Dirty Old Boston

The Glitter Rubs Right Off And You're Nowhere

Washington Street glistens in a 1958 rain

Washington Street downtown, modernized almost beyond recognition today, was, in an American way, at its visual zenith in 1958. The above photo, more than many, portrays the forward look that many American cities had bought into, the look that is the basis for the sentimental longing they evoke. Let's go to the movies.

Ava Gardner, 1958

The film playing at the Mayflower, The Naked Maja, was a tribute to a painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. The piece features a nude brunette reclined, her hands behind her head. The film, shot in Italy over Spanish objections, is said to be a fictionalized account of aspects of Goya's life. Ava Gardner was said to be well cast in this foreign film, coming as it did on the heels of her breakup with Frank Sinatra and her weariness with all that was Hollywood. In fact, the movie was made right after her move to Spain to escape the media scrutiny she suffered at the time. The filmmaker, Giuseppe Rotunno,would shoot her next film, the better known On The Beach in 1959. And we won't even start to talk about the other movie on the marquee starring Eartha Kitt.

The Mayflower opened as The Modern Theater, the site of the first installed sound projection equipment in the country and the first theater to run double features. In 1949 it was renamed The Mayflower Theater which it held until December, 1978 when it reverted to its old name and showcased live theater such as David Mamet's American Buffalo. This turned out to be an unwise course of action and the Modern Theater closed forever in 1981.

Back to Boston in 1958, a year some cultural historians like to call a "banner year". While Ford's introduction of the Edsel flopped at the time, the prices they now command are astonishing. Bertrand Russell  officially launched the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Elvis Presley was converted into U.S. Private #53310761. Unemployment in Detroit was at 20 per cent, the highest of all American cities during the Recession of 1958. Yet it seemed everyone had cars. Many families owned two.

Cars on Worthington Street, off Huntington Av, facing Mission Hill in 1958
Courtesy of Boston City Archives

Veep Richard Nixon was received poorly in Caracas by anti-American demonstrators. The Beatles, as The Quarrymen, recorded their first record, a cover of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day". Pizza Hut opened its first door. Bossa Nova was introduced in Rio by Joao Gilberto's Chega de Saudade.  See the very tentative Girl From Ipanema, Gilberto's daughter Astrid sing. Crack open a Schaefer. But not on the orange green line!
Rounding the bend on Commonwealth Av at Brighton Av, Allston, 1958

Thanks to Cinema Treasures, IMDB, Turner Classic Movies, Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil and Boston City Archives.

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