The house that Ruth didn't build
By Monica Deady/ Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2004
A historic Watertown home was leveled this past week, leaving some griping about the condos planned for the site.
But others say the demolition could help lift the mythic curse against the Boston Red Sox could while yet another group are upset about how the house went down and fondly remember a Watertown resident who lived there.
Babe Ruth's estranged wife Helen and her daughter lived as tenants at the 47 Quincy St. house for a while. So did the late John Moxley, Watertown resident and controversial TAB & Press columnist.
The home was torn down Tuesday morning as neighbors and the media watched.
Ironically, the demolition occurred on the one-year anniversary of Moxley's death, October, 12, 2003.
Media trucks roamed the street Tuesday, and Watertown was flung in the local spotlight, with people talking about whether or not the curse would be affected. A banner hung on one of the bulldozers that read "Reverse the Curse of the Bambino."
There were also rumors that a signed Babe Ruth baseball was found in the rubble, later dismissed as untrue.
Babe Ruth, who played for the Red Sox from 1913 to 1919, was traded to the New York Yankees in 1919, allegedly creating the curse which has made it impossible for the Sox to win a World Series since 1918. Ruth never lived in Watertown, but his wife, Helen, lived in the home as a tenant to Boston dentist Edward Kinder until she died in a house fire there in January 1929.
The fire was ruled to be caused by an electrical problem, according to a Watertown Sun article from Jan. 17, 1929. The article says "Watertown was thrown into national and international limelight" as a result.
But in Watertown, the razing of 47 Quincy St. held a deeper meaning. For residents upset about the trend of tearing down single-family homes to make way for condominiums, it is another house they can add to their list of homes the Historical Commission could not save. And the hole left in its wake is another scar on the hearts of Moxely's friends.
The Moxley family purchased the house from a family who lived there after the Kinder family, said neighbor Lou Allegro, and the home was in their family until it was sold after John Moxley's death, one year ago to the day that the home was razed. His family is known in Watertown for several reasons. The Moxley family patriarch, M. John, started the annual Shamrock Road Race, which has been run every Patriots Day for decades, up until this year. Moxley Field, next to Watertown Middle School, is named after his son, Richard, who was killed in Vietnam, and John Moxley's voice in his regular column was one thousands of residents turned to read in the TAB, and its predecessor, the Sun, every week for many years.
The Historical Commission tried to save the home from being destroyed, said Chairman Roger Erickson, but could only place a six-month demolition delay on the structure, a restriction that has been debated in recent months.
Last spring, the Town Council and Planning Board were involved in a public debate with residents and developers about a potential one-year moratorium on the demolition of single-family homes to create two-family homes, townhouses or condominiums.
"We chose to impose a [six-month] moratorium because I felt that Babe Ruth's first wife's living there credited enough importance to preserve it," Erickson said. He added that the house was in fine condition, but they could not stop its destruction.
But commission member David Russo said that now that the house is torn down, he hopes Watertown's loss will be the Sox's gain.
"We just crushed the curse," said Dan McAuliffe, part of the demolition effort Tuesday.
Palfrey Street resident Allegro, 84, remembers trimming the bushes for the Kinders, but when Ruth's wife lived in the home he was a young kid, he said. He says he can remember two movies filming there, both of them historical and telling the story of Ruth's life.
Allegro is skeptical about whether or not the house coming down will do much to erase the curse, saying we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
But he is upset about the intrusion of the condominiums.
"They stick out like a sore thumb," he said. "I am dead against it."
"I would have just liked to see the house stay there the way it [was]," said Quincy Street resident Pauline Zakszewski, saying she worried it might make parking troubles.
For John Moxley's friends, the razing of the house and the near-jubilation of some over the possibility that the Curse of the Bambino could finally be lifted was a sad turn of events.
"What [the developer's] going to build there does not fit in that neighborhood," said one of John Moxely's lifelong friends, Paul Staten. "It really doesn't, and I think the town is allowing that kind of encroachment."
He is also sad that the home Moxley lived in is gone.
"It's just miserable to have to drive by there and see that the house and his memory is gone," he said.
"The historical place, I think that's highly in question because... [Babe Ruth] didn't live there," said another of John Moxley's friends, Josh Bellini, who lives in the Quincy Street house where Helen Ruth reportedly was taken after the fire and died. "The house itself was John's house."
"I think the Moxleys are much more important to the history of Watertown than Helen Ruth," he added.
"It's kind of not right," Staten said. "It's legal, but it's not right somehow."
Moxley's longtime companion Elaine Giddis was very upset by Tuesday's events.
"I was stunned," she said. "The razing really turned into a media circus. It was like this great big fun time and I don't understand this.
"It was bad enough that we knew that someday that house was not going to be there, but to see it exploited in that fashion was just very callous."
Boston Herald writer Thomas Caywood contributed to this report.
Monica Deady can be reached at email@example.com.