594-600 Central Streett
Built in 1890, the building standing in 2008 on the corner of Central St. and Ames St. in Back Central is currently numbered 594, 596, 598 and 600 Central Street and 5 and 7 Ames Street. Passing through numerous business occupancies, and hundreds of tenants, the block fully reflects the demographic changes that took place over the last one hundred years in the Back Central neighborhood.
The complexity of the addresses requires a short explanation. According to an 1892 Lowell map the Central Street addresses 594-600 were all the same building and either 1, 3 or 5 Ames Street were considered the same address as well. On 1906 maps, 594 and 600 Central appear as different buildings. This most likely reflects construction projects that located and relocated entryways into the block and divisions of the ground floor space into different storefronts.
What went on in the space offers a fascinating story of neighborhood change over time. It is difficult to say with 100 percent certainty who built the original structure but it is a fairly safe bet that James McCarthy was involved. According to a 1981 neighborhood analysis, “[McCarthy] erected several apartment buildings between Ames and Mill Streets.” Furthermore, an early 20th century atlas listed Irishman James J. McCarthy as the building’s owner. In 1924, the ownership had transferred to another Irishman, J. J. Sheehan. Neither lived in Lowell at the time. The site was remodeled between 1952 and 1958 into a 3-story wood frame, brick-lined building with street-level stores at 594 and 600 Central Street.
In the 1890s larger buildings—more stories and with lots of small apartments—were being constructed in Lowell than were previously built, and on smaller parcels of land. The crowding of what were identifiable as immigrant and working class neighborhoods resulted. The neighborhood contained several 3-story tenements, two-story apartments with stores at street level, and a few one-story buildings, which were usually stores or shops with small apartments located in the back.
The building on the corner of Central and Ames streets continued as a mixed-use structure in the 1920s. The Rose E. Masterson variety store occupied the space at 594 Central Street from 1909 to 1921. Masterson emigrated at the age of fifteen from Ireland with her twenty-two year old sister, Katie, in 1894. The sisters were inseparable and immediately went to work in the mills, rooming together. Even after Katie married in 1899, Rose lived with her and her husband, John McLaughlin (an Irish immigrant who worked as a machinist). They all moved to 1433 Gorham St. in 1917. Rose opened a grocery store on Gorham in 1921, only five blocks from home instead of a mile and a half to 594 Central, ran both stores for one year, and then sold the 594 Central Street store. The grocery store soon turned into a confectionary store and by 1932 Rose was again running a variety store. Rose retired after 1935 and continued to live with her widowed sister as she had done her entire life.
Upon her death on January 5, 1944, Masterson’s obituary in the Lowell Sun described her as “a widely known resident of this city.” It listed her residence with her sisters Kathleen McLaughlin and Delia Masterson at the Gorham Street address mentioned above. The most interesting aspect of the notice is that she received her own, page-top headline. For a woman, even in the 1940s, that was an accomplishment.
Quite a few other Irish immigrants also lived there in 1920. Widow Anne Mulligan (nee Manning) occupied a second floor apartment with four children and sister. Patrick McGagh, a machinist for Saco-Lowell Shops, one of the largest machine shops in town, lived on the third floor with wife Celia and three children. The Census lists another Irish-born couple there named John and Katherine Hines but the City Directory that year reports a Charles Hines and wife Margaret living there; Charles is reported working at the United States Cartridge Company, one of Lowell’s major employers at the time. In previous years, Ireland-born fireman Thomas Foy and his wife Margaret also lived there.
Three Portuguese families made their homes at 598 Central Street in 1920. Manuel Lawrence lived on the second floor with his wife Rosa, a textile operator, and probably at least one child. Both Lawrences (possibly Lorenzo, originally) were born in Portugal. They are first seen in Lowell in 1914 at the birth of a son, John and they had lived at 598 Central since 1917. Confusingly, another Manuel Lawrence, this one with wife Maria (nee Alves), also lived there from 1918-1920. These two had been born in the Azores and had been in Lowell since at least 1907. John Fernandes was a laborer born in Portugal, as was his young son Joseph; they were joined in 1921 by John’s wife Augusta. In 1917, another Portuguese family had lived there, Manuel and Julia Gonsalves.
The change in residents or neighborhood turnover appears to be high. At at 598 Central Street, three families from 1917 were gone by 1919 and only the Mulligans and Lawrences lived there in both 1919 and 1920.
The neighborhood continued changing in the 1930s and 1940s. in 1922 Rose Masterson sold her variety store to Michael Narzakian who ran it that way for a while but converted to a fruit and vegetable store by 1930. Narzakian, born in Armenia, came to the U.S. just before the First World War and lived at 598 Central Street in 1930 with his Armenia-born wife Lucy and U.S. born children Rose and Harry. When Michael retired, Harry took over the business at 598 Central and by 1970 had converted it back to a variety store once again. Also living there in 1930 (until 1945) were Armenian-born Marderos Krikorian, his wife Thelma, and their children Kaisior and Michael. Marderos first appears working as a barber in Worcester in 1917 and continued barbering in Lowell until at least 1964, with some time out to run a variety store. Also in 1930 a Portuguese family, Manuel Freitas, wife Maria, and three sons lived in the building. The parents had married in 1899 in Portugal, had their children there, and immigrated in 1920. Manuel was a laborer in a cotton mill but son Manuel Jr. ran his own barber shop with one brother apprenticing there. Manuel Jr. continued in the trade until at least 1945. Another family at the 598 Central Street in 1930 was the Voreks. John J. Vorek was born in 1892 in Poland, immigrated in 1901, and worked in a bakery. He married Mary A. Ryan, U.S.-born daughter of an Irishman; their twin seven-year old daughters lived with them.
The store on the corner, 600 Central Street, had Yean Wong’s Laundry from 1916 to 1917 and then remained vacant until John T. Connor opened a grocery store in 1922. Connor (second-generation Irish) in 1920 had described himself in the 1920 Census in Brookline, Massachusetts as an “Investor in Stocks and Bonds,” meaning he was already rich. His money came from a large chain of stores around Boston; he’d had a small presence in Lowell from 1909. Opening the store at 600 Central in 1922 gave him ten stores in Lowell and by 1925 they grew to thirteen. That year, he merged with two other huge chains in New England to form the First National grocery store chain, starting at 1644 locations. The chain spread nationally and was enormously successful for a long time and continued until the name was phased out around 2000 after being bought out by a Dutch corporation. For a brief period around 1960, the location was occupied by the Seventh-Day Adventist Thrift Shop.
The neighborhood went through another transition starting in the 1950s and by 1970 the businesses and residents on the block offered another glimpse into Lowell’s immigrant story. At 598 Central Street in 1970, Januario Silva worked at Gilet Wool Scouring in North Chelmsford with his wife Alcinda. Anotonio C. Silva also lived in the building with his wife Odette and worked at Malden Mills in Lawrence. Silva is a common Portuguese name. Oswaldo Zambom also lived there with his wife Zaida and was an employee of Luigi’s Pizza. The Pouliot family, Charles, Louise and two children, had moved to 598 Central by 1956 and was still there in 1970. Charles was the son of Walter Pouliot, a French-Canadian carpenter who immigrated with his family at the age of two years, making him practically second generation. Charles died sometime before 1970. Louise, nee Stefan, was born of Polish immigrants. Daughter June worked as a packer in the Commodore Foods plant and son Stanley worked for Merrimack Travel. During this period Narzakian’s fruit store at 594 Central Street changed to Mike’s Variety and finally to Harry’s Variety Store, operated by Harry Narzakian, who now lived at 190 Perry St.
In 2000, Suvan Thach and Phuong Thach lived in 598 Central Street. Suvan, defined as a worker in one survey, lived in the house for at least nine years. While the Thach’s ethnicity cannot be determined with complete confidence, Thach is a common Cambodian name and representative of Southeast Asian immigration to Lowell. The influence of Lowell’s multiple smaller migrations during the 1980s and 1990s failed to change the large-scale demographics in Back Central. Since increased Portuguese migration began in the 1950s, the neighborhood remains significantly Portuguese. Recent Brazilian immigration is creating lasting change, although the Portuguese-speaking culture remains. For example, Ames Street and Central Street in 1990 housed the Pacheco, Espinola, Diaz, Neves, DeSousa, Desilva, Labao, Oliveira and Mendonca families near 598 Central Street. At that time, only one Polish surname, Trzcienski, and one Southeast Asian surname, Phanthanousing, appeared on street lists. By 2000, the neighborhood experienced little change. On Ames Street and Central Street lived the Pacheco, Espinola, Silva, Ayala, Dias, Somoes, Santos, and Silva families. Just two Southeast Asian households appeared to live in the neighborhood in 2000.
As could be expected, the business space at 594 Central changed over time. In 2005, owner Jorge Gomes replaced an existing furniture store with a short-lived hair salon, before new owner, Antonio Fontes, opened up a convenience store. In 2008, a hair and nail salon at 594 Central relocated closer to Lowell’s central business district, leaving the space vacant.
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