Photo Credit: Sports Graphics
Sports and Recreation in Brighton-Allston
by Michael O’Hara of the Brighton Allston Historical Society
The 2022 Brighton Allston Historical Calendar began with a short introductory essay about the theme, “Sports and Recreation in Brighton-Allston.” The essay below is an expansion of the original essay and includes information that due to space restrictions was not be included in the calendar.
In Brighton-Allston, we are fortunate to have access to sports and recreation at all levels, from well-equipped parks, playgrounds and pools, tennis courts, exercise venues, skating rinks, community rowing, kayaks, bicycle trails, a skateboard park, T-Ball, Little League baseball, youth hockey, high school teams, college teams, and nearby professional teams. We even have three-piece-suit football. What’s more, we also have a fishing academy!
Whether we choose to participate in athletics or just appreciate the shared experience of sports and recreation, we know they boost our physical and mental health, contribute to our feelings of belonging, and give us pride in our community.
Brighton-Allston was in the vanguard of sports development in America, making its mark in tennis, golf, figure skating, harness horse racing, rowing, and especially professional baseball.
We chose to use the 2022 BAHS historical calendar to illustrate some of these contributions and we have included them here in the order in which they appear in the calendar.
Once we sorted out what we would like to do with the assignment, and what types of photos and research might be necessary, the first person we called for advice was our State Representative Kevin Honan, an avid sports fan and local expert on Brighton-Allston sports celebrities.
Kevin had many suggestions, but probably the most important was that he advised that we contact Richard Johnson, the Curator of The Sports Museum of New England, located at TD Garden. Richard was very generous with his time and even sent us several photographs from his personal collection for our consideration. Within this group of photos was a color postcard of Braves Field at night that we immediately knew would become the cover of the 2022 calendar.
Braves Field at Night
The postcard used for the cover depicts Braves Field in 1946, awash in color, gleaming under seven light towers, four behind the grandstands, three looking in from beyond the outfield, and one behind the “Jury Box”, the park’s signature feature, a separate-admission bleacher section, and so coined by a sportswriter who one day noticed only 12 spectators sitting in this section that could seat 2,000. The lights were installed at the direction of Lou Perini, who acquired the team in 1945 along with two partners, local construction business owners Joe Maney and Guido Rugo. He was the first in Boston to install lights for night games (1946), beating the Red Sox by one year, although the Braves were the 12th of 16 major league teams to do so. Over 37,000 fans showed up to enjoy that first game with lights.
Gold Medalist Harold Connolly
While there are many individual local heroes that we wanted to celebrate in the calendar, we found that it was impossible to represent them all fairly within the constraints of a twelve-month calendar format. We therefore focused almost exclusively on large-scale historical events and significant Brighton-Allston venues.
Photo by Liane Brandon
Our one exception was Harold Connolly (1931-2010), Brighton’s phenomenal Olympic hammer-throwing gold medalist, whose statue graces the front lawn of the Taft School, now the Boston Green Academy. He was the winner of the Olympic gold medal for hammer throwing at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the first of his four consecutive Olympic appearances.
Connolly, at twelve and one-half pounds, suffered arm/shoulder/nerve damage at birth, resulting in his left arm growing four inches shorter than his right. This injury ironically helped him develop his winning technique.
Raised near Ringer Park, Harold grew up in Allston, attended the Taft School, played football at Brighton High (graduated 1949), and graduated as a history major from Boston College in 1953. Following his graduation from BC he taught Civics for one year at the Edison School before moving to the West Coast where he earned a master’s degree in English as a Second Language at UCLA. He taught for thirty years in Santa Monica and in his subsequent career served as Executive Director of the Special Olympics.
His statue, designed by Bolivian artist Pablo Eduardo, was dedicated in December 2005. Among Eduardo’s other local works are Mayor Kevin White (Faneuil Market), St. Ignatius Loyola (Boston College), Brian Honan bas relief (Honan Allston Library), and Major General George Casey (Smith Playground).
Kevin Honan was the moving force in the creation and funding of this testimonial to Connolly.
Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl
The 2022 calendar provides background on local sports venues and includes the sad history of Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl.
Sammy White's was a bowling alley on Soldier’s Field Road in Brighton, the site of the present-day Acura dealership. It was owned by Boston Red Sox catcher Sammy White and featured lanes of both standard Ten-Pin and Candlepin bowling, the latter being the more popular style in New England.
A second Sammy White's was on the V.F.W. Parkway near the Boston/Dedham line. It closed in the mid-1980s. Sammy also owned the Alpine Lanes, a ten-pin establishment in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
The popular lanes were an integral part of our local sporting experience for twenty-five years, enjoyed by bowlers participating in individual and league bowling. It is also a tragic part of our history and is mostly remembered for an infamous quadruple murder that occurred there in 1980, committed by a disgruntled ex-employee out on parole - Brian “Shaky” Dyer.
Sammy deserved better. He was a good guy and a supporter of local Little League. Sammy White's closed its doors in 1986. Sammy played for the Red Sox from 1951 to 1959, and later for the Milwaukee Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. He retired from baseball in 1962. He was an avid supporter of Brighton – Allston Little League.
Knowing the popularity of Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl, we wanted to include it in the calendar, but were initially unable to locate suitable photographs of either Sammy or his establishment. To the rescue came Aaron Schmidt, Curator of Photography at the Boston Public Library, who found the two pictures included in the calendar: that of Sammy (standing) with his business partner George Page admiring the artist rendering of the Brighton Bowl, plus a full-scale photograph of that artist rendering. Thank you, Aaron.
The Charles River Speedway gets lots of attention, particularly due to the recent restoration of the original 1899 stables and administrative offices at the intersection of Western Avenue and the Leo J. Birmingham Parkway, but Brighton-Allston has had two highly successful horse-racing parks.
The earliest was Beacon Trotting Park, a pioneer racetrack in New England. It was a 60-acre parcel with a mile-long course used for harness racing. Located at what is now Beacon Park Freight Yard in Allston, it operated from 1864 into the early 1890s. The Doubletree Hotel stands on one corner of its footprint. A couple of interesting facts about the Beacon Trotting Park:
North Allston Little League
Allston Brighton was once a thriving mecca of youth baseball at many levels, especially Little League. At one time Little League in Allston-Brighton boasted five local leagues: Brighton Central (McKinney Park), Brighton East (Cleveland Circle/Cassidy Park), Oak Square (Rogers Park), Allston North (Smith Field), and Ringer Park.
One of the North Allston Little League teams from about 1974 is represented in the 2022 calendar. We discovered this photograph in the Massachusetts Memories Road Show archives, a site run by UMass Boston, which records Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories.
The calendar contains a nice circa 1974 photograph of Opening Day at Smith Field, featuring the Allston North Little League Dodgers, proudly sponsored by Allston’s VFW Post 669.
Standing left to right are Coach Bill Corrigan, Brian Golden, Lonnie Puglia, Chris Golden, Mark Cooper, and Billy Keane. Kneeling left to right are Billy Corrigan, Unidentified, David Meade, David Martin, and Alex McLaren.
To add further festivity to the occasion, members of the world-famous Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, based in Hyde Park, are present and standing at attention in the background, with the venerable Harvard Stadium as a backdrop.
Octagon Tennis Club, Allston, 1890
Tennis was introduced to America in 1874 in Nahant, Massachusetts, and Allston wasn't far behind. The calendar features a photograph from 1890 of seven sportingly dressed members of the Octagon Tennis Club at Gardner Street, Allston. This prestigious neighborhood, known as the GAP, centered on Gardner, Ashford, and Pratt Streets, along with the adjacent Linden and Chester Streets.
This area was home to residents who had leisure-time interests in golf and tennis, and who dressed the part in striped team hats, long-sleeve button up shirts with neck wear, and the full-length flannel pants. The decorum of the time dictated that players cover up no matter how hot it might get out on the court. It wasn’t until the 1920s that styles began to relax and more comfortable attire (tennis shirts and shorts) began to enter the tennis scene.
Ted Williams, 39 Foster Street Home
We all know the old local claim, “It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t spent a night in Brighton, including the Pope and Saint Mother Teresa.” Indeed, many famous athletes also chose to live here in Brighton.
One month of the calendar is dedicated to three Boston Red Sox players who lived here. Most beloved of these celebrity residents was Red Sox player Ted Williams, who in the late 1940s lived in the classic triple-decker at 39 Foster Street near the corner of Washington Street in Brighton Center, facing the CVS parking lot. Ted fit comfortably into his Brighton neighborhood, hitting grounders to kids at Rogers Park and playing catch with neighbors in nearby Horrigan’s Market parking lot (now CVS).
Ted Williams, baseball's greatest hitter, played for the Red Sox from 1939 to 1960, interrupted by tours of military duty as a Marine combat pilot during both WWII (1942-1946) and the Korean War (1952-53).
Ted’s good friends and Red Sox teammates, Billy Goodman (infielder) and Mel Parnell (pitcher) occupied the other two apartments.
Once again, Aaron Schmidt, the Curator of the Boston Public Library’s Photography Collection, came to our aid and provided the photographs of these three gentlemen. They are part of the Leslie Jones Collection within the BPL’s Archive holdings.
Famed baseball legend, Warren Spahn, one of the best pitchers in major league history, lived on Monastery Road while playing for the Boston Braves from 1941 to1952. He opened the Warren Spahn Diner on Commonwealth Avenue, now the Sullivan Tire location. His diner became a Hayes-Bickford after he moved to Milwaukee with the Braves.
Famous golf champion, Francis Ouimet, winner of the US Open in 1913 at the age of 20 against some of the world’s greatest professional golfers, lived for a time on Lake Street. In 1974, he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The Allston Golf Club
The calendar includes information on one unique piece of real estate with multiple lives. It is at the easternmost extremity of Allston.
It is the Allston Golf Club.
It encompassed the land along Commonwealth Avenue between Buick Street and Babcock Street and extended back to the Charles River.
Established in the 1890s, this golf club was one of America’s earliest golf courses. Its layout was designed by Arthur H. Fenn, a well-known professional golfer and golf course designer, and had a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright style clubhouse that overlooked the Charles River. Despite its relatively short length, just 2,303 yards, the 9-hole club (which most were in that era) was well-regarded in Massachusetts golfing circles and was influential with the rules committee of the fledgling United States Golf Association, the game’s governing body, founded in 1894. It produced several accomplished championship-level players.
The eastern-most portion of the course was sold in 1914 to the state of Massachusetts on which to build the Commonwealth National Guard Armory, and the western section was sold in the same year to James Gaffney to build Braves Field. Each of those structures was built in 1915, and in later years were replaced by Boston University’s Agganis Arena, Fitness & Recreation Center, student residence complex, and Nickerson Field.
Braves Field, Allston,1933
Entire books have been devoted to Braves Field in Allston, home of the Boston Braves from 1915 to 1952, and now the site of Boston University’s Nickerson Field. The 2022 calendar provides three photographs relating to Braves Field, including the front and back covers.
Braves Field was a spot that countless Brightonians fondly remember from days in their youth when they hopped onto a trolley car and headed down to the ballpark to watch their favorite players.
The Braves team was founded in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings (not to be confused with the Boston Red Sox) and played their games at the South End Grounds (near Ruggles MBTA Station and present-day Northeastern University).
In 1914, after winning the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, Braves owner James Gaffney decided that the old grounds were no longer suitable for World Champions. He bought the western-most portion of the Allston Golf Club and built Braves Field in time to open the 1915 season.
Gaffney devised an innovative system to expedite the movement of fans following games. With the cooperation of the Boston Elevated Railway System (now “the T”), a closed loop trolley system was designed that allowed trolley cars to depart the main Commonwealth Avenue line, turn onto Babcock Street, and enter a holding pen capable of storing 20 trolleys at a time within the stadium property behind the right field bleachers. After the game passengers could board those cars, which would then proceed up Gaffney Street (now Harry Agganis Way) and reconnect to the Commonwealth Avenue line.
This was a team you could fall in love with. When they originally relocated to Allston in 1915, they brought the infield grass from the South End Grounds with them and transplanted it on Braves Field.
After Lou Perini and his partners (dubbed “The Three Little Steam Shovels” by local reporters) bought the Braves in 1945, they began to make important changes to the ballpark. The lights were installed in 1946 and soon afterwards Perini constructed skyboxes on the grandstand roof. To eliminate the need for long treks to the concession stands in the lower concourse level, ushers and pages were employed to fill customer food and beverage orders. Although these skybox seats were not like today’s luxury boxes, they were quite innovative for their time.
Despite these and other improvements, the team had its ups and downs due to inconsistent on-field performance, robust competition from the Red Sox, and uncomfortable fan experience from adjacent railroad yard smoke.
By 1952 Perini realized that it was financially impossible to continue to field a team in Boston. He bought out his partners and decided to move the team to Milwaukee where the Braves already owned a Triple-A farm team (the Milwaukee Brewers) and where the city had built the city/county-funded County Stadium, hoping to attract a major league team.
Finally, after years of declining attendance, the last game at Braves Field was played on September 21, 1952, before only 8,822 fans.
Boston baseball fans often speculate: could two major league baseball teams have survived in one city? In 1952, the last year of the Braves in Boston, the immediate answer was clear: the Braves averaged 3,677 fans per game, while the Sox averaged 14,490.
Here’s a relatively little-known fact about a well-known Boston sports personality: Billy Sullivan, later the owner of the Boston/New England Patriots was the Public Relations Director for the Braves from 1946 to 1953, and it was in 1948 that he was instrumental, with the support of Perini, in establishing the Jimmy Fund at Children’s Hospital, and when the team moved to Milwaukee after the 1952 season, he and Perini were influential in having Tom Yawkey and the Red Sox adopt the Fund as their principal charity. Both the Red Sox and the Perini family remain steadfastly committed to the Jimmy Fund and to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Boston University bought the property in 1952 and converted it to Boston University Park and in 1963 renamed it Nickerson Field.
Note: For those interested in additional Boston Braves and Braves Field lore, there is a very active Boston Braves Historical Association here in the area that can be researched online. Also check out the Society for American Baseball Research.
Brighton High School Football Team: 1900
The BHS squad achieved success quickly. As the school publication “The Imp” reported in its January 1899 edition: “This fall (1898) a football eleven was formed but was not very successful as there were not enough fellows who could come out for the team.”
A mere two years later, the team was defeated only once, playing a ten-game schedule against strong local high school teams: Brookline, West Roxbury, Boston Latin, Everett, Chelsea, Medford, Salem, Mechanic Arts, Volkmann School, plus the MIT Freshman team. In those days college Freshmen competed as a Junior Varsity team and often played high school teams to round out their schedule.
Head of the Charles Regatta
We are fortunate in Brighton to welcome the world’s premiere rowing event: the Head of the Charles Regatta. On our October calendar page we featured the Regatta course map, which reveals the various twists and turns of this three-mile course as it winds on the Charles River through Boston, Cambridge, Allston and Brighton.
Founded in 1965, the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) is the largest and most prestigious regatta in the world, with 11,000 athletes, 2,000 boats, and 64 events. According to the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the three-day event brings up to 300,000 people to the Greater Boston area and $72 million to the local economy.
Held during the third weekend in October, the field includes competitors from colleges, high schools, and rowing clubs from around the world. The three-mile course begins at the BU’s DeWolfe Boathouse near the Charles River Basin and ends at Artesani Park on Soldiers Field Road. With its six multi-arched bridges and various twists and turns, it is one of the toughest courses in the world.
Harvard Stadium and the Charles River
Harvard Stadium cannot be ignored in any discussion of sport and recreation in Allston and Brighton. Built in 1903, it is perhaps the most frequently photographed football stadium in America and is the nation's oldest permanent concrete structure dedicated to intercollegiate athletics.
The stadium was constructed in Allston on 31 acres of land known as Soldiers Field, donated to Harvard University by Henry Lee Higginson in 1890 as a memorial to Harvard men who had died in the Civil War (1861–1865).
It was a pioneering example of reinforced concrete in the construction of large structures. Because of its early importance in these areas, and its influence on the design of later stadiums, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987
Although thought of as principally a football stadium, it has also been the venue for track and field events and even ice hockey, when in 1904, Harvard built two rinks inside the stadium for its hockey team. The hockey team played its home games in this outdoor space for several years before moving to the Boston Arena (now Matthew’s Arena at Northeastern University).
The stadium has also held numerous non-Harvard events over the years, being the venue for Olympic track and field trials, professional lacrosse, Olympic soccer, and women’s professional soccer. In 1970 it was the home field of the Boston Patriots.
Other recreation events have been held at the stadium. Following the November 1969 concert by Joan Baez, Boston’s 1970 “Summerthing” hosted Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Ray Charles, the Supremes, Van Morrison, Ike and Tina Turner, B.B. King, The Four Seasons, Miles Davis, John Sebastian, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Mathis, Tom Rush, and others.
The nearby Charles River is home to the Head of the Charles Regatta, and is also the site of high school, college, and club crew meets, as well as the locale for rowers, kayakers, boating and fishing enthusiasts.
Skating on Chandler Pond
One of the most popular photographs in the 2022 calendar is a scene of skaters on Chandler Pond, where many readers recall youthful hours spent enjoying open skating and ad hoc hockey games. This man-made pond dates from 1855 and was excavated for ice-making purposes by local horticulturist and entrepreneur William C. Strong; it has an average depth of six feet.
The calendar photo shows the pond abutting the rear of the houses on Lake Street, as the present Lake Shore Road was not built up at the time of the photo. The pond abuts Kenrick Street to the north.
A highlight of skating on Chandler Pond is that skaters can enjoy the grandeur of St. John Seminary and chapel on the opposite side of Lake Street. Dating back to 1884 and designed in the Norman Chateau style by South Boston architect John H. Besarick, the main building was modeled on the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris.
The separate Romanesque Revival chapel was designed by Maginnis, Walsh and Sullivan and reportedly in use as early as 1899. The firm designed numerous churches and Catholic institutions in the Boston area, including (in Brighton) the Cenacle Convent and Chapel (1912-1922) now the EF Language School on Lake Street, Our Lady of the Presentation Church (1913-1921), and St. Gabriel's Monastery Chapel (1929).
Braves Field: 1916 World Series
Parking near Braves Field was tight on game days. The above photo shows a nearby parking lot, jammed with vintage cars for the 1916 World Series game between Boston Red Sox and the Brooklyn Robins (later the Brooklyn Dodgers).
Braves Field, with seating for 40,000, was the largest stadium built in that era. To take advantage of its greater seating capacity compared to Fenway Park, the 1915 and 1916 Boston Red Sox played their World Series home games there; in 1915 against the Philadelphia Phillies and in 1916 against the Brooklyn Robins. Attendance at the final game against Brooklyn was 43,620; Fenway would have held 38,600 at that time, including standing room.
Additional Allston and Brighton Sports Information
The following is information that due to space limitations could not be included in the 2022 Calendar but is important to include here.