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Foster Street History

Essentially, Upper Foster Street is an area of small residential subdivisions bordering both sides of Foster Street, a north-south artery that dates back to the late 18th century. Set out over rocky upland pastures, these subdivisions were built in response to transportation improvements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the construction of Commonwealth Avenue in the early 1890s and the introduction of the electric trolley over this avenue in 1909. Above all, the wide spread ownership of automobiles by the 1920s and 30s made the development of this area economically viable.

Foster Street was named in honor of John Foster, Little Cambridge's (Allston -Brighton's) first permanent minister. In 1784, at the tender age of 21 years of age, John Foster, D.D. commenced his pastorate at the Congregational Meeting House then located at the Market and Washington streets intersection. A recent graduate of Dartmouth, the Reverend Foster was "learned, kindly, a prolific author of religious tracts, Harvard College Trustee, gentleman and aristocrat who married a remarkable woman, Hannah Foster. She was the daughter of wealthy Boston merchant, Grant Webster, and was an accomplished writer. Her novelization of the shocking seduction of a female relative of her husband's was the most popular literary work in New England during the early 19th century entitled The Coquette or the History of Eliza Wharton. Mrs. Foster's book had appeared in some thirty editions by 1840.

Initially, the Fosters lived in the old church parsonage on Academy Hill Road, later building an elaborate house on Foster Street, then known as Dr. Foster's Lane. Built on ample terraced, grounds mid-way between Washington and South streets (outside of the Upper Foster area to the north), the Foster residence was described as "a very large square house which faced to the south, to the front porch of which was added an ell used as a library and a reception room." The Foster estate was described as "just the place for a minister to write his sermon and his wife to write a novel".

The Fosters were a catalyzing force in establishing the southwestern corner of Brighton as the community's spiritual center. By the early 1880s, the south western corner of Brighton, with the development of the St. John's Seminary campus, was well on its way to becoming an area of Roman Catholic institutions, earning Brighton the distinction of being called "Boston's little Rome".

Foster St at Comm Ave 1896

During the mid 19th century, the southern portion of Foster Street was bordered by several large farms and estates belonging to the Osborn, Simmons, Munroe, Lane and Brown families. The oldest house in the area is the Lane-O'Neill House. House at 249 Foster Street which stands at the northwest corner of Foster Street and Lane Park. Built c. 1860 for John. S.W. Lane, this Italianate house presided over a 196,730 square foot farm. The James A. Munroe farm dwarfed the Lane House, encompassing 1,067,898 square feet. From the 1880s until the early 1880s, this house was owned by Lane's widow, Ellen J. Lane. By 1925, a Mrs. Mary O'Neil, "widow of Michael" owned this house. In 1924, the Lane -O'Neil house was moved and turned one hundred and eighty degrees to the southeast. Originally facing directly on to Foster Street it was moved and realigned to accommodate a 25-lot suburban tract development called Lane Park. Lane Park encompasses a circular road with houses ranged along its path as well as on a circular 'island" at the center of this sub division.

In 1925, there were only four houses in the Lane Park sub division. In the beginning, this area's homeowners were primarily Irish and included: A.M. Ahearn at 257 Foster Street, H.F. Nelson, chauffeur, at 14 Lane Park, J.F. Murray, clerk at 26 Lane Park and J. and G. Hurley, an inspector and insurance agent, respectively at 34 Lane Park. By 1930, Lane Park was completely built up with 33 tract houses; the majority of these houses seem to have been built to accommodate 2-families. Although still a predominantly Irish enclave, by the early 1930s, this development also had a sizable number of Jewish heads of house holds, In 1930, 10 of Lane Park's homeowners were Jewish, 18 were Irish Catholic and 5 represented others of various national backgrounds. Occupations included a fireman, policeman, jewelry manufacturer, public school vocational instructor, "jobber", salesman, chauffeur, and agents dealing in real estate and insurance. Listed at this address in 1930 were: Ralph L. Donnelly, treasurer. The Boston Morris Plan Co. (Counsel Loan Brokers) at 6, Frank L. Braley, "Raybestos Service, 26 Brighton Ave. at 8, Joseph Mazer, meats, and Thomas H. O'Neil, shoes at 11 Lane Park. Riley G. Crosby, "builder, Miami, FLA." And the development's one Swedish-American, Hjalmer F. Nelson, chauffeur, are listed at 14 Lane Park. Nelson, moved to Lane Park from 1 Textoth Street in Brookline. Building Permits reveal that Carl Olson and Frederick H. Gowing were the builder and architect of 14 Lane Park, respectively. Presumably, Olson and Gowing were responsible for all of the buildings of this development. Jewish households stood side by side at 15, 17 and 18 Lane Park with their respective owners including: Morris A. Levine, M.A. Levine & Co., Harry Goldman, jobber, and Harry S. Benjamin, Benjamin Brothers, druggists, 792 Tremont Street. Listed at 22, 23, 25, and 26 in 1930 were, respectively: John H. Ratigan, "supt. 30 Hawkins", Wilber M. Lockhart, lieut., United States Navy, and Mrs. Mary J. Graham. Other Lane Park residents included: Mrs. Virginia Lyons and John M. Murray, clerk, at 26, Jeremiah H. Driscoll, plasterer, at 29, Mrs. Anna Collins and William L. McGuire, insurance adjuster, 151 Milk Street, at 32, James F. Hurley, inspector, 607 City Hall Annex and Francis Mahoney, insurance agent, at 33 Broad Street at 34. Boston Police Department employees included John J. Miller, constable and James A. Sweeney, "police Div. 16", resided at 35 and 36 Lane Park, respectively.

Also living at Lane Park in the early 1930s were: Harry F. Gavagan, sales manager, at 37, James Condos, Reservoir Provision Co., 1955 Beacon Street and George Vallas, Reservoir Shoe Repair, 1971 Beacon Street at 39, Benjamin Barrett, designer, 95 Newbury Street, and Peter M. Meterman, salesman at 41, Samuel Aronson, salesman, and Henry Ehrlick (Ehrlick and Shaffer, jewelry manufacturers at 45, Francis J. Murphy, vocational instructor, public schools at 47, William Ladas (Ladas Brothers, 109 Chiswick Road and Cleveland Lunch, 541 Dudley Street, Roxbury) at 49, Thomas R. Mc Conologogue, "Fire Engine 29, Brighton" at 54, Allen E. Stein at 56 and Charles Grandison, real estate, and Henry L. Hurwitz, "New England rep" at 60 Lane Park.

Before continuing with a description of Upper Foster Street's 1920s and 1930s suburban developments, it should be noted that two Queen Anne/Colonial Revival houses were built on the east side of Foster Street, between Kirkwood and Radnor roads during the 1890s. 278 Foster Street was built c. 1895-1898 on land that had been owned by the Jonathan Zoller, Samuel S. Learned and Rebecca Brown families during the late 19th century. The Brown farmhouse stood at the northeast corner of Foster and South Streets (later absorbed into Commonwealth Avenue) until it was demolished during the 1910s to accommodate an apartment building group at 2005-2025 Commonwealth Avenue. A structure is shown on 280 Foster Street's house lot by 1899 but its "foot print" suggests hat it was about half the size of the present house. By 1909, this house is shown with its current configuration. In 1899, Kirkwood Road, on the north side of the house is shown as a proposed, unnamed cul-de-sac. Originally owned by Rebecca Brown's heirs, this house was owned by Fred W. Mahoney (occupation unlisted) during the 1920s and 1930s. 284 Foster Street, next door to the south, is a stylish and fairly substantial amalgam of the Queen Anne, Shingle and Colonial Revival styles. It was built in 1898 by Dudley Street, Roxbury-based builder Neil McKinnon for a Miss Elizabeth G. Shephard. The 1899 Brighton Atlas shows a proposed house on the south side of this house that would be called Radnor Road by the 1920s. Mary L. A. Shephard lived during the early 1900s and 1910s. By 1925, Francois A. Cellar, importer, owned this property. Real estate agent Nelson Russell lived here during the 1930s, perhaps to be close to the recently completed suburban tract house developments at Lane Park, Rose Garden Circle and vicinity.

A more extensive residential development was carved from the Rebecca Brown estate during the mid -1920s. Rose Garden Circle is a cul-de-sac on the east side of Foster Street lined with five 2-family residences. It consists of a short way leading to a rotary with a small, landscaped, circular "island". Colonial Revival/Craftsman style houses constructed in 1928 include 15-17 Rose Garden Circle. Sheehy and 0' Connor originally owned and built this duplex. Rose Garden Circle was carved from a tract of land owned by Rebecca Brown's heirs. The Brown farmhouse stood at the northeastern corner of Foster and Commonwealth Avenue. By 1925, Rose Garden Circle and its eight house lots are shown as a proposed residential development owned by Thomas H. Connolly. In 1930, Rose Garden Circle's residents were of Irish and Jewish backgrounds, including: John B. Penn, dentist, at 9, Daniel P. Maclean, clerk, at 11, John Johnson, at 12, Edward A. Ford, compositor, at 14,Frank Shulman, "coats and dresses, 75 Kneeland Street at 15, Herman H. Gilman, Majestic Dress Co., also at 75 Kneeland, at 16, Mrs. Mary A. Burke, widow of Walter Burke at 17, Thomas Sheridan, taxi cab driver, at 18, Aaron B. Barron, clothing manufacturer, at 20, and James F. Farrell, salesman and Harry Mintz at 21.

The section of this area containing Greycliff and Gerald Roads was the southern part of the Jessie Osborn (1870s) and James A. Munroe farms (c. 1880-1920), bordering South Street, later Commonwealth Avenue. By 1925, this section had been subdivided into 40 lots bounded by the western and northern segments of Greycliff, Foster Street and Commonwealth Avenue. Owned by Brighton real estate developer and Henry J. Fitzgerald, the western "leg" of Greycliff Road was originally called Seminary Road while the northern one is labeled Gillard Road on the 1925 Brighton Atlas. Gerald Road evidently refers to Henry J. Fitzgerald who seems to have built most of the houses in this section. Unlike Rose Garden Circle and Kirkwood/Radnor roads, this development eschews irregular meandering drives rooted in the 1840s romantic suburban planning precepts advocated by landscape architect and design critic Andrew Jackson Downing in favor of a more traditional, modified grid pattern. Most of Greycliff Road's single-family residences were built between 1927 and 1940. Both 15 and 21 Greycliff Road were built in 1927 by Henry J. Fitzgerald. The 2-family house at 25 Greycliff Road was built in 1939 from designs provided by Newtonville, MA architect Albert M. Kreider for William J. Weist. Probably representing the work of Fitzgerald, the c. early 1930 Colonial Revival houses at 48, 52 and 56 Greycliff Road were owned in 1940 by Boston lawyer David M. Gordon, Samuel Cohen and John J. O'Connor, commission broker, respectively.

Set out during the late 1890s as short cul-de-sacs off the east side of Foster Street, The Kirkwood and Radnor roads "loop" assumed its present configuration between 1925-1930. The brick, stucco and wooden Colonial Revival, Craftsman and Tudor style houses lining these winding ways date from the mid 1920s to early 1940s. During the late 19th century, this development's land was owned by Sarah E. Waugh, Samuel S. Learned and Jonathan Zoller Sarah E. Waugh, an "assistant teacher" at Brighton High School was by far the largest landowner in this area. In 1885, her house (demolished) at the intersection of South Street's and Chestnut Hill Avenue presided over 304,920 square feet which sloped westward almost to Foster Street. Emma L. French and Thomas P. Pike owned most of the Waugh property during the early 1900s and 1910s. The beginnings of this subdivision are evident in the 16 lots lining Kirkwood and Radnor depicted in the 1925 Brighton Atlas owned by Mary I. Gardiner and J. Scott McLearn. Allston architect and builder McLearn designed several of Kirkwood Road's earliest houses including the 1925 30 Kirkwood Road. This stucco parged Colonial Revival/Craftsman house 's original owner was the Puritan Real Estate Trust. In 1930 it was the residence of Robert B. Nathanson, Secretary and Treasurer of the Daniels Nathanson Co. Dry Goods, 77 Bedford Street, Boston and Joseph Swartz, salesman. 44-46 Kirkwood Road was built during the second wave of house construction in this area between 1935-1940. In 1940, this Tudoresque stucco and brick house was owned by Jacob M. Levenson, clerk, Suffolk County Registry of Deeds. The red brick residence with characteristics of the Georgian and Colonial Revival styles at 58-62 Kirkwood Road was built in 1925-1930. Providing evidence of this subdivision's Irish and Jewish ethnic composition are Jacob I. Aronson, treasurer of a clothing manufacturing company and John F. Buckley, manager at 58, William A. Sturgis, "special agent" at 62, James R. Fitzpatrick, salesman at 62.

The compact, red brick Colonial Revival houses at 22, 26 and 30 Radnor Road were built in 1939 from designs provided by John J. Mahoney, 6 Beacon Street, Boston. 26 Radnor Road was built by and for contractor Paul Livoli. In 1940, Arthur Kaufman, restaurant employee lived at 22, Max Steinberg, cattle dealer, is listed at 26 and Harry Morris, buyer resided at 30 Radnor Road.


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