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Exploring Brookline, Massachusetts

Brookline began its life in 1638 as a hamlet of Boston called Muddy River.  In 1705, it was independently incorporated, but it remains surrounded on three sides by the city. And despite being home to nearly 60,000 residents, with a population density similar to that of Cambridge, it still stubbornly calls itself a “town,” not a city. In fact, the people who live here often comment on its small town charms, though they rely as much on its good public schools, urban comforts, and the  several “T” lines that can get them to the heart of the city in 15 minutes.

I’ve lived here for the past two years and spend most of my time in my neighborhood “village” of Coolidge Corner.

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The T stops here

The neighborhood gets its name from the Coolidge family, who owned a large portion of the land in the area and also ran the Coolidge & Brothers general store from the 1850s to the 1890s. This photo captures the epicenter of the neighborhood: the spot where Beacon Street and Harvard Street meet.

Here is the iconic old S.S. Pierce building on the corner.

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Brookline does have other popular neighborhoods—Brookline Village, with its kid-friendly shops and cafes, Washington Square, with its burgeoning restaurant scene, and Cleveland Circle, whose proximity to Boston College make it a hangout for Millennials—but Coolidge Corner has enough gems to fill an afternoon.

Harvard Street and Beacon Street may be the busiest commercial strips in Brookline, but take a turn off either of them and you’ll find charming residential streets that were built as large-scale developments between 1890-1925. The houses are built in a range of styles, but most feature large porches that residents still actively use during the temperate months.

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A neighborhood of porches

One such house was occupied by the Kennedys from 1914 to 1920—it’s where John F. Kennedy was born.

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The John F. Kennedy birthplace

After Kennedy’s death in 1963, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy purchased the house and restored it to her recollection of how it looked around 1917, right down to the gas lamp in front. The site is now operated by the National Park Service and is open for tours from late spring through early fall.

The neighborhood is also home to many mid-scale apartment buildings constructed during the same period.

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Photo/Art by Typical Brookline apartment building
A typical Brookline apartment building

Real estate here can be pricey, but the mix of single-family, multi-family, and apartment buildings ensures a more diverse mix of residents. Young renters, retirees, and families all call the town home, and at any park or playground, you’re bound to hear at least two or three different languages being spoken.

The cultural and commercial hubs of Coolidge Corner are located just across Harvard Street from each other. The first is the Coolidge Corner Theater, known as “The Coolidge.” The building was first built as a Universalist church in 1906 but was purchased and transformed into an Art Deco theater in 1933.

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Brookline’s favorite cinema

It shows mostly art house movies and also hosts concerts, author readings, and midnight screenings of horror shows and camp classics.

Inside, the original finishes are beautifully maintained. I love that the snack options here include the usual popcorn and Sno-Caps, but also gelato,  fine chocolates, and a good glass of pinot noir.

Coolidge Corner Theater Interior

Photo/Art by Amy Traverso
Coolidge Corner Theater interior

 

Just across the street you’ll find the other neighborhood magnet: Brookline Booksmith.

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Brookline Booksmith, one of the great independents.

This shop has everything: a great inventory of new books, a basement full of used books, and some of the premiere author events in the city. They also have a terrific gift department.

Booksmith

And what have we here? Why, it’s the latest Yankee cookbook!

Yankee's Lost & Vintage Recipes, in the stacks at Brookline Booksmith

Photo/Art by Amy Traverso
Yankee’s Lost & Vintage Recipes, in the stacks at Brookline Booksmith

 

Pre- or post-movies, people flock to Portland-based Otto Pizza for a slice or a pie.

Otto has been opened for just over a year, and is almost always hopping.

Otto has been opened for just over a year, and is almost always hopping.

 

…and then it’s on to J.P. Licks for some ice cream.

Seasonal flavors include sweet corn, pumpkin, and noodle kugel

Seasonal flavors include sweet corn, pumpkin, and noodle kugel

And that is pretty much your classic Coolidge Corner evening. But there are other great spots to eat.

From left: Rami's for falafel,

From left: Rami’s for falafel, The Regal Beagle for upscale pub fare, Zaftig’s for modern deli, Dorado Tacos, and The Daily Catch for Italian seafood. Not pictured: Anna’s Taqueria for excellent burritos, Genki Ya for great sushi..

At the edge of the neighborhood, near Commonwealth Avenue, stands Clear Flour Bakery. In my opinion, they make the best bread in the Boston area, and the pastries are wonderful, too.

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Clear Flour Bakery

You’ll find the best cup of joe at 4A Coffee at the corner of Harvard and Fuller streets. They don’t just brew here; they roast their own beans.

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If shopping is more your thing, there are great options.

Shopping

From left: Toys and baby gear at Magic Beans; puzzles for all ages at Eureka!; penny candy and old-school toys at Irving’s (owner Ethel Weiss is 99 and has run the shop for 74 years), and beautiful paper at Paper Source.

 

Brookline’s large Jewish population is also reflected in the number of kosher restaurants and markets in town. Kolbo Fine Judaica has a beautiful selection of ceremonial and decorative items.

Kolbo
That’s just a small sampling of what Coolidge Corner has to offer. For its mix of green space, culture, and proximity to the city, it’s a walker’s paradise, a commuter’s dream. And if you’re looking for even more greenery after a day of walking the sidewalks, head 15 minutes south to beautiful Larz Anderson Park, located in South Brookline. This former estate of Isabel Weld Perkins and Larz Anderson was bequeathed to the city in 1948 and is also the home of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, the nation’s oldest auto collection.

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Larz Anderson Park, anchored by the “Temple of Love” at the very back of the water garden.

The park has great views of the Boston city skyline and is a popular destination for sledding in the winter.

Nearby, you’ll also find Allendale Farm, a working farm for 250 years. The farmstand is a great place to find their own fruits and vegetables, as well as produce, cheeses, and groceries from other local producers.

 

Allendale

 

 

Amy Traverso

Author:

Amy Traverso

Biography:

Senior lifestyle editor Amy Traverso oversees Yankee's Food and Home & Garden departments and contributes articles to the magazine. Amy book, The Apple Lover's Cookbook (W.W. Norton), won an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award for the category American. Follow !
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One Response to Exploring Brookline, Massachusetts

  1. peter April 21, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    I took in two movies at the Coolidge Corner theatre on a recent visit to Boston – it was my first visit to the theatre and my first visit to Brookline. Wow: it’s a great, well-run theatre. And it’s very handy to visitors staying in downtown Boston – just a T ride away on the Green Line.

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