CSN Hears from Alison Barnet; Discusses Mass Ave Coalition Festival in Chester Park

Chester Square Neighbors (CSN) met virtually on March 2, where members and residents had a talk with South End resident and author Alison Barnet about some history on Massachusetts Ave., as well as talked about the Mass Ave. Coalition Festival planned for Chester Park in September.

Alison Barnet Presentation

Alison Barnet has lived in the South End since 1964, when she came to the city to attend Boston University. She provided some historical information about the Mass. Ave. area of the neighborhood, saying that “I care more about people than architecture.”

Much of what she spoke about came out of her 2019 book Once Upon a Neighborhood: A Timeline and Anecdotal History of the South End of Boston.

She talked about several buildings in the area, including 397 Mass. Ave., where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived. She said he also lived at 170 St. Botolph St., but when he and Coretta Scott  got married, they lived at 396 Northampton St. “until King left to take a post in Alabama.”

At 409 Mass. Ave. was Chicken Lane restaurant, which was the second location for owner Syvalia Hyman. Hyman’s son Val washed dishes at the restaurant on W. Newton St, she said.

Barnet said that Hyman was “always very kind, respectful, and considerate of Muslims, allowing them to congregate at his restaurant.”

At 428 and then 427 Mass Ave. was Wally’s Paradise, which Barnet said had a difficult time getting a liquor license, but was able to do so with the help of Mayor James Michael Curley.

“Wally’s Paradise became Wally’s Cafe, moving across the street to 427 in 1979,” Barnet said. The establishment has been closed, “which is really too bad,” she said, adding that there are plans to open it again.

She also mentioned that in 1958, the NAACP bought 451 Mass Ave. Barnet showed a number of old photos to go along with her remarks as well.

Barnet’s books can be purchased at Gifted on Dartmouth St. and at Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, or right from her.

Mass Ave Coalition Festival in Chester Park

The Mass Ave. Coalition is planning a festival in Chester Park for Sunday, September 18, though a time has not been selected yet, according to Bob Barney of the Claremont Neighborhood Association.

The CSN discussed different ideas for the festival at their March meeting, including having sensory activities for children as well as interactive exhibits on things like history or tree equity.

CSN president Carol Blair suggested a popcorn machine as one of the food options, and also spoke about a presentation the CSN heard in Jan. from Northeastern students about data they have collected on the neighborhood. She said that some historical information could potentially be placed on the fence in the park.

“There will be a festival,” Blair said, and “the things people find fun and easy will happen,” while “the things people do not find fun or easy won’t happen.”

She also said that the group is looking for volunteers to help out with the festival as well.

“It might be kind of fun to have a mini tour,” Bob Barney said. “People who attend the festival might get a sense of key people on Mass. Ave. That could be pretty easy to do.” There were also suggestions to have Northeastern students who are studying history to lead it, or other youth leaders who are aware of the history of the area.           

Another suggestion included seeing if the South End Historical Society would be willing to “open their doors” and show historical films about the neighborhood.

South End resident Steve Jerome said that he believes Alison Barnet “would be a wonderful resource to have in the festival. I would be very happy to help with the posting the history part of it, but also looking at the fabric of the neighborhood since it was first conceived in the 19th century.”

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