As War Raged, Victory Village Was Born

10Mar12

SoldiersIn the spring of 1942, as World War II was being fought on two fronts, local soldiers and sailors serving overseas were much on the mind of their hometown. The Wakefield Daily Item ran a regular feature, “With Our Boys in the Service,” complete with photos and updates.

Meanwhile back in Wakefield, Factory Field, where many of the same boys fighting overseas attended carnivals and played pickup football games as kids, was about to turn into a defense housing development known as “Victory Village.”

Seventy years ago this month, Gilbert & Varker Corporation of Boston came to Wakefield to pitch to the Board of Selectmen the idea of a new development of 39 duplex houses on the site of Factory Field. Victory Village would encompass an area just west of Wakefield Avenue, between Richardson and Water streets. Within six months, homes would be advertised for sale or rent on new streets called Hamilton Road and Jefferson Road.

Wakefield residents who grew up in the neighborhood during the 1930’s still remember Factory Field before it was developed. They recall a flat, hard, surface of grass, dirt and a few trees. The carnivals and circuses that took place on Factory Field are the most ubiquitous memory, shared by Mike Nasella, Yano Tine, Jim Scott, Al Palmerino, John Sardella and Chet Confalone.

Confalone has vivid memories of the circus coming to Factory Field when he was a kid. He recalls seeing the elephants, tigers and other circus animals transported into town via the railroad tracks that still run through what was once the western edge of Factory Field.

Al Palmerino grew up at the corner of Richardson Street and Wakefield Avenue. He describes using flats from barrels to ski down the slope from his house to Factory Field in the winter. He also recalls the carnivals and football games.

John Sardella grew up on Wakefield Avenue. He says it was called Factory Field because of the looming presence of the nearby L.B. Evans Shoe Factory. He recalls the older boys from the neighborhood playing football on Factory Field every Sunday from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

According to the March 19, 1942 Wakefield Daily Item, Factory Field was once owned by George W. Killoran and was later acquired by a developer named Herbert F. Taylor. Gilbert & Varker eventually purchased the land from another developer, Greater Boston Homes Inc. of Malden.

The new owners were excited about the site.

“Mr. Gilbert considers the site ideal for development,” the Item reported, “and in view of the housing shortage in Wakefield and the scarcity of desirable rentals, he believes there will be a ready demand for the double houses.”

Sardella FamilyDuring the Great Depression of the 1930s, extensive job loss and onerous mortgage terms made it difficult for most families to own a home. As a result, more than half of American families were renters. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) to try to help a housing industry that was flat on its back. During the 1940s, FHA sanctioned developments like Victory Village helped finance housing for defense workers and provided affordable homes for returning veterans and their families.

On April 7, 1942, the Wakefield Board of Selectmen officially gave their blessing to the plans for Victory Village. The Item noted that the Planning Board had already given its approval as had the FHA.

At that same hearing, the names of the new streets were also chosen: Hamilton Road and Jefferson Road. “There were some pleasantries after the meeting,” the Item observed, “over the fact that in the names selected, MacArthur and Roosevelt had been overlooked as possibilities.”

The Item noted that “construction will start as soon as the town meeting provides for public services.”

But just three weeks later, doubts were raised as to whether Victory Village would be built at all. On April 27, 1942 a Special Town Meeting, on the advice of the Finance Committee, decided not to appropriate large sums of money for sewerage systems in the Victory Village development and another development off Albion Street known as the Doyle Development.

“Objection to large expenditures for sewer systems in the two developments was based mainly on the uncertainty as to whether the developers can go ahead with the projects,” the Item reported. The Item noted that the Victory Village development on Factory Field was planned before the federal government established certain building priorities and therefore it was not definitely known whether or not the developers would be able to go ahead.

The Item reported that Harry Marshall, Chairman of the Finance Committee, did not place much stock in in an OK alleged to have been obtained by telephone from Washington, doubting that a small development in Wakefield could obtain approval by a telephone call. Marshall and the FinCom felt at the time that the development would not be of sufficient value from a taxation standpoint to warrant the $8,837 investment by the town in sewer infrastructure.

But by mid-July the Item was reporting that “all priorities questions had been settled” and that work would go ahead on preliminary construction at once. Construction proceeded at a rapid pace. On August 10, the Board of Appeals granted frontage variances for five of the lots.

By October 1942, Gilbert-Varker was running half-page ads in the Daily Item touting the duplex units as ready for occupancy Dec. 1. The price for each two-family dwelling was $7,500. “OWN YOUR OWN HOME AND LET YOUR NEIGHBOR PAY YOUR RENT” at $45 a month per 5-room unit, the ads promised. It was stressed that applications of war workers would be given preference and war bonds would be accepted as down payments.

The ads listed the selling points of Victory Village and the town, touting Wakefield as “the leading shopping center north of Boston.” Other positives included frequent train and bus service to and from Boston, schools in modern buildings and one of the lowest property tax rates in the Greater Boston area.

The size of the new Victory Village development, according to the Item, was exceeded only by the White Circle development, also nearing completion at around the same time.

The homes in Victory Village were in the so-called “defense area,” the Item noted in October 1942. “They constitute a contribution to the government’s effort to provide adequate housing for defense workers, and a purchaser of one or more of these houses is in turn contributing to the war effort and at the same time insuring for himself a high return upon the investment he has made.”

Seventy years ago, as Wakefield boys marched off to war, an old field back home was being transformed into Victory Village.

[This story originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “As War Raged, Victory Village Was Born”

  1. 1 Capt. Bruce B. Fisher (u.s.m.m. Ret.)

    What a find.
    I was a youngster and lived on Jefferson Rd. For some years in early 1950s (I think # 48 – maybe not 48, but 2nd or 3rd house on the right in from Wakefield Ave before the turn. Beside Laatz on the right ; Holloway across the street; Landers next to us on the left. Every one were WW2 Vets.
    Remember the B&M Rail Road line behind the house & what was called back then “The Big House” , an old tenement up back on the hill opposite the tracks & on Water St.
    Attended Franklin & Lincoln schools. Moved away after elementary school.
    In mid-60s I was in college class mates with owner’s son of Evans Shoe Factory ( R. Evans). Haven’t been back in Wakefield since 1958.
    Remember well 4th of July; and old All Delaney Em-ceeing the event from the band stand (Al used to be the janitor at Lincoln School in the 50s).
    Now seems like lots of changes.
    Hope to hear more.
    RGDS. Bruce B. Fisher, Newport RI. email: captbbf@mail.com


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