The Gorin Building


The Gorin Building, at 255 Elm St., has only stood in Davis Square since 1986, relatively young compared to many of its neighbors. However, it shares both its location and name with the family’s previous venture: Gorin’s department store, which, for many years, provided West Somerville with an affordable shopping destination.

Nehemias Gorin was born in 1880 in Poland, then a part of the Russian Empire, and immigrated to the United States, 20 years old, in 1900. In that same year, he founded Gorin’s in Woburn, Mass. The store quickly became known for its low prices across departments including men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories, infant wear, lingerie, shoes, linens, housewares and furnishings. Gorin’s burgeoning business grew past Woburn with stores opening in Everett, South Boston, Watertown Square, Central Square in Cambridge and Union Square (at the corner of Bow St. and Warren Ave.). The Davis Square location, occupying both floors of the building, as well as a basement and an overlooking mezzanine connected to the first floor by a broad staircase, may have been built as early as 1920 and was certainly in operation by 1934 when it participated in a boycott of Nazi goods led by the American Jewish Congress.

Gorin’s in Davis Square on December 16,1970 – From the City of Somerville Archives (picture is linked to the Archive’s Tumbr)

In September of 1951, to celebrate its 51st anniversary, Gorin’s raffled off a series of high-ticket items featured in its window displays. Winners included Walter Golden of Somerville, who received a deep freezer unit. In all, the 20 prizes held a retail value of $2,000. By this time, the business employed over 3,000 people working in over 20 stores, including a brand-new location at Shopper’s World in Framingham, designed with an eye for modern fashion and convenience. Its purchase of the Almy, Bigelow and Washburn department store chain added locations in Salem, Danvers and Beverly. Later acquisitions and mergers expanded the company to New Bedford, Mass, Manchester, N.H., Waterbury, Conn. and Rochester, N.Y.

Gorin’s Department Store in Davis Square, 1955.

Nehemias Gorin passed away in 1961 at the age of 82. He was still actively involved in the company at the time of his death. He and his wife Rebecca had several children, many of whom worked in the family business. In 1984, the Gorin family sold their company, by this time 32-stores strong and re-branded as  “Almy’s,” to an investment group. The Gorin’s business had been struggling to make a profit since 1978. By 1985, the new owners had sold most of the Almy’s chain to the Stop & Shop Companies. The Davis Square location, however, was purchased by members of the Gorin family for redevelopment, anticipating the growth and renewal the neighborhood would see after the Davis Red Line stop was built in 1984. In redesigning the facilities, the Gorins replaced the original facade and filled in the mezzanine level which had once overlooked bustling shoppers on the ground floor.


The Sprague and Hathaway Co.


The Sprague and Hathaway Company, which once occupied the four-story brick building on Day St. in Davis Square, began life in 1874 as a small, three-person enterprise at the corner of Harrison Ave. and Beach St. in Boston’s Chinatown district. By the end of the nineteenth century, Sprague-Hathaway had become one of West Somerville’s premier industries with products shipped across the country and around the world.

Four years after its founding in Boston, Sprague-Hathaway relocated to less-expensive Somerville, Mass. As the business grew, from its original work producing and enlarging portraits to the manufacturing of picture frames, easels and mouldings (and later albums, adhesives and a variety of other photo mounting equipment), it outgrew its office space at the corner of Holland St. and Wallace (near Davis Square Dental today.) In 1887, the company had moved across Davis Square, erecting a brand new building on the corner of Day and Elm. Sprague-Hathaway’s new $40,000 complex included company offices, artists’ studios, manufacturing space and a showroom displaying an assortment of frames and moulding in cases of oak and glass. The building’s first floor held retail space rented to other businesses while the fourth floor contained a lodge hall used by eight different fraternal organizations and secret societies and a banquet room with capacity for 100 people. At the time, Sprague-Hathaway employed over 150 people and with its vibrant, multi-purpose building likely contributed heavily to the development of Davis Square and West Somerville, which began to develop and thrive. In 1890, the business was incorporated with $100,000 in capital. A second building, on which the Sprague and Hathaway Co. name can still be found, was put up at the corner of Day and Herbert streets.

Illustration from the Cambridge Tribune, 4/28/1888.

While the company kept the name of both W. D. Sprague and James Foster Hathaway, the latter seems to have had a more direct involvement with the company. Sprague retired from the company in its second year, citing poor health. Hathaway, who married Bertha Bell Sprague in 1858 and was very likely W. D. Sprague’s brother-in-law, continued on as President. A Somerville resident (first at 23 Wallace St., later at 88 College Ave.,) Hathaway was quite engaged civically, and served as a Director of both the Somerville National Bank and the Somerville Trust Company. He was also a charter member of the Somerville Hospital board when it was founded in 1891. Within his industry, J. F. Hathaway appears to have been well known and liked. He frequently attended trade conventions and helped organize the first New England Convention of Photographers in Boston. After his death on January 13th, 1913, his obituary was run in Photo-Era Magazine. It included a note of sympathy from Eastman Kodak founder George Eastman who described Hathaway as “a man who has always had the respect, admiration and friendship of the entire photographic trade.”

In 1915, to commemorate the completion of the Panama Canal, San Francisco held the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Sprague-Hathaway, at its convention booths, exhibited portraits and sepia-toned enlargements. The Photographic Journal of America reported that over one million people visited the company’s demonstration. Even before this world’s fair, the studio’s products were sold internationally, with the shipping department fulfilling orders from Mexico, Canada, the British Empire and elsewhere. Sprague-Hathaway claimed to be “the largest establishment in this line, in the world,” and The Somerville Journal proudly celebrated J. W. Hathaway as having made Somerville known in “every state in the Union.”

The Sprague-Hathaway factory, from a 1909 guide to the City of Somerville published by the Edison Electric Illuminating Co.

The Sprague-Hathaway building made history on the night of Jan. 16th, 1916 when it became the site of one of Somerville’s worst fires. Described in the city’s 1916 annual report as “one of the most disastrous fires that has visited our city for more than 25 years,” the fire was discovered at 10:19 by a company foreman who smelled smoke billowing down from the third floor. The third and fourth floors of the building were engulfed, with flames climbing through the roof and causing nearly $100,000 in damages. While no deaths were recorded, ten firemen, arriving from North Cambridge, were injured, with seven treated at Somerville Hospital. The upper stories of the studio destroyed, Sprague-Hathaway temporarily relocated operations to the Henderson Carriage Factory in Cambridge. By the next year, damage to the studio was repaired, and Sprague-Hathaway’s employees commemorated the new building by presenting the company’s President Charles Wallis with an American flag amid music, readings and celebration.

The Sprague Hathaway Co. was dissolved in 1958. A successor company appears to have formed in Woburn, Mass. and an 1987 job posting advertises positions for frame cutters and assemblers, stock clerks and truck drivers for the Sprague Hathaway Co., Inc. The Better Business Bureau lists a Woburn company “engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of wholesale frame,” established in 1874 and incorporated in 1971. This company no longer appears to be in business. Besides the two buildings on Day St., the company’s name survives on several antique prints, portraits and frames produced in its Somerville factory and studio.

The Studio Building on Elm St.

The Studio Building on Elm St.

The Wood Building


The Wood family purchased the property that today bears their name (at 89 Holland St., near Davis Square), in 1939 and sold the building to its current owner in 1980. Management of the property during those forty years appear to have been handled by two family members: William H. Wood and later his son C. Gordon Wood. William was born on Prince Edward Island in Canada and moved to the Boston area in 1892 at the age of 21. In September of 1896, he married a fellow Canadian: Agnes J. Tweedie, who was born in Kent County, New Brunswick, near PEI on the Canadian mainland. The young couple was married in Boston and by 1900 they were living in Somerville with two sons: Charles, who would go by his middle name Gordon, and George, as well as William’s younger brother, 21-year-old carpenter Leslie Joseph Wood. Both Wood brothers would lose their wives at an early age, with Agnes dying sometime in 1919 and Leslie’s wife Sarah, also of PEI, passing in the 1920’s. By 1930, Leslie had remarried and moved to Lexington. WIlliam also took a second wife: Ruth Johnstone who immigrated from Canada (likely PEI) in 1924 and who was over twenty years younger than her new husband. The Woods may have been part of a large community of Canadians living in Somerville. Gordon Wood’s wife Georgie Crossman, while born in Massachusetts, was also the daughter of immigrants from the Canadian Maritimes.

What William Wood did for a living, and how he came to purchase 89 Holland St., is not entirely clear. In 1935, a few years before purchasing the deed, he lists himself as a “proprietor” without identifying the nature of his business. According to earlier records, he worked as a motorman, operating trolley cars on Boston’s new electric railway, and by 1920 he advanced in that career to the level of “master teamster.” Like many people of his generation, William’s formal education ended in elementary school and he presumably worked for several years before moving to Somerville. In that time, he may have learned a trade like his carpenter brother Leslie. William’s younger son George also trained as a carpenter and his older son Gordon was employed as a construction supervisor at the West Newton firm Richard White and Son.

William and Ruth lived at 6 Campbell Park Place, which today overlooks the Somerville Community Path. In the Woods’ time, the house sat alongside train tracks connecting lines at Alewife to others in Boston. William was still in Somerville when he died in 1962, at age 91. Gordon appears to have inherited the Wood Building at this time. He sold the property in 1980 and died six years later at age 89, having lived his entire life in Somerville, Mass.