Originally Published 06/22/2011 05:45:22 AM
You had to go by train. Night was good, but afternoon was best: an old time matinee when you could really SEE the building as your trolley got closer. Green Line to North Station on the Lechemere line, front car of the trolley on the right-hand-side, and you tried to get a seat where you could look through the open door into the conductor’s booth and see it head on. The trolley would lurch out of Haymarket Station, down the short tunnel, and then suddenly you were climbing onto the elevated tracks outside and the old Boston Garden was RIGHT THERE.
I guess they would call it gothic. Whatever it was, it was beautiful. Classic and imposing, the building-high windows glowing with the game inside, the turrets on the sides and the arches above the doors, the Budweiser billboard top right, and the marquee on the right side of the building: NORTH STATION (Blue letters) BOSTON GARDEN (Yellow Letters). You got off the trolley on the right, made it down the platform stairs onto Causeway St. and there you were.
It was always the coldest you could ever be. Didn’t matter if you were steps away on the elevated or walking up Canal St. from Haymarket or Quincy Market. Maybe you had a bite in the Market and strolled up on Canal, a street where you expected to see a fedora-clad Jimmy Cagney in every doorway waiting to gun down some hapless palooka. Or maybe you got off the trolley, crossed over Causeway under the stanchions of the el and got a slice or two on paper plates at The Birds Nest. However you got there, it was always the coldest walk in the world on a winters day or night headed to watch a Bruins game.
But you got there, and hit the lobby, fighting against the current of oncoming commuters flooding out of the trains at North Station. Maybe you got another beer at the Garden Club, or maybe you bought a new cassette tape or two at Strawberry’s. Maybe you just got a popcorn, handed over your ticket at the turnstile and started up the ramps, the concrete floors and cinderblock halls, seeming at a perpetual 45 degree pitch, up and up, until you reached your level.
And then you were in a totally different world. You had a balcony seat, high above the ice, but it seemed like you were right on top of the action.And the ice was blinding white against the citrus color scheme surrounding it: pale orange wooden seats, golden paint on the balcony, the Black and Gold of all those conference and division championship banners hanging from the rafters. The walkways were like linoleum tile, the floor under your wood and metal chair like sandpaper. No comfort at all, but incredibly cozy, like Grandma’s house. The cold outside was long in the background when you got your seat and program.
And you sat with ghosts. Ghosts of games over the decades, ghosts of the most incredible feats of greatness on the ice, ghosts of Hall of Famers. Eddie Shore and Old Time Hockey. Schmidt, Dumart and Bauer, the “Kraut Line” scoring 22 points in their final game before going off to war for the Royall Canadian Air Force. Orr and Espo and the Big Bad Bruins. Cashman, O’Reilly and the Lunch Pail Bruins. Borque and Neely. It was like ballet and opera for the shot-and-a-beer crowd.
The new building is nice, as it goes: no obstructed view seats, no lines no waiting, no sitting on wooden slats for three hours. The el is gone and the neighborhood is getting all upscale now, like the rest of the city. It ain’t the same, and it never will be. No soul in the new place, no grit, no warts. You had to have experienced the Old Garden to know, but if you know, you know. There was nothing like it. Even if you got there in a cab…