Pillar House in Newton: a Pillar of Great Dining Memories

Somebody could write a book about the Pillar House in Newton, Mass., but I'll just give you the Cliff Notes version here.

I think many Route 128 commuters wondered, "How the heck could this historic, grand restaurant be virtually within a stone's throw of one of the busiest highways in Massachusetts?"

Here was this large Greek Revival home coexisting with area hotels, high tech and industrial buildings and people driving bored and miserable, wondering if cell phones would ever come along to take them away from their own thoughts and imagination.

Thank goodness, this gracious 1828 home gave commuters something special to look at unless you also counted the "Charlies Angels" billboards. Better yet, this wasn't just another stately Newton home but also a darn good restaurant. Opening in 1952 and sadly closing in 2001, what happened in between at the Pillar House was remarkable.

Sure, we can start with the Pillar House's incredible prime rib dinner and relaxed but elegant old school dining rooms, but this landmark restaurant also pioneered some landmark decisions. Owner Thomas Larson -- who took over from his father George running the Pillar House until 1964 -- made the brave and unorthodox decision to close the restaurant on weekends in 1973. He respected his employees' lives outside of work, and thought giving them this time off would allow for a happy, top-notch staff. From what I saw, he made the right call -- the staff was superb. The naysayers thought he was nuts, but what did they know. They were naysayers!

Then in 1973, Larson made another bold decision to make the Pillar House the first 100 percent smoke-free restaurant in Massachusetts.  Sure, they lost some customers but in retrospect, the smoke-free decision served as a precursor of what was to come regarding restaurants in our state.

As if that wasn't enough, Larson went against all trends once again by banning cell phone use in all dining rooms in 1999. Good for him -- this helped foster customers with better manners, the way it used to be.

The Pillar House had a tremendous run until 2001, and then several years later was reassembled and restored to become part of a private residence in Lincoln, Mass.

They really don't make restaurants like the Pillar House anymore. So many traditional high end restaurants have gone that way. In a sleek, often pretentious world of dining where trends and contrived ambiance have too often taken over authenticity and a slower pace, I plan to hold onto the memories of places like the Pillar House as long as possible. I know many of you feel that way, too.

Fontaine's in West Roxbury and the Neon Waving Chicken Sign

I don't know what I liked better, the family-style chicken dishes at Fontaine's in West Roxbury or the neon waving chicken on the sign out front.

If it came down to one or the other, I'd probably go with the sign. Fontaine's certainly served up some excellent chicken, but how many restaurants had that kind of sign?  Every time I drove by that crazy-looking chicken, it brought a smile. I might have driven that way a few more times than necessary just to see that sign.

Again, nothing against the restaurant inside -- what a happy place with all those long-time, old school Boston waitresses taking care of customers in a retro carpeted dining room like they were family. It's just that I really liked that chicken sign!

What a shame Fontaine's closed down after more than 50 years in business and just as sad that the spastic waving chicken no longer graces our drives down Route 1 towards Boston. I cry "fowl" that they went out of business!

Thinking Back to Clark Smidt and Captain Ken on the Older Version of WBZ FM

Anyone remember Clark Smidt and Captain Ken Shelton working all those hours to make WBZ-FM (106.7) one of the great Boston rock stations in the early to mid 70s?

 Other stations had fast talking DJs and catchy jingles, but Smidt and Shelton chose to wisely slow down and connect with the listener in a conversational way while always possessing encyclopedia-like knowledge of rock and roll.

It was almost like they were broadcasting from a living room, or talking with you like best friends over a pizza and soft drinks (well, my perspective, anyway, as a then under-18 radio listener). I loved the "The Boston Top-30" nightly, in particular!

Clark and Captain Ken eventually migrated from WBZ-FM to WCOZ 94.5 -- a very good rock station, indeed. I just preferred WBZ-FM as the format offered lots of commercial free music and Clark and Capt Ken showing their strong work ethic by seemingly running pretty much the whole show.

Hard to believe WBZ FM is now a sports station on 98.5, and 106.7 became a new radio legend, of sorts: Magic 106.7.

Commodore Restaurant Memories in Beverly MA

The Commodore in Beverly, Mass., seemed like a restaurant that would stay open forever.  Legendary Boston Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman had those great ads for the restaurant during Red Sox games in the 1960s and 70s. The Northeast Mobil Travel Guide -- a generic guide that seemed to give great restaurants one star -- opened its heart and gave The Commodore three stars every year. The restaurant has this great wishing well with a water wheel near the entrance. Oh, yes -- almost forgot -- they got the steak, chicken and seafood thing down to perfection each and every time. Although I went to the Commodore mostly as a kid, that cozy Captain's Lounge sure looked cool, too! It would have been so amazing to have a glass of Zarex there!

The spacious dining room -- shaped like a boat but looking nothing like one -- accommodated everyone comfortably and the waitstaff brought this old school vibe with their old-fashioned outfits and collective conversational style. They served lobster, prime rib and other tried-and-true classics as if you were family.

Don't quote me on this, but I think the Commodore closed in the late 1990s. What replaced it? Surprise, surprise, surprise -- a shopping plaza. You can find those anywhere, but The Commodore -- well, that was one of a kind. Sorry that this nautical-theme restaurant sunk into Old School Boston restaurant oblivion.

Who remembers The Commodore and what are your memories of the North Shore restaurant?

Anyone Remember the Wallex Recreation Complex in Waltham, Mass.?

Wallex Bowling Alley Photo: http://www.waltham-community.com
Sometimes the genius of humanity resides in its simplicity and the former Wallex Recreation Complex in Waltham, Mass., certainly tapped into that condition.

Starting in the 1940s as a 20-lane candlepin bowling alley, the complex became a huge Boston area travel attraction when the bowling alley expanded in the 1950s and 60s, a roller skating rink opened, and much later on, the addition of a really good mini golf course, as well as kiddie rides and a ice cream and snack bar. I always thought, "The people who thought this up and made it happen should win some kind of humanity award." Wallex was just so much fun!

The legendary "Candlespins for Cash" TV show filmed segments here and word has it that many celebrities frequented the place when in Boston. I never saw any celebrities, just a certain group of self-perceived popular kids from Arlington High School who regarded themselves as celebrities (in their own minds) -- that is, until they graduated and the story changed for them. I remember my folks dropping us and the Flaherty kids at Wallex, and just having a great time with lots of laughs and many bad bowling and mini golf scores. I know it has happened to others, but it was always hysterical to see someone accidently aim the bowling ball badly into the adjacent lane, or start out in good form but have the bowling ball end up at the scoring table rather than the pins.

Like what they did to Paragon and Whalom Parks, big business came in and took away all the fun. Gone were the days when I broke 70 in candlepin bowling, accidently hit mini golf balls onto the busy main road, and becoming twisted by the sugar overload from too many soft serve twist ice cream cones.

In all fairness, the Wallex Recreation Complex did begin to show its age with some wear and tear, especially at the bowling alley. Everything came to an end in 2002, and now the site houses a CVS and Staples. The great memories, however, can never be taken away.

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