link backstop and two benches; but near the gym there were “cutouts” for bases, and a home plate, for other games (there was a third diamond near the tennis courts, which was rarely used). In the far left of the playground was a set of swings with wooden seats of different colors (installed only in the warmer weather), some monkey bars, a “jungle gym” (built in the form of a cube, with a small cupola on the top and an “entrance” on the side nearest the tennis courts, built out of galvanized steel pipes. Next to the tennis courts were some large wooden tables, covered by a roof, known as the Shade House. In September of 1955, the local Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scouts planted two Norway maples at the northwest corner of the playground; but their survival is uncertain. During the school year, these were rarely used for anything important; but during the summer, it hosted a day camp so that the Park children could have something worthwhile to do (the rear entrance to the school, and the bathrooms, were open, but there was a gate which kept the rest of the school sealed off. The playground was large enough so that, if a game was underway on the main baseball diamond, something else could sometimes happen on the rest of the field without interfering with the main game. Except for a baseball “cap league” around 1961, there were few if any organized sports leagues in the Park, during the early years. If you wanted to play sports, you grabbed the appropriate equipment for the season (baseball, in the spring and summer, football in the fall, and basketball now and then) and headed for the playground to see who else was around. In the winter, you got your skates, stick and puck and headed for any suitable ice surface, sometimes on the flooded tennis courts but often on one of the nearby ponds. The rules of the game you were playing were agreed upon by all present, and no adult supervision was ever involved (or wanted).
The basement of the school was used for storage, and among other things held a kiln fur use in school art projects. In those days when the threat of nuclear war seemed to lurk uncomfortably close, the basement also contained a fallout shelter where Park residents could presumably take shelter after a nuclear war made the Park unlivable. The existence of the shelter, and its capacity, were advertised on the front wall of the school near the main door by the customary black-on-yellow symbol with the “radioactivity” sign. Emergency food rations, and places to sleep, were brought up to date periodically. To warn everyone of an impending air raid or nuclear missile strike, an air raid siren was maintained on the roof. It was tested every Friday at 12:00 Noon, for one minute. Most kids knew that this was the “All Clear” signal, and many knew that a warbling or rising and falling tone was the signal to take cover and that a bright glowing ball in the sky, brighter than the sun and probably in a different part of the sky, was a nuclear explosion itself. In the earliest years at the school, teachers would conduct air-raid drills, where after they gave us a signal, everyone would sit on the floor, with their backs to the heating units and shelves which lined the outside walls, and cover their faces with our hands (protecting themselves from blast effects and flash burns). The drills certainly did not continue past 1959, and at some point (probably the late 1960s or early 1970s), the siren tests were discontinued and the siren removed.
Unlike today, when school crossing guards always seem to be adults, the “Safety Patrol” which handled that job was formed out of members of the sixth grade. At certain designated points near the school, members of the patrol would stop traffic to permit the other students to cross the street in safety. Each patrol member would serve for one week, in rotation, and would wear a set of crossed white web belts over their torso, with a Safety Patrol badge (and not a cheap-looking one, either) at the point where the belts crossed over the chest. In the earliest days of the school, both boys and girls did crossing guard duty, and for more than one week at a time; but by the school year 1962-63, the girls would be responsible for escorting the kindergarten classes, in a group, to the various crossing points, and the boys would handle the crossing points, themselves, for all students. It was considered a prestigious job, and it was almost unknown to have anyone decline this duty. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, this meant that the patrol members would be on duty four times a day, but no one minded because patrol duty was an acceptable excuse for being late to class, and for leaving class early.
The Stores, and shopping
As mentioned before, there were many different retail businesses in “The Stores”, located in a building which was one story in height, with a peaked roof which presumably served as space for storage and utilities. The building was built of red brick, with a black shingled roof. Several mock dormers were on the roof, and a cupola and weathervane marked the center point of the roof. Large red block capital letters marked the location of some of the businesses – BARBER, BEAUTY, DRY CLEANERS, OAK PARK PHARMACY, GROCERY, and LIBRARY. At the northern end of The Stores was the library, in the spot where a nursery school operated in the mornings, when the library was closed. Next to it was the supermarket. It was tiny by modern standards, but it served the Park well while it was there. The first grocery store operated under the Market Basket name; but sometime around 1960, the Prime Food Mart, owned by the Bercheck family, moved in. Many of those Park families who did most of their food shopping outside the Park went there on a regular basis; and of course, many other families enjoyed the convenience of doing all of their food shopping there.
Next to the grocery store was the Oak Park Pharmacy, with Bill Stocklan as the pharmacist. The name was necessary because an “Oak Hill Pharmacy” was located on Winchester Street in Newton Highlands. Just inside, as one entered, was a display which allowed a homeowner to test vacuum tubes from his or her radio or TV, and buy a new one if necessary. A popular feature of the drug store was the soda fountain which ran most of the length of the front of the store, with its red Coca-Cola dispenser in the center. Many kids liked to get Cokes (for many, vanilla Cokes) or ice cream there; and hot sandwiches, mini-pizzas, hamburgers and hot dogs were available as well (these were wrapped in plastic and heated in a small infrared oven – no microwave ovens yet!). A pay phone booth was in the far left corner, as viewed from the front door. Next to the drug store, in the earliest years, was a bakery, a delicatessen, and a dry cleaners (order uncertain). At the southern end of the building, beyond one or two small stores, were first the barber shop and then the beauty parlor. In a semidetached separate building, Ralph Prioli of Quincy, and his sons, ran an Amoco service station (where, during the 1974 gas shortage, people would be sometimes invited to leave their cars in the morning, on days when by law they were not supposed to be able to buy gas, and mysteriously find the gas tanks full by evening). The Priolis knew that these people would stop by to settle the bill as soon as they could. The air pump, to the right of the service bays and just to the left of the steps to the walkway in front of the stores, pumped up many an Oak Hill Park bicycle tire (and blew many of them out if someone was careless about the air pressure). Of course, in those days, the air was available at no charge. Over the years, some of these stores changed; and an insurance agency was next to the drug store in the 1960s.
Characters and Fixtures
Oak Hill Park certainly had its share of “characters”. Many of the early residents can recall the women, one who lived on Bontempo Road, and one in the middle of the long section of Spiers Road, who were known for their eccentric dress and behavior. There was also the man who walked, at a brisk pace, around the Park, wearing a suit, and often holding a bag containing the toy soldiers that he’d just bought. The story was that he had been “shell-shocked” in World War II. Then, there was the man in charge of the barn at the Esty Farm, by the name of Roy, who would sometimes let the neighborhood children stop in for a visit, and sometimes invite them to write their names on a slat from a melon crate which would then be nailed to one of the studs of the building. People also came into the Park, in trucks or vans, with things to sell. In the nicer weather, several ice cream trucks would do an excellent business in the Park, with most of them selling soft-serve ice cream, fudgsicles and the like. Almost no one remembers who drove most of these trucks; but almost all of us remember Dom and Dutchie.
Dom was probably Italian by birth, and he drove a green Metro panel truck around the Park, selling fruits, vegetables, probably other grocery items, and (most important to the kids) ice cream and candy. In the early days of the Park, many families had only one car; and even so, it was not always easy for a woman with young children at home to go shopping outside her neighborhood. Having Dom come by, as he did (often in the afternoon) was a great help for everyone. He stopped coming by sometime in the 1960s; and while the reasons for his departure will be omitted here, it can be safely said that he was not universally beloved by people in the Park. Dutchie (whose first name was Christian, and his Dutch surname began with an H) was either born in Holland or was the son of Dutch immigrants. He drove a delivery truck for the Hood dairy; and in a day when home milk delivery was nearly universal, Dutchie had many of the Park families as customers. He would deliver a standard order to peoples’ houses, and he had the full selection of Hood dairy products available if desired. If no one was home, he would leave the usual order inside the back door or, most often, in an insulated, galvanized milk box. Of course, the milk bottles were glass, embossed with the Hood logo, and the lids were of stiff waxed paper, with a cardboard “button” that identified the contents and tightened the seal. If children were around when Dutchie was delivering, they would often escort him around their neighborhood (sometimes beyond), on their bicycles; and sometimes, they were treated to a ride in the truck. He kept his inventory cool with blocks of ice, and kids could occasionally get a chip or two from him. Dutchie eventually acquired another connection to the Park, because his daughter married a young man from the Park.
There was also Menashe Rosen, the barber. He bought the barber shop from Kagan and Souza, the original proprietors. Even those who got their hair cut elsewhere remember him standing outside his shop, if he wasn’t busy, asking “ya wanna haircut?” in his heavily accented voice. He was known for the selection of magazines that he would offer, as reading material, based on the age of the customer and who else was in his shop. He had a style chart on the wall behind the barber chairs, which dated from the early 60s because one of the styles was the “JFK”. Menashe’s accent indicated that he had been born and raised in another country; and the tattooed number on his arm indicated that his life had once been much more unpleasant than it was when we knew him.
The houses of Caulfield Circle
Of course, each Oak Hill Park house had an interior arrangement which was almost identical to that of its neighbors, when the houses were built; but over time, the owners of each home tailored that arrangement to their own requirements. What follows now is a description of “Caulfield Circle”, a more or less typical Oak Hill Park neighborhood. The names used are those of the owners in 1963.
The Irwin house, at 73 Spiers Road, acquired two additions, shortly after it was built. Dave Irwin, a carpenter by trade who worked on many Park houses over the years, did the work, likely with the occasional help of the men of the Circle. Mr. Irwin built a garage/workshop off of the left end of his house, with a small pantry connecting it to the main part of the house. He also added a family room, with a fireplace, off of the kitchen, and built a small playhouse (called “the Hut”) for his children. After the foundation was dug for the family room and before construction began, a sort of swimming pool was improvised, by Dave Irwin, for the adults of the neighborhood (the kids certainly had their own “kiddie pool”; but I was too young to remember seeing any of this). The Melick house, at 6 Caulfield Circle, soon acquired a garage, in the far corner of the lot near the Irwin property; and by arranging for leftover concrete from many nearby jobs to be poured there, Joe Melick was able to have a concrete floor, in the garage, that as he put it, “could support the weight of a tank”. This garage was double-wide, so that it could be used for storage as well as parking a car. An addition was built on the side nearest the Irwin property, around 1955, to hold an expanded living room and also a dining room. A shed was added, along the back of the back yard, a year or two later. The “Gorodetzky house”, at 12 Caulfield Circle, kept its original arrangement during the early years of the Park, because no one who ever lived in the house felt the need to add onto it while they lived there. There was a small shed, centered along the rear of the property, which dated from the early 1950s.
The Spilman house, at 16 Caulfield Circle, acquired an addition on the left side of the house, soon after it was built, and this became the living room, into which the new front door opened. Shortly afterwards, the house acquired a family room off of the kitchen. A shed was added to the left of the house in the 1960s. The Wheeler house, at 20 Caulfield Circle, may have been built with the breezeway porch which it had along the left side of the house; but only the records of the City of Newton know this for sure. As for the rest of the house, the arrangement was probably a standard one. Soon after the porch was built, a dog had walked across the freshly-poured cement of the walkway leading to the back door; and those prints are probably still there. The Caulfield house, at 15 Caulfield Circle, was probably one of the Park houses which had its attached garage and breezeway built along with the rest of the house. The kitchen had a breakfast nook along the back wall. The Caulfields had three sons, so the oldest son had the small bedroom, while his two brothers shared the second bedroom. They had a small storage shed along the back wall of their property. From 1953 until 1965, the house was owned by the brother of the man for whom the Circle was named. The Goldstein house, at 65 Spiers Road, had a detached garage which, unlike the house, faced onto Caulfield Circle. The MacNeil house had a breezeway porch, much like the Wheeler house did; and it also had a detached garage in the far left corner of the property. The Santucci house, at 70 Spiers Road, may have been built with a garage. Its additions, to the rear of the house, created a second hallway parallel to the first. Each of the Santucci daughters had her own bedroom, and there was a second bathroom as well. The old second bedroom became a den. The “small bedroom” was used by Nina Santucci’s mother while she lived there. Oddly for that time, the children in that area called her “Jennie”, rather than Mrs. Silvestrone.
Most of the neighborhoods within the Park centered around a roadway, circle, or dead-end road, with a typical example being the neighborhood of lower Bontempo Road/Considine road.
The ones closest to Caulfield Circle centered around H Roadway and Antonellis Circle. Of these two, the people of Caulfield Circle were closer to the people in Antonellis Circle. Many of the adults and children knew each other and would do things together; and would cut across the Chiappisi property, on the far end of the circle, to get to the woods in back; but it was still a different neighborhood. Coming from the MacNeil house, the first house was the Karp house; after that were, in order, the Dana/Stevens, Chiappisi, Bell/Saxe, Zeidman, and Deschenaux/Levine/Shapiro houses.
Recreation – conventional, unconventional, and not always legal
One of the best things about growing up in Oak Hill Park, in the early years, is that there was always plenty to do. If anyone wanted to find someone to play with, they could just walk around a bit and find someone, or else head up to Memorial School and see who was around. Often, they could find someone in the Roadway or Circle nearest our house and play ball, hopscotch four-square, or whatever was agreeable to everyone. More than a few kids were sent outside, after breakfast (on weekends, of course), and expected to stay outside until lunch; and after lunch they would go back outside until suppertime. If they didn’t have school, the following day, and the weather was good, it wasn’t unusual for them to head outside and play until it was almost time for bed. To adopt a more modern vernacular, most Park children were “free-range” kids. There were rarely any structured activities, but they couldn’t have cared less – they did just fine coming up with their own things to do. To be perfectly honest, some of those activities were things that parents, and perhaps the police, did not want them to do, especially as they got older; but in general, they did not get into too much trouble. Of course, though, where one played or hung out the most often depended on where one lived. Especially for those in the southern end of the Park, two popular places were “the Sandpit” and “the Woods”.
These two places were found in back of the Spilman, Wheeler and Caulfield houses. The glacial topography of the two areas, on land bordering the Charles River, was left largely untouched when the Park was built, except for some areas immediately abutting house lots that were cleared for staging areas and gravel borrow pits. One of the cleared areas was behind the Spilman and Wheeler houses, and consisted of a small glacial kame (hill), with a “kettle hole” behind it, overlooking a grassy field. The kame was known as “Sandy Hill”, and the general area as “the Sandpit”. Other kids from other Park neighborhoods played there, but since there was no public access except through property on lower Spiers Road or upper Saw Mill Brook Parkway, other kids had to cut across someone’s yard to get to the Sandpit easily, kids from other parts of the Park often headed elsewhere unless they were friendly with someone who lived nearby. Kids used the Sandpit for many different things, whether it involved sledding and snowball fights in winter, digging in the sand during the other seasons, or just plain fooling around.
Both the Sandpit and the Woods gave everyone an incredible variety of places to play and things to do. There were rocks which boys turned into rockets, ships or cars; three ponds (Big Monster and Little Monster, near the cemeteries, and Commando, off of the short end of Spiers Road) where kids could skate in winter, hunt for frogs or turtles, or just get good-and-stinking-dirty; and dry, hilly woodlands where kids could go exploring, refight battles of World War II or the Korean or Civil Wars, or keep the Communists (Russians; the Vietnam War had not yet reared its ugly head, in our perceptions) away from our homes. There were two radio transmitter towers in the Woods, just north of Commando Pond. These towers were used first by WVOM, at 1600 kc (back then, radio frequencies were still stated in kilocycles, not kilohertz), and then by WBOS and then WUNR, on the same frequency. Most Park kids remember the way that we could hear WBOS through the telephone, on pipes, on toasters… and on the fillings in their teeth, went a common joke. Of course, no one could play on the towers, but they could play near them (and occasionally sneak inside the fences surrounding the towers). The towers were a local landmark; I saw them every time that I left my house; and if someone was flying into Boston after dark, and the plane was approaching the airport from the south, the towers could be used to help us spot the Park – and sometimes even one’s own home.
A long road, often called the Army Road since parts of it were built by the Army to provide access to the antiaircraft batteries which were once located near Kendrick’s Bridge over the Charles River, at Nahanton Street, extended from the bridge past land owned by the Charles River Country Club, Mount Ida Junior College, and the cemeteries in West Roxbury, as well as the Park, until a junction with a road from Gethsemane Cemetery to the West Roxbury dump, near the Monster ponds. This land had once been the property of the old Newton Water Works, which supplied water to Newton Corner and Nonantum, and had filter beds and a pumping station in Newton Upper Falls, off Needham Street. This supply was abandoned when water from the Quabbin Reservoir became available to the Greater Boston area. The roads throughout the Woods had once been accessible from Saw Mill Brook Parkway, but a barrier closed that route off when the Park was built. The other parts of the roads were kept open so that the fire department could have access to the woods in case of a brush fire, which happened from time to time. When a business park was built on the northern part of this property in the mid-1970s, the new Wells Avenue obliterated this road until just short of the cross road which led down from Mount Ida to a wooded point overlooking a bend in the river. Some of the roads had been old farm roads, because they were lined with rocks and stones that a farmer would have cleared from his fields.
Kendrick’s Bridge had once been built of wood; and just before crossing the Charles River, Nahanton Street had once dipped down to the right to make the crossing; but the modern concrete-and-steel bridge which replaced it around 1960 followed a higher and more direct route across the river. This bridge has since been rebuilt at least once. The pilings of the old wooden bridge were not all removed, though. In the 1990s, a cleanup of the river in that area was made; and although the water was not clear it was swimmable, and a special swim day was held. I fulfilled a long-held ambition, that day, when I went swimming there; and as I swam towards the bridge, I encountered some of the old pilings, about five feet below the surface of the water. A section of this road had once led into the future Oak Hill Park, from near the Monster ponds; but by the time that I first discovered it the road was already well overgrown, in those spots where the cemeteries and the Park had not obliterated it completely. The bridge was an occasional destination for kids from both Newton and Needham, sometimes for just fooling around but also for the enjoyment, by teenagers, of certain activities, underneath the bridge, that were intended to be concealed from the eyes of parents, police and other adults.
Of course, in the Woods there were plenty of trees where we could build tree forts (which were usually vandalized before very long); and there was the Boston city dump in West Roxbury, close to the VFW Parkway (US Route 1, at the time), which provided us with the raw materials to build various things and with other varied “treasures”, most of which were thrown out by our mothers when our backs were turned. Once in a while, an automobile would be abandoned in the Woods; and in contrast to what would happen today, the autos would often remain in place for weeks or months. Many kids treated them as a sort of “found treasure”, and thought nothing of picking them apart (odometers were particularly prized). There were also some Concord grape vines near the Monster ponds; and sometime in the mid-50s, the Irwin, Melick and Spilman families went into the Woods, picked the grapes, strained out the juice, and made grape jelly from it. The discarded grape skins were tossed into a corner of the Irwins’ back yard, and it was from the grape vines which sprouted from them that Jim Spilman and Jon Melick got the grapes to make a batch of pretty good Concord grape wine in the summer of 1976. There were also a lot of blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes available to us. There was a lot of swampy land near the Woods, especially near the Charles River and the West Roxbury dump; and one summer during the early 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers went into the swamps near the dump to dig ditches to drain them, as a mosquito control measure. “The Culvert” was built underneath a gravel road that led to the dump, which allowed one of the new ditches to cross under the road and flow into the Charles River. Carp and turtles loved the ditch, and kids who played in the Woods had a lot of fun there. Occasionally, some of them would dam up the Culvert and flood the marsh behind it; and after one such flooding, the road washed out next to the Culvert. It was never rebuilt.
There was a Catholic cemetery that ran parallel to Spiers Road, just over the West Roxbury line. The cemetery extended as far as the property lines of the corner of the Park, and there was a puddingstone wall running all along its length. A puddingstone wall divided the backyards of the Park from this cemetery; and hemlock trees helped to screen the cemetery from view (both of these were put in place as a condition of extending the cemetery in the mid-50s). Kids would often play in the cemetery itself, or in the Jewish cemetery that abutted it to the east; and since everyone was used to the cemetery being there, since we were so used to it, most of them didn’t get the creepy feeling that they otherwise might have gotten). Often, they would continue on to Pulpit Rock, near the northern end of the Jewish cemeteries, located just east of the Catholic cemetery, where the colonial preacher John Eliot was supposed to have preached to the local Indians. There once was a bronze plaque commemorating the events, but it was certainly stolen for resale as scrap, by the end of the 1960s. Kids loved to climb the rock, and squeeze through the various passages (no one who went there can forget the “lemon squeeze” and the small cave inside the rock – at least, until increased size made that impossible! The historic Brook Farm was a short distance away, but most kids kept away from it because it was used as an orphanage until well after the Circle kids were all adults. More than a few Oak Hill Park mothers were surprised when their child or children presented them with a bouquet of flowers – raided from a display left at a graveside after a funeral.
For those Park children who spent all or part of the summer, there was plenty to do. In addition to what they did in the spring and the fall, there was the day camp at the school, field trips to amusement parks (Norumbega, Paragon, Lincoln, Whalom, Canobie Lake, and White City were all within driving distance), family trips to lakes and the ocean, and much more. A program allowed Park children to use the pool at Mt. Ida when it was open (and “unauthorized” visits to the pool at night, after closing time, were also known to occur). There was also a Fourth of July parade, and much more. Many neighborhoods had outdoor barbecues on summer nights; and the Red Sox (and, through 1952, the Braves) welcomed many an Oak Hill Park baseball fan. Wintertime, of course, provided everyone with a whole different set of activities to enjoy. Skis or snowshoes were almost never seen; but almost all Park children owned a pair of ice skates. Many would go skating at the tennis courts near the school, or on one of the ponds in the Woods, as soon as the ice was thick enough. Sometimes we would go to places like Crystal Lake in Newton Highlands, or Hammond Pond in Chestnut Hill. Most kids also had sleds, “flying saucers” and the like (toboggans were scarce). Sandy Hill, Mt. Ida, and the golf course along Nahanton Street were the prime locations for sledding. Everyone became good at building snow forts, especially if snow plows provided a tall pile of snow to build one in. Sometimes, kids would build elaborate forts with tunnels, passageways, parapets, and “snowball bins” for their “reserve ammunition” during snowball fights, or else they would build networks of smaller forts to provide effective crossfire against their opponents (often a group of kids who walked around the Park looking for a snowball fight).
One recreation which seems bizarre, especially by today’s standards, involved riding one’s bike behind the “bug truck”. In mosquito season, the City of Newton would send trucks around which burned a mixture of oil and insecticide, and sprayed the resulting clouds of smoke around the Park. Almost everyone can remember hearing the approach of the truck, and closing the windows of their house so that the smell (or, at least, most of it) did not stink up the inside of the house. For some reason, more than a few Park children would then run for their bicycles, and then ride along behind the bug truck, inside the cloud of smoke. Many now-grown Park children joke, nowadays, that it’s a miracle that they did not get sick and die, and have children of their own who had two heads, six arms and so on. More “conventional” bike rides were encouraged; and most Park children remember the day that everyone rode their bike to school so that Officer Feeley could teach them about bike safety and then lead them on a short bike ride. The older kids, of driving age, remember how Officer Bobby Braceland would park his cruiser near the Friendly’s restaurant, in Chestnut Hill, to keep an eye on those Newtonites with access to cars. He was concerned for everyone’s safety – but that concern was unappreciated, of course, by those he stopped for some violation or another.
The kids who lived on the northernmost side tended to gravitate more towards the woods bordering Mount Ida Junior College when they wanted to head for the Woods. This two-year college, founded on Mount Ida just southwest of Newton Corner, had moved to the old Robert Gould Shaw II estate, just north of the future Park site, in 1939. For many years, it admitted only female students (many of whom came from wealthy families and hoped to find a husband from Harvard, MIT or some such school); but now, it is a four-year college which admits both men and women of stronger academic achievement. The part of the campus bordering the Park was open and grassy. Most Park children were on the campus at some point; and as long as they didn’t bother the students or damage anything, their presence was tolerated (now, if one wishes to drive onto the campus, there is a guardhouse barring the way). More than one guy from the Park dated a Mount Ida student, when he got old enough to do so, and there were a few marriages from these relationships. Being on a small hill, the campus could be seen from almost any side; and apparently some of the young men who lived on Nahanton Street liked to take binoculars, at night when the leaves were off the trees, and observe the women in their dormitories while they… took care of personal business.
In the early years of the Park, many of the children who lived there were members of one of the various Scouting organizations for boys and girls. Cub Scouts, Brownies, Bluebirds, Boy Scouts, Explorer Scouts, Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls (the last four being the older levels of the first three) all had active units in the Park; but participation in the older levels tended to drop off, once their members reached junior high school. Many factors entered into this; but one of the main reasons was that the younger levels were based on activities which took place in the afternoons, in and around someone’s home or the school (and many kids wore their uniforms to school on meeting days). The older levels met in the evening, when conflicts with family or school activities or requirements were more common; and for many kids, there just wasn’t enough of interest to keep them as members of their troops. Most of the kids who remained as members tended to be more committed to the organization’s program; and in the mid-1960s Troop 250, for example, had a very active program, involving monthly camping trips and other activities, between September and June. Many of the Scouts went away to Scout summer camp for between one and three weeks, even if they had other plans for the rest of the summer.
Today, if anyone took a firearm and went into the Woods to do some target shooting, the Woods would be swarming with police in a flash, and the shooter would be face down and in handcuffs shortly afterwards. In the first years of the Park, though, it was not unusual for those living near the Woods to hear gunshots; and no one thought anything of it. Often, the guns would be used to plink at cans or bottles, often at the West Roxbury dump, or occasionally for hunting. The shooters would let bystanders watch, as long as they stayed out of the way and didn’t make any noise, and maybe even take a shot or two. Bruce Spilman and his family even used to shoot skeet from their backyard, in the direction of Sandy Hill (and, being a responsible firearm owner, Bruce and family would make sure that no one was anywhere nearby). Richard Melick, a resident of Newton who later lived in Needham for many years, recalled using his .22 there, and also in the gravel pit through which Route 128 was built in the 1960s. He felt that, as an ex-serviceman, no policeman was going to give him a hard time as long as he was careful how and where he did his shooting. Incidents of vandalism or stupidity were rare; and accidents were almost unknown.
Of course, everyone had radio and television to entertain them. The biggest radio stations (AM, of course, until the mid-60s) were WEEI (590 kHz), WNAC (680 kHz), WHDH (850 kHz), WBZ (1030 kHz), and WMEX (1510 kHz). Most station formats featured DJs who were also what would now be called “on-air personalities”. WHDH often broadcast Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games. The only exception was WMEX; it was Boston’s first “Top 40” rock and roll station, featuring the legendary DJ Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsburg. Norm Ruby, of the Park, was a classical DJ on this station, as well. There were other stations of lesser importance; and the most memorable of those was the one at 1600 kHz, which I mentioned earlier. Almost no one in the Park listened to its broadcasts; but since it was literally so close to us all, it deserves a paragraph of its own.
In 1948, radio station WVOM was established, with studios in Brookline. At first, it broadcast what is now known as “beautiful music” (think “elevator music”); and it was one of the first radio stations to broadcast around the clock, seven days a week. It became WBOS in 1955; and in 1958 it switched over to “ethnic” programming. Before then, though, Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsburg had gotten his start on WBOS, before switching over to WMEX. The station became WUNR in 1976 (standing for “We’re the United Nations of Radio”). The original transmitter towers were a pair of tall towers, supported by guy wires. They were painted red and white, and had red lights (some steady, and some slowly blinking), so that nearby aircraft could spot them and avoid them (this rule is a holdover from the days of propellor-driven and unpressurized aircraft, when planes flew at much lower altitudes than they do now. The towers were replaced, in 2007, with five smaller, unlit and unguyed towers; and in contrast to the old towers, which carried only WUNR’s programming and radiated 5 kilowatts of power during the day and 1 kilowatt and night, the new towers radiate 20 kW of power around the clock, and also carry the programs of two other stations (this increase was opposed by some, who feared the effects of the increased radiation). The building on Saw Mill Brook Parkway, at the foot of Van Roosen Road, is equipped with a studio but is essentially a housing for the transmitters.
As for television, the big channels were WBZ (channel 4), WHDH (channel 5) and WNAC (channel 7). WGBH (channel 2) was the “educational station”; and most Park children, at one time or another, listened to its daytime programs while in class (and then do something based on what we’d just watched). WTIC (channel 3) in Hartford could be watchable, once in a while, as could WMUR (channel 9) in Manchester, New Hampshire. WJAR (channel 10) and WPRO (channel 12) were easily watchable, unlike today. Later, in the 60s, WLNE (channel 6, in New Bedford) and WNHC (channel 8, in Hartford) came on the air; but they were rarely worth the effort to watch. UHF channels first appeared in the 1950s; and an Oak Hill Park Newsletter, from August-September of 1953, carried an article about the forthcoming WTAO-TV, Channel 56, which was to begin broadcasting at some future date. A later newsletter, by a TV repairman, offered “UHF conversions” to his customers. UHF never became established, though, until TV manufacturers were required to include UHF tuners in their sets. WIHS (channel 38) was the first in the Boston area, followed by WKBG (channel 56), WXNE (channel 25) and WGBX (channel 44; it was an educational station like its sister WGBH). Channel 27 in Worcester, replacing the former Channel 14, also appeared in the 1960s,
The Park also created its own cultural enrichment. More than one Park child studied music with Mr. Napoli, at Memorial School, or Mr. Neiger; or they studied piano with Mrs. Garber or Mrs. Maxner. Memorial School had its own orchestra, which produced music for school events. Various community theatrical and musical productions were put on from time to time, including Tom Sawyer and the Wizard of Oz. There was at least one fashion show; and one afternoon Marty Caulfield and Jon Melick sat outside the beauty parlor, and watched women run out of the parlor, hair freshly dyed green or some unusual shade, and hoping to hide their new color under a scarf until they were safely in their cars. Memorial School also produced various performances for the benefit of parents and family; and at least once the students who were studying French put on a French-language performance. How much of this the parents and families understood is not known; but perhaps they were given a script and translation, or else they just enjoyed hearing us speaking serviceable French. More than once, children of the Park would also put on their own neighborhood performances; and in the 60s, local rock bands would sometimes conduct an open-air rehearsal if the weather was nice.
As the children of the Park got older, many of them used their extensive knowledge of the Woods to enjoy drinking various beverages that they were still too young to drink legally, smoke (sometimes tobacco, and sometimes something else) and pursue various fleshly recreations with an intimate companion. They were often joined, in these activities, by kids from other neighborhoods who did not have woods close to their neighborhoods. More than once, plywood shelters or crude log cabins were built, in concealed corners, to provide a space for these activities that afforded the participants shelter from wind, rain or prying eyes. All of these eventually burned down (both accidentally and deliberately) or were removed by adults and the police. Sometimes, during a walk through the woods, a skirt, some underpants, or some other item of clothing might appear in the path, sometimes prompting speculation as to who had been wearing the items in question. There were also inter-neighborhood rivalries; but except for kids from West Roxbury (including Chris Nilan, who later played in the National Hockey League), these rivalries rarely turned violent.
The Darker Side
Looking back at Oak Hill Park, many people who grew up there view the Park as idyllic; but the Park did have its darker side. Social ills such as crime, alcoholism, infidelity, substance abuse, which seem so relatively prominent today, existed in the Park but were kept under wraps. For example, someone who was well known to many of us became known for taking indecent liberties with more than one young girl in the Park; but the subject was discussed only discreetly, if at all; and many people only learned about these incidents only in recent years. Apparently, this person was never prosecuted, but was only compelled to stay away from the Park. Several Park children had to deal with serious illnesses or disfigurement; and more than a few of them passed away at much too young an age. More than a few boys who “played Army” in the Woods wound up in the real U.S. Army; and several served in Vietnam, with at least two (Bobby Steinsieck and Paul Dunne) being killed in action, and at least one other (Ed Murtagh) later dying from their injuries.. In the 1960s, some struggled, more than others, with the social pressures of the time; and drugs took its toll on more than a few of us. As for crime, unfortunately more than a few Park children used knowledge gained through earlier friendships to target homes for burglaries. Some Park families were able to afford to hire outside domestic help; and more than once this outside help served as scouts for less welcome outside visitors. More than a few Park houses experienced fires; but none was ever known to be fatal, or even produce any serious injuries. No important ethnic or religious incidents happened within the Park; but one Yom Kippur, someone decided to desecrate part of the Jewish cemetery in West Roxbury. Newton and Boston police collaborated in the effort to find those responsible, and Joanne Spilman Kilduff recalls that the Newton Police command post for the incident was in the Spilman’s back yard.
Not quite home, anymore
By the 25th anniversary of the Park, in 1974, the Park had undergone significant changes. Many of the original families had moved away, and many of the children who’d filled the Park during the early years were either away at school or had moved out and were on their own. Most original families saw much less of each other than they had seen in years past; and even so, there was now a heterogeneity to the Park that kept the newcomers from mixing as easily as newcomers did, back in the days when almost every family was composed of a veteran, his wife and their children; and the Stores and the Memorial School were much less important as community institutions. Community activities such as the musicals, the Field days, the fair at the Sores, and other things stopped happening, because no one wanted to organize or work on them, or spend money on them. The “Baby Boom” had ended by the mid-60s; and many who now lived in the Park did not have children of age to go to school there. As a result, a school which had once known three classes in all of its grades now could see, for example, one combined class of fourth and fifth graders. Many of the rooms in the school were unused, and the local branch of the Newton Free Library now occupied Room 8, once a third grade classroom. The school closed shortly afterwards, and any Park children now had to go to the Spaulding School on Brookline Street (renamed Memorial-Spaulding School, but still the Spaulding School to those who had gone to Memorial). The old school building was later purchased by the Solomon Schechter Day School, a Jewish private school, which has since added onto the school building and radically changed its appearance (but the City of Newton retains title to the playground, which has also changed significantly in appearance).
The Stores had always been fully occupied by businesses in the early years of the Park. Some came and went, but until the early 1970s, there was always a healthy mix of stores. By 1974, though, the library had left for Memorial School, and it was replaced by a wholesale hardware business. About the same time, the drug store went out of business, and the grocery store moved to a building in Brookline’s Putterham Circle, where it remained through the late 1990s. A leather workshop took over the grocery store’s space, but nothing ever replaced the drug store. Part of the reason for this was that the average Park household now had two cars, so that shopping outside the Park, at larger and less expensive, better-stocked stores, was now easy, so that Park businesses were now often used for convenience. Other community institutions were suffering as well. The pool of stay-at-home mothers, of involved fathers, and of children who could keep groups such as Boy Scouts flourishing no longer existed; and Scout groups now faced competition from sports leagues (the coaches of which often insisted on a level of commitment which didn’t leave time for anything else), and faced resistance from newcomer parents who did not consider Scouts to be a suitable activity for their children. The annual fair, at the Stores, was only a memory. Troop 250 didn’t even meet within the Park anymore; its meetings were now at Temple Beth Avodah, near the Spaulding School. Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scouts may well have ceased operations in the Park.
Around this time, the Park underwent its final expansion, with the development of the old Esty Farm property. Around 1970, a mixed-income townhouse development was proposed for the site, but a few neighbors, especially those on June Lane and Esty Farm Road, objected strongly to it and the project fell through. June Lane and Esty Farm Road were extended to meet in the middle, with Esty Farm Road ending in a cul-de-sac near Dedham Street so that there was no longer any sort of direct access from Dedham Street. The entire site was cleared and all buildings on the site demolished; and several large houses were built on the site (around the same time, the same fate befell the Wiswall house). There had once been two similar farms near the corner of Dedham and Parker Streets, the Murley (just south of the intersection) and Volante (just to the north) farms, and luxury homes were built on both, with a berm along Dedham Street and a gatehouse at the entrance to the old Murley property to keep out casual visitors and shield the development from curious eyes. The Volantes relocated to Needham; and for a while, they were facing pressure from abutters who moved near a working farm and then decided that they didn’t like what went on there. The farm is still there in 2020; but the nearby Owen’s Poultry Farm was forced out of business by the same pressures and by property values. An elementary school now stands on the site.
In his novel “Coming Up For Air”, George Orwell writes about a man who seeks to reclaim the happiness of his youth by visiting his native village. He is disappointed by what he sees there, and can scarcely recognize anything. More than a few of the now-grown children who grew up in the Park feel that way about their old neighborhood, because in many ways it has changed almost beyond recognition. One conspicuous change was the construction, in the mid-70s, of some two-story duplex houses in the parking lot of the Stores, next to the Library, where there was a blank brick wall (excellent for games) and a parking lot where the old traveling carnivals took place. The buildings were not intrinsically ugly, but they just didn’t look as if they belonged where they are. The same goes for the brick condominiums, which replaced the half of the Stores extending from the drugstore to the library. These loom over the remainder of the Stores (now altered beyond recognition), and overshadow them. It would have been far better if the entire building had been demolished, and replaced by a new building of more balanced appearance, perhaps with stores on the ground floor. As for the houses, in contrast to the early days when additions to Park houses harmonized well with the original house and with those of their neighbors, many houses are being altered beyond recognition, or even demolished and replaced by houses which are much larger and give the appearance of being squeezed into their lots, and which often do not blend well, architecturally, with other houses within The Park. Some of the new houses, like the one replacing the Irwins’ old house, or some examples on Hanson Road, are actually quite nice; it’s just that they don’t seem to belong in Oak Hill Park. The Sandpit and the Woods have changed radically as well. Many areas that were puckerbrush and sproutland in the early years now feature maturing forests, with many of the berry and other bushes having been crowded out. Without anyone to burn off the undergrowth around the Sandpit, nature has reclaimed the area; and any child who now attempts to ride a sled down the hill in winter will find so many obstacles in his or her path as to make the attempt futile.
All neighborhoods change; and only a handful of original owners remained when the 60th anniversary of the Park rolled around. Some original owners sold their houses to their children; but finding an original Park house lived in by a member of an original family is now tough to do. The “old Park” is long gone, now; but thanks to the Internet, especially Facebook, it lives on in the memories of those surviving people who lived there in its early years. A 50th anniversary reunion was held in 1998 (at Temple Beth Avodah, since the reunion involved a dinner and the Park no longer had a place of its own in which the reunion could be held), and in November 2005 and June 2011, many of the now gray-haired Park children held reunions of their own at the Shuman Center, built on the corner of Saw Mill Brook Parkway and Colella Road on what had been a parking lot used mostly for Prioli’s gas station. Most of them greatly appreciate how the construction of Oak Hill Park, and the restrictions on purchases from the original developers, helped to create an almost idyllic and united community which would not have been possible anyplace else. Even those who lived in the Park and then moved elsewhere, while they were growing up, come back to the Park and recall what a great place it was for us all; and everyone appreciates the sacrifices made by the Newton servicemen whom the Park honors, and the choices made by their parents to buy houses there.
Jonathan T. Melick
Oak Hill Park, 1952-1977
July 4, 2011
Last revised October 28, 2021
I could not possibly remember all of the teachers who taught at Memorial School, even during the years when I was there as a student; but I’ll start by listing only those teachers in my grade:
Nursery School: Mrs. Eleanor Heatzig; she taught kindergarten before September of 1953.
Kindergarten (1957-58): Mrs. Joan Turney
Other teachers: Miss Hodge
First Grade (1958-59): Mrs. Joan Turney,
Other teachers: Miss Elsie Coffey, Mrs. Natalie Sugarman
* There was a joke going around, at the time, about how we could “put the sugarman in the coffey, and turney it around.”
Second Grade (Sept. – Nov. 1959): Miss Jean Cassidy (later Koutoujian)
Other teachers: Mrs. (Miss?) Delaney, one other
Third Grade (Nov. 1959 – June 1960) Miss Barbara O’Hara
Other teachers: Miss Polakowski, Miss Joan Keenan
Fourth grade (1960-61): Miss Justine Kenney (replaced Mrs. Urban, who left before school started. Back then, if a teacher became pregnant, she had to leave her job at once.)
Other teachers: Miss Dunn, Miss Edwina Bacigalupo
Fifth Grade (1961-62): Mrs. Cleo Flynn
Other teachers: Miss Jacqueline Quinn; one other
Sixth Grade (1962-63): Miss Anne Heatzig (later Sklar)
Other teachers: Mrs. Susan Benninger (part; left due to pregnancy), Miss Ellen Every (part; later Mrs. Boyle), Mr. Paul Roberts
We also had other teachers come in for art and music classes. The most memorable of these was Mr. Tony Saletan, who came to the school for music classes when I was in kindergarten, but who began appearing on the educational TV station, WGBH (Channel 2), the following year, in programs which we could watch, and in which we participated in our classrooms. A Mr. Parker replaced him when he left. A Mrs. Wingate came in to teach music to at least the upper grades, by the time that I was in 5th grade. WGBH also had a science teacher named Mr. Gray, who once taught at Memorial; and when the sixth graders at Memorial took the customary trip to Camp Union in Greenfield, New Hampshire, in early December, Mr. Gray came up, one day, and gave us our lesson for the day.
Other teachers’ names appear below. Those marked with an asterisk (*) were new, in September of 1953; and all were gone by September of 1957.
Mrs. Joan Trotter (taught 5th grade in 1956-57)
Miss Sweeney (probably first grade, when I was in kindergarten)
Mrs. Hoxie (elderly; she came into teach art during my first couple of years)
Miss Pang (from Hawaii; fourth grade)
Miss Egan (kindergarten and first grade, 1950s)
Mrs. Tuohy (spelling?)
Mr. Walsh (gym)
Miss Dorothy Ulf (second grade)
Miss Miller (fourth grade)
Mrs. Jane Breinholt
Mrs. Davis (later Johnson)
Mrs. Capodilupo (kindergarten)
Miss Ginnie Finnegan (called “Miss Vinegar” by students who didn’t like her)
Ms. Carol Johnson (at least 1962-63)
Mr. Sachs (taught 4th grade)
Dr. Eldridge (first grade, before she became Principal)
Frank Tanner (first Principal)
Mr. McAdam (sixth grade; last Principal)
*Frances Collins (kindergarten)
*Joyce Finklestein (1st grade)
*Jennifer Thorne (2nd grade)
*Sally Martyn (4th grade)
Miss Quinn retired from teaching in the spring of 1998. When my son was getting ready to attend Boston Latin Academy, I remember seeing a notice for her retirement party. After she retired, she bought a house at the Saw Mill Brook Parkway end of Keller Path.
Dr. Eldridge played the trombone, although I never can remember hearing her play. She became Principal in the summer of 1955, and held that job until the school closed. She had once taught first grade. Most other teachers played an instrument, most often the piano; but Miss O’Hara was very good at playing her guitar (and was a fan of Joan Baez)
In later years, I used to see Mrs. Flynn at various Boy Scout events, as a guest of her good friend Helen Campbell, whose husband “Soupy” was prominent in the local Norumbega Council.
Although much of this work is my own, I have based a lot of it on the Globe Magazine article which I refer to towards the beginning: Now, with the creation of groups on Facebook built around people who live, or have lived, in The Park, I can now credit the following people with contributions: Marjorie Barkin Searl, Robin Berman Guerriero, Rhonda Blair Page, Peter Boisvert, Leona Breslow, Leslie A. Carpenter, Barbara Cohen-Blaustein, Neal Cohen, Rodger Cohen, Eleanor Dalton, Tom Dalton, Gerald Danca, Richard Danca, Cissy DeRosa Seeto, Paul Fishstein, Maureen Foley, Dini Gelb Flanagan, Ellen Friedman, Lane Harney Dapsauski, Kathryn A. Irwin, Abby Isenberg Sorrell, Marti Kanter Stone, Alan Keller, Richard Keller, Susan Leary Forsthuber, Dotte Levine Nankin, Laurie Lipkind Koch, Scott Madsen, Sue Mandell, Lisa Manzoli Garland, Alan Markovsky, Patti McLeod Shepherd, Barbara O’Hara Tagg, Warren O’Neill, Kimberly Ornstein, Liz Pearson, Carol Pfau, Joyce Richmond, Jason M. Rubin, Steven Rubin, Steven Sahl, Lesley Sawyer Silverman, Beth Saxe Johnson, Ralph Saxe, Barry Schneier, Ron Schneier, Linda Segal Couturier, Donna Shane Marks, Leslie Shubin, Peter Siegel, Wendy Siegel, William Siegel, Kenny Slade, Jim Spilman, Joanne Spilman Kilduff, Bertis Syms, Shoshanna Szuch, Myra Waterman Korin Monheimer, Scott Wayne, Robert Weinstein, and Robin Shore Ziino. I have also used sources from the City of Newton.
If I have omitted any names… please remember that people get forgetful as they get older; and I apologize for the omission.
LIST OF CONVEYANCES, CAULFIELD CIRCLE NEIGHBORHOOD, 1949-1969, AT THE MIDDLESEX SOUTH DISTRICT REGISTRY OF DEEDS, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.
(this table is included here as an example of the changes in a typical Park neighborhood over its first twenty years)
Name of owners Date of deed Book/Page
6 CAULFIELD CIRCLE
Joseph Melick, Jr. 2/24/49 7399/467
Grace Culkeen (straw) 10/5/49 7487/327
Joseph Melick, Jr. and Dorothy T Melick 10/5/49 7487/328
12 CAULFIELD CIRCLE
James Patrick Bertha May Keohane 2/18/49 7401/425
John R. and Donna Joan Border 6/5/56 8738/401
Esther Gorodetzky 5/25/59 9377/462
15 CAULFIELD CIRCLE
Robert T. and Marie B. Steinsieck 2/2/49 7392/172
Thomas E. and Dorothy F. Caulfield 2/12/53 8032/189
Elaine Mackowsky 6/21/65 10849/468
16 CAULFIELD CIRCLE
James Bruce and Dorothy S. Spilman 2/25/49 7401/30
20 CAULFIELD CIRCLE
Maynard S. and Irma Rosen 7/1/49 7450/267
Sumner N. and Ruth G. Wheeler 1/14/57 8888/480
57 SPIERS ROAD
Miles A. MacNeil 3/22/49 7412/19
Edward A. Foley (straw)
Miles A. and Helen MacNeil 9/16/49 7479/225
65 SPIERS ROAD
Henry and Myrtle Shaffer 2/8/49 7395/380
Richard G. and Ruth E. Lee 9/29/50 7647/44
Samuel and Reva “Anne” Goldstein 11/20/57 9061/562
70 SPIERS ROAD
Joseph P. and Nina C. Santucci 2/24/49 7405/359
73 SPIERS ROAD
David C. and Kathryn S. Irwin 3/10/49 7405/231
79 SPIERS ROAD
Paul W. and Maud L. Swift 2/11/49 7399/205
James E. and Alice T. Hurley 2/23/54 8229/46
Dorothy B. Walpole 12/22/59 9521/524
Martin and Marsha S. Weiss 6/15/62 10057/574
85 SPIERS ROAD
Thomas L. and Sadie P. Bagshaw 2/15/49 7399/209
Helen D. and Barbara L. MacBride 6/8/54 8284/453
101 SPIERS ROAD
George C. and Eleanor M. Salustro 8/14/60 – 10/3/63
I have omitted 91 and 95 Spiers Road, plus the even-numbered houses on Spiers Road above #70, because the people in those houses were not part of the Caulfield Circle neighborhood.
NAMES OF SERVICEMEN WHO ARE HONORED WITH OAK HILL PARK STREETS AND PATHS
The names of 261 servicemen, from Newton, who died in World War II were considered for use in naming Oak Hill Park streets and paths. 33 names were selected, at random. The original signs were of cast metal, with the letters in strong relief and a gold star projecting from the top. Later signs were of sheet metal, with a gold star painted above the name. Modern signs are of the standard white on green design, and do not carry the star.
Joseph T. Antonellis (1916-1944) CPL, US Army Chemical Warfare
George L. Avery (1925-1945)
Peter A. Bontempo (1922-1945) PFC, US Army
Albert A. Caldon (1918-1944) CPL, US Army
William F. Callahan, Jr. (1920-1945) 2LT, 85th Mtn. Inf. Regt.
(the Callahan Tunnel in Boston is also named for him)
John L. Caulfield (1917-1944) 1LT, US Army KIA, Omaha Beach
Paul R. Cavanaugh (1921-1944)
Sarkis Chinian (1924-1945) PFC, USMC
Harvey J. Cibel (1918-1943) 2LT, USAAF
Russell C. Colella (1913-1944)
Wilfred B. Considine (1920-1944) TSGT, US Army
Lawrence Early (1896-1944) CPT, US Army
Francis A. Fredette (1906-1944) CM 1/c, US Navy
Robert M. Hanson (1922-1944) 1LT, USMC Aviation, 25 victories (Medal of Honor)
John S. Hay (1921-1944) USAAF
Mainolph Valen Kappius (1899-1945) CMDR, USNR (Flight Surgeon)
Russell Keller, Jr. (1916-1942) LT, US Naval Aviation
William J. Kerr (1921-1944) EM 3/c, US Navy
Francis P. McCarthy (1917-1942) CPT, USMC Aviation (Dist. Flying Cross)
Willaim E. Nightingale (1924-1945) Flying Officer, RCAF
Frederick P. O’Connell (1921-1944) CPL, VMCR Class III-C
John J. O’Rourke (1908-1942) PFC, Tech 5/c
William H. Osborne (1913-1945) SGT, USAAF
Robert Shumaker (1924-1944) ENS, US Naval Aviation; 2LT, USMC (NAVC)
George B. Shute (1923-1945) PVT, US Army
William A. Spiers (1924-1944) Co. C, 101st Airborne Division
Frederick H. Timson, Jr. (1906-1945) PVT, USAAF
Nicholas Tocci (1920-1945) PVT, US Army
Hugh Van Roosen (1922-1943) Lt (JG) USN Annapolis Navy Cross
Paul H. Van Wart (1922-1945) SGT, USAAF
George E. Walsh (1906-1945) PVT, US Army
Frank W. Young, Jr. (1912-1944) SGT, US Army