Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Curtis Hall Rebuilt - Problem Solved

Curtis Hall, 2007

Last month, I posted an article from 1901 describing community complaints regarding dances and parties held at Curtis Hall. The auditorium in the building was being rented out at relatively low cost, resulting in almost nightly use by groups as far away as Roxbury and the South end. An assault on a streetcar conductor brought things to a head, and neighbors of the building wrote a letter to the Mayor demanding an end to the practice.

A few years later, a fire broke out above the hall where the dances were held, and the building had to be closed and rebuilt. The new building - surprise - was rebuilt with no hall in it, and the problem was eliminated. Hmmm... is anyone else suspicious? A problem building, no help from the city, and a fire, in that order. I can't help but speculate that maybe someone took things into his own hands. Coincidence is always a possibility, but....

On another topic: in my younger years, I spent many afternoons swimming at the "tank" in Curtis Hall. When I've told friends in recent years that we boys were required to swim in the nude, the reaction has been stunned disbelief. Apparently, times have changed so much that such a thing is now unbelievable.

Boston Daily Globe October 2, 1911

Will Have Modern Municipal Building.

Residents of Jamaica Plain Expect to Occupy Remodelled Structure This Week.

Residents of Jamaica Plain are eagerly looking forward to the opening to the new Municipal Building on South st, near Soldier's Monument, which, according to the Public Buildings Department, is likely to take place late this week. Some minor things remain to be finished inside the structure and the building is yet to be accepted by the city, but these matters are expected to require but a few days more.

The building, which for many years was known as Curtis Hall and which was partly burned about three years ago, has undergone a great transformation in the last year, during which time it has been under reconstruction. The work has been carried on under the direction of architect Lewis H. Bacon of Boston.

A feature which hundreds of man and boys of the district have been eagerly awaiting is the swimming tank in the basement. It was filled with water about a fortnight ago and was found to be all right. The tank is 75 feet long, 24 feet wide and varies in depth from three to seven feet.

The first floor contains general offices on each side of the main entrance and a long gallery overlooking the swimming tank. The second floor provides a gymnasium 128 feet by 72 feet and 30 feet high. An abundance of shower baths and lockers is furnished.

When provision was made for the remodelling of the building there was a strong expression among the citizens for the devotion of a large part of the new structure to athletic purposes and it was decided by the city officials to carry out this idea, which has been done with the $60,000 provided for work on the building.

The exterior presents quite a different and much more modern aspect than the building before the fire of Dec 15, 1908, which damaged the structure about $25,000.


  1. Boys were required to swim in the nude, but we girls were required to wear suits furnished by Curtis Hall - itchy wool tank suits - and bathing caps to keep hair from clogging the filters.

    Just the other day my Dad was telling me that he won some swimming races there in the 40s but never got his medals - did I think they were still there waiting to be picked up?

  2. Maybe somewhere in the basement your Dad's medals are sitting in a box.

  3. Yes...boys were required to swim nude and the girls wore one piece swimsuits but we swam on different days. I do remember more than once though that when an adult male instructor was out sick an adult woman instructor for the girl's would take his place and she would walk around and yell at us and do everything the male instructors did. I just can't imagine that happening today. I remember when I was with the Boy Scouts having to take my lifesaving merit badge test here and also later taking my lifeguard course and test here for the City of Boston lifeguards. Curtis Hall was an important part of the community and many of us learned to swim here and took courses and training which stayed with us for life.

  4. I also remember swimming at curtis hall in the nude. if you were causing problems the life guard would make you stand outside his office for awhile and hit your butt with his sandal. The boys would tease you while you were standing in front of the office near the pool. I still have bad feelings about this. others were charged with sexual abuse for reasons like this. I wish The city of Boston would check this story out. Also that the city would say they were sorry that this ever happened. Why in the first place did they allow this and the parents went along with this. Is there any attorney that would like to represent me regarding this matter. I felt violated and still feel the shame of it all. When I tell my store to others, it is difficult for them to believe. 617-512-5353

  5. I remember swiming naked at the Boy's Club in Roxbury for years as a real little kid during the 50's... I know I felt very strange doing this...but it was a rule at the Boy's Club if you wanted to swim you had to be nude?... I know I never told my parents their must be some story behind this young boys nude swiming in Boston?

  6. I discussed this a little in my Boston blog:

    Basically, the pools were intended more for bathing/hygiene than for swimming/sport - they were trying to get the immigrants clean, like good Americans. So boys got naked. They just couldn't deal with the thought of girls being naked in a public place - even behind closed doors. So girls all wore gray bathing suits that were provided.

  7. People don't believe us when we tell them we swam in the nude but we did. It didn't bother us then we were what, 10 years old. Anyway, we all had fun and it beat the heat in the summer.