Report from the Field: 2010 Repeat

Recycling this bulletin from 2010 when I regularly walked around Lowell. My habit was to walk and then write about what I’d seen for the Howe blog. This area is close to where I lived for 24 years, Highland St near the Rogers School. I was acquainted with Peter Danas and knew he wrote poems about the city. In eleven years, this section of Lowell has changed in a big way, from the residences at the old Comfort Furniture/Hood patent medicine complex to “The Big Fill” at what was Lord Overpass to the massive Judicial Center, and a lot in between and some continuing challenges in the neighborhood. Nothing profound here, just assorted views that stuck with me. I’ve got a few more that I’ll re-run this month.–PM

Two Hearts Cafe, Badfinger, & Raspberry Lime Rickeys

I hiked in the immediate neighborhood this afternoon, from the JAM district (Jackson-Appleton-Middlesex streets) to the edge of Back Central and back to the South Common Historic District. I’d been meaning to go to the Brazilian “bakery & eatery” on Appleton Street in the former New York Nails shop across from Store 24. The miniature brick building houses Two Hearts Cafe, which offers cakes, coffee, catering, specialty Brazilian pastries, and breads. I’m going back tomorrow morning to pick up a few fresh items to take to a breakfast with friends. Everything looks good. The place is open long hours—weekdays as early as 5:30 am.

My next stop was Garnick’s Music emporium at 54 Middlesex Street, an institution for its longevity. Owner Bob Garnick has watched the music industry rocket to the moon in the ‘60s, fall to Earth with the coming of the Internet, and now transform itself so that he is selling more albums on the ‘net these days than product out of the store. He says the young customers want the original vinyl recordings of The Beatles, Dylan, Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix, and other classic artists. The store today has bins and bins of compact discs (new and used) and albums of hundreds of artists. The place is like an archive of musical history. Thanks to Bob’s heavy ordering hand back in the day, he has a massive inventory of just what new consumers and collector-types want. Someone said if you stay in one place long enough the whole world comes to you.

I’ve been humming the 1970 hit “No Matter What” ever since Marc Cohn played his version at Boarding House Park downtown a few weeks ago. I asked Bob what he had in stock for Badfinger CDs. In a minute he had in his hand two from the “new” section: “No Dice” (1970), which includes “No Matter What,”  and “Straight Up” (1972), with the now golden oldies “Baby Blue” and “Day After Day.” George Harrison discovered Badfinger for Apple Records and produced several tracks on “Straight Up,” including “Day After Day,” on which he plays slide guitar. I would’ve preferred a “best of”  collection that included Badfinger’s other giant hit, “Come and Get It,” but Bob made me a nice offer for the two CDs, plus today is a sales-tax-free day.


View of Danas’s Luncheonette by Janet Lambert-Moore, date unknown.

At Danas’s Luncheonette at 62 Gorham Street at the corner where Central, Gorham, Appleton, and Church streets converge, Peter Danas recently completed repairs to the front of the store caved in by a crashing car. I hadn’t seen Peter for a while and don’t stop in often enough, so I was glad to find the door still open after 5 p.m. He was wrapping up, but insisted that I have one of the famous raspberry lime rickey drinks whose mixture he has perfected over the years. I was refreshed. Peter’s a writer, too. His poem about St. Peter Church, which stood up the street before being closed and then demolished by the bishop, is printed on a large poster on the back wall. Danas Fruit and Confectionery—the full name—sells sandwiches, homemade candies, and old-fashioned ice cream counter specials.

Web photo courtesy of Weinberg’

Peter’s famous for the abundant fruit baskets that the family assembles and ships around the country. Piles of green apples, bananas, oranges, pears, with cookies, crackers, and cheese stuck in between. The building drips character, which was not missed by location scouts for the film School Ties in 1992. Scenes were shot in the store and the alley on the side with a cast of emerging stars: Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris O’Donnell, and others. Familiar locals made it to the final cut as extras, who glided over a red carpet for the hometown opening.

—Paul Marion, August 2010

5 Responses to Report from the Field: 2010 Repeat

  1. Brian says:

    The Danas building now has a red X on it. Demolition by neglect not too far off. Such a shame we’ve let auto dominance destroy Gorham, Dutton, and Bridge St(downtown).

    Kinda strange we don’t hear more about the former South End neighborhood that was destroyed to build Bishop Markham Village. Towers Corner hasn’t been the same since.

    In 1972 Peter Danas and community members, having lived trough the destruction of the South End by urban renewal, were able stop Paul Tsongas and others from destroying 264 dwelling units, churches, and shops for the Lowell Connector extension route through Back Central.

    21 year old councilor Gail Dunfey was the deciding vote to save the Back Central neighborhood from more car infrastructure.

  2. Charles Gargiulo says:

    Great piece Paul. In addition to the powerful story and role of Gail Dunfey, I want to give a shout out for the old “Lowell Connector” newspaper that grew out of that displacement struggle and led many other progressive campaigns like rent control. The people who published the Lowell Connector did some amazing community organizing work. I was in the Army during the height of the Lowell Connector’s heyday, but I always admired following their grassroots organizing efforts from afar and hope that there is a good archive of their work and that the committed activists who worked so hard for the community will be remembered.

  3. PaulM says:

    Charlie: I’m pretty sure the newspaper you are thinking about is The Communicator. The Connector was the UMass Lowell student paper on campus. Copies of The Communicator are preserved at the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History.

  4. Charles Gargiulo says:

    Thanks Paul. You are absolutely correct about the brain fart. Glad to hear the COMMUNICATOR is appropriately preserved historically.