Any mention the North End of Boston evokes images of Italian restaurants and historic sites such as the Old North Church. There is, however, a side of Boston that rarely graces the guidebook pages. The North End’s major attractions scatter across Salem Street and Hanover Street, but during my nine years of living in the area, I discovered that Prince Street holds many of the secrets to the North End’s colorful past.
Anthony, It’s a Prince Spaghetti Day!
Hilarity often ensues at North End neighborhood council meetings, but don’t let them catch you giggling. These folks take themselves very seriously. At one such meeting, an elderly woman got up and asked if something can be done about the kid who runs down Prince Street shouting “Anthony, it’s a Prince Spaghetti Day!”
The kids is alluding to a commercial for Prince Spaghetti, which once occupied the storefront at 92 Prince Street. The story of the company unfolds is the early 1900s, when Sicilian immigrant Michele Cantella arrived in Boston and founded a pasta company called the Prince Macaroni and Manufacturing Company.
North End locals would purchase hand-made pasta from the Prince Street storefront. During the 1960s, 12-year-old Anthony Martignetti was walking with friends in the North End when three men approached and asked for directions to Commercial Street. Anthony gave them directions, and two weeks later, the men arrived and asked him if he wanted to be in a commercial for Prince Spaghetti. The iconic commercial ran for 13 years, but it remains a topic of conversation among North End locals.
Saint Leonard’s Church
When the first Italian immigrants arrived in Boston in the 1860s, many of them settled in the North End. Saint Leonard’s Church, located at the corner of Prince and Hanover Street, was the first church that ministered to their spiritual needs. In 1873, the archbishop of Boston asked the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception Province to attend to the religious requirements of these new Catholic immigrants.
Within two years, the foundations were laid for the Saint Leonard Church, the first Italian parish in the United States. The church basement opened for worship in 1891, and the number of parishioners was close to twenty thousand. It cost $160,000.00 to build the upper church, which was dedicated in November 1899. In 1910, the Franciscan Sisters associated with the church moved into a convent on 31 Prince Street.
The Brinks Job
On the night of January 17th 1950, seven armed gunmen crept into the Brink’s North Terminal Garage at 165 Prince St and robbed the company of $1.2 million in cash and $1.6 million in checks and securities. Disguised in Halloween masks and chauffeur’s hats, they held up five Brinks employees at gunpoint.
The Brinks gang spent a year meticulously planning this heist. As they did in a building across the street, they observed the employees’ daily routine from a building across the street, removed the lock cylinders of the building’s many doors and had a locksmith make new keys. While the robbers were eventually captured, the money was never recovered. The Brinks Job was considered the Crime of the Century.
98 Prince Street
The building at 98 Prince Street, right down the block from the Brinks Garage, was once the home of mob boss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the FBI demanded that their Boston agents conduct surveillance on Mr. Angiulo’s North End home. This was easier said than done, since the entire North End neighborhood was looking out for Mr. Angiulo.
First, the FBI team parked their car and installed a camera hidden inside a Kleenex box near Angiulo’s residence. Fail! A few hours latter, all of their tires were flatter than the pasta served at the local restaurants.
After many other fruitless attempts, the agents, dressed as Christmas revelers, broke into Angiulo’s home and installed the surveillance equipment that lead to his arrest.
Paul Revere’s House
Walk one half block south from Prince Street, and you will find yourself at the home of the Revolutionary War’s midnight rider Paul Revere. Self-guided tours are available at this 1680 house, which occupies the corner of Moon Street and Garden Court. Paul Revere took occupancy in 1770.
Step inside this Colonial house and explore the typical decor and furnishings of the 18th century. A bell from the USS Constitution adds a touch of authenticity to the ambiance. Revere was also an accomplished silversmith, and examples of his work are available for viewing.
The next time you visit the North End, include this stroll down Prince Street in your itinerary.