One hundred years ago to the day, on June 7, 1913, an extravagant Arlington pageant honoring the then-new Town Hall was to be held on the shores of the Mystic Lakes. A torrential downpour delayed the event.
A similar storm Friday did not delay the town's centennial celebration -- it just drove more than 200 people indoors, to a memorable evening of music and history.
The 1913 event offered a generous view of U.S. history, which included "the arrival of the Vikings," Richard Duffy said, eyes twinkling, as many chuckled.
That kind of telling detail from the town's unofficial historian enlivened the evening and led to a series of teachable moments illustrating how the town has changed in a century.
As the rain pounded on the Town Hall Garden, from which residents had been banished, music from all ages invigorated the occasion.
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After tasty hors d'oeuvres provided by Tryst restaurant in the second-floor Hearing Room, celebrants began gathering in the auditorium. Veteran Selectman Kevin Greeley, attired in a red vest with gold armbands, was at the piano tinkling "12th Street Rag" as Charlie Chaplin's 1916 film The Fireman herked and jerked with humor on the screen.
The evening was parceled in approximate quarter centuries, fashioned by Duffy, an engaging educator, with insight and wit.
1913 - 1939
"An Era of Astounding Transformations"
Signaling those changes was the 1912 opening of the Harvard Square station, which led to a tripling of the town's population during the period, from just 12,000 people the year Town Hall opened.
Such growth led in 1920 to changing Town Meeting from an open body (anyone can vote) to representative (elected members represent precincts).
It also led to demolishing some of the town's historic homes, but in 1923 the Arlington Historical Society was able to save the Jason Russell House, whose roots recall the bloody day in 1775 that led to Revolution.
The Select-tones, a 20-year-old community chorus, closed the period by rendering a jaunty version of "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz (1939). From the same film, Ken Toomey stepped forward with a plaintive "Somewhere over the Rainbow."
All in the auditorium joined in on the early 20th-century songs "The Caissons Go Rolling Along” and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
1940 - 1963
"Wartime and Arlington's Next Big Wave of Change"
By 1940, with a population of 39,000, Arlington planned a large war memorial building, which would have included a swimming pool, at the current location of Play Time, on Broadway. Officials decided the town's housing needs were greater, and it was never built.
A postwar push to house veterans' families led to Menotomy Manor, in 1950.
As the town's growth in the 1950s continued apace, Town Hall moved to embrace a town-manager form of government.
Not all proposed change was accepted.
Plans to extend Route 3 down Lowell Street through town met stiff resistance -- as Duffy explained, showing a slide of a Town Hall auditorium filled to overflowing.
Accompanying a 1953 photo of an AHS driver's ed class was Duffy's comment about its necessity. To illustrate, a slide showed traffic chaos at Mass. Ave. and Pleasant.
The AHS Madrigal Ladies, playing WWII hit makers the Andrews Sisters, belted out "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B."
Tristan Jantz, backed by the AHS Jazz Band, crooned his best Sinatra, singing "Fly Me to the Moon" (1954).
"Mack the Knife" might have been the evening's entertainment highspot. Who knew our 30-something town manager, Adam Chapdelaine, could channel so clearly Bobby Darin's 1959 hit?
From a gangster to Woody Guthrie, the Select-tones led a singalong of the folksinger's "This Land is Your Land" (1940).
1964 - 1988
"Community Challenges Taken on with Success"
With its population reaching 50,000 the year after Kennedy was assassinated, and topping out at 53,000 in the 1970s, the period reflected local social change that was occurring nationally.
Two slides portray reactions to some of those shifts: Patricia Fitzmaurice, called a "visionary," preserved the Old Schwamb Mill. A second shot showing a "Head Shop" near Stop & Shop drew murmurs of remembrance.
On the one hand, the town retained part of its valued past; on the other, a passing fancy of the times faded away, yet town residents responded to drug issues in their midst. A grass-roots effort led to establishing the Arlington Youth Consultation Center.
The AHS Madrigal Men evoked the Beatle's era with Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" (1965), while all of the Madrigals, backed by Jantz on guitar, offered a taste of the civil-right struggle with Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963).
Veering toward pop, the Select-tones supported Mary Ellen Bilafer, who championed "Downtown," Petula Clark's 1964 hit.
Jack and Denise Burns provided a lovely family duet "Edelweiss," from the "Sound of Music."
1989 - 2013
"The Arlington of Recent Memory"
Fast-forward to the reign of Greeley, which has seen the establishment of Vision 2020's planning effort, the opening of the Minuteman Bikeway, McClennen Park on a former town dump, the rebuilding of six schools, the easing of liquor laws that has made Arlington a dining destination and the expected opening this year of Arlington 360 at the site of the former Symmes Hospital.
Leavening those moments of progress was a slide showing officials, in odd dress, in front of the grillwork at the selectmen's office. Duffy drew laughs with his comment that they had drawn the notice of the fashion police and appeared to be about to go behind bars.
To a montage of image illustrating Arlington gone but not forgotten, Patsy Kraemer played on the piano "Memory,” from Cats (1981).
All in the auditorium rose, as Kate Smith once commanded, and sang along with the Select-tones to "God Bless America."
A rousing "Happy Birthday" accompanied a lovely cake from Angelina's Pastry emblazoned with a Town Hall image. Selectmen Steve Byrne took about six tries to blow out all the candles.
Was the program at an end? Not Yet?
After some trivia banter between Greeley and Duffy, a syncopated sound began. Its insistence continued.
One by one, members of the AHS Jazz Band entered. A lone sax played, and then other instruments.
The Madrigals followed, flowing until they covered the front of the stage.
From the balcony, confetti rained down. Only then had Town Hall had its party.
April 28: First story on celebration plans
Arlington High School Jazz Band
Piano / vibes
Arlington High School Madrigal Singers
Kevin Greeley, director
Patsy Kraemer, piano
Mary Ellen Bilafer
Centennial Celebration Committee
Cochairs: Duffy, Greeley, Kraemer
Board of Selectmen
Chuck Kraemer, graphics
Chuck and Nancy Pappas, Swifty Printing
Barbara Popolow, Derby Farm
Paul Turano and Caterina DiPrisco, Tryst
Arlington Garden Club members
Tino and Cheryl Christo, AHS music department
Alex Wallach Hanson and Boston A/V Production
Arlington Friends of the Drama
Arlington Historical Society
Brian Rehrig, stage director
Angelina’s Pastry, Town Hall cake
Shawsheen Regional Technical High School
This story was published Sunday, June 9, 2013.
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