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Fighting the good fight

Participating in Allston Open Studios this weekend has made me a little nostalgic.  Sharing my photos of some Allston-Brighton landmarks in their neon glory – Blanchard’s Liquors, Twin Donuts, and the Model Café – has transported me back to my early days in the Allston-Brighton community.

Neon sign for Model Cafe

The Model Cafe still glows in Union Square.

Blanchard's neon sign at night

Blanchard’s is an institution on Harvard Avenue.

I moved to Brighton after college and never left.  My memories of Allston, in particular, are inextricably connected with my days on the Allston-Brighton Community News.  We were a bunch of volunteers who cared deeply about this community and wanted to present an alternative point of view to what was then available in the Citizen-Item.

We wrote stories about housing, zoning, transportation, immigration, and local politicians — and we tossed in the occasional restaurant review.  (I remember reviewing an Allston macrobiotic restaurant and, in our youthful arrogance, titling the story “Bring Your Own Sugar.”)

These were the days before Photoshop, desktop publishing, and digital anything.  We laid out the columns of type with melted wax and Exacto knives.  (And, yes, I still have a scar on my arm from an accidental Exacto stabbing incident.)  We used Letraset press-on lettering for our headlines. We printed black-and-white photos ourselves in a borrowed darkroom or took the film to Ferranti-Dege in Harvard Square.

Like any group of passionate and idealistic twenty-somethings, we had our random feuds, flirtations, and hook-ups.  We hung out at the Model Café (which we all pronounced Mo-dell) and especially the Silhouette Lounge.  We saw movies at the Orson Welles and the Central Square theaters, and snuck our own popcorn into the Coolidge.  And we took a political turn when one of our group decided to run for office.

The paper folded in the early 1980s when several of us enrolled in grad school and no one was available to take over. After covering countless stories about community issues from housing to zoning, I decided to get a degree in city and regional planning.

Over the years many Community News alumni moved on to careers in politics, journalism, public service, and the law.  Among our ranks are reporters for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press; a state representative and a town manager, and senior administrators and policy advisers in nonprofits and government agencies. Eventually I became a transportation policy analyst, which I still am today (when I’m not taking photos).

Some thirty years have passed since I worked on the Community News. We’re all older now, and most have moved away from Allston-Brighton. But many of us are still in touch, through Facebook or in real life (and sometimes both), and photos like these remind me what a privilege it was to have fought the good fight with this dedicated group of community activists.

(And, as always, if you’re a fan of classic neon signs, I invite you to visit my Etsy shop and Facebook photography page.)

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