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Dirty Old Boston Facebook page shows an often-forgotten side of city

Posted by Patrick Rosso  November 30, 2012 01:25 PM

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(Image courtesy Brain Frost via Dirty Old Boston)

A Facebook page is presenting a side of Boston that has been lost for many. Dirty Old Boston, created by retired Boston Public School teacher Jim Botticelli, takes the page’s 10,000 followers back to a Boston where the El ruled and the Combat Zone wasn’t filled with college kids and upscale bars.

Posting pictures from the 1980s and earlier, the site guides viewers through a visual history of a city that was once grittier and little bit dirty.

“The intent was to show Boston before it began to get gentrified,” said Botticelli, a West Roxbury resident. “We’re trying to get the gritty side; we’re trying to tell it like it is.”

From pictures of kids at South Boston’s Carson Beach in the 1960s to Brookline Village in the 1930s, the site covers all aspects of Boston’s history, not just the statues or the proclamations.

“The city has changed a whole lot,” said Botticelli, who moved to Boston in 1972 for school and never left. “It [Boston] feels cleansed, sterile, and a little more politically correct.”

What began as a fun adventure for Botticelli and his friend and fellow contributor Alex Piandes has turned into a hit, with the majority of photos now being contributed by followers and fans.

“We don’t own every photo, but we try to credit where possible,” said Botticelli. “Now, easily two-thirds of our photos come from people out there. I’m humbled by the experience. People really know this place, I get corrected all the time.”

The photos on the site, some taken by Botticelli, others found in old shoe boxes by contributors, show what life was really like in the Hub. Although some photos have brought controversy and heated exchanges on the comment board, Botticelli said it’s all in the spirit of the site.

“We want to be inclusive, we don’t want just one kind of photo,” said Botticelli. “We don’t censor anything. If you see something you don’t like you get mad, you get it off your chest, and you move on.”

From photos of the busing riots in the 1970s to pages from the book “Banned in Boston,” which features some of Boston's most risque ladies, the site has a little something for everyone and unapologetically presents it all to those who choose to follow.

While the more than 10,000 subscribers to the site do so for their own reasons, Botticelli said he finds many people browse the page’s 2,000-plus photos because of nostalgia.

“I can’t tell you what I miss and I can’t tell you I don’t like it [Boston] the way it is,” Botticelli said. “We just try to put up anything people will remember. I think people feel some ownership with this page because they’re part of that history.”

Although the 40-plus year resident of the city said he has seen a lot of things and captured some of them on camera, he hopes that people who visit the site can really take away an understanding of what Boston was like, before the Plywood Palace -- as the Hancock Tower was called when its glass panes were falling -- was fixed or The Rat was closed.

“I hope people can walk away and think it [Boston] wasn’t just the Hancock building and The Garden, it was all of this,” Botticelli added. “We’re just trying to tell a story.”

Botticelli said he is always looking for contributions and anyone is welcome to post their old photos to the page, which can be found here.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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