|Remembering the Teen Hang Out of the 1950s - Maurer's in Somerville
By Bruce Doorly
|This author often scouts around in various ways to find interesting topics on local history for my articles.
In my latest search, users from a Facebook group called “You Know You Are From Somerville, If” directed me toward a captivating photo from the
1956 Somerville High School yearbook that shows teenage students in the most popular teen hangout of the day called Maurer’s .
There they could get fountain soda, ice cream sundaes, sandwiches, burgers, and french fries. One could say it was the equivalent of what we see at “Al’s Diner” on the television show about the 1950s “Happy Days.”
There is an old expression “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And here a thousand words are going to be written about the teen hangout in that photo. Through Facebook this author was able to contact and talk with many of the former teenagers, now in their eighties, that went to Maurer’s.
|Click for large image|
|The High School back then
In 1956 Bridgewater and Raritan students (along with Hillsborough, Branchburg and certainly Somerville students) attended high school in Somerville.
And Somerville High School in 1956 was in the building that is today used as the Middle School. It is on Cliff Street - two blocks from the downtown.
The yearbook photo of Maurer’s spanned across two full pages. The photo appears to have been taken around Valentine’s Day 1956.
Nineteen teenagers are in the photo. All students that face forward in the photo have been identified. (Thank you Al Capetta)
|Significantly, a jukebox is in the photo. Some remember the jukebox as a vital part of the Maurer’s experience while others do not.
But 1956 was a special year for music and teens as Rock ‘N’ Roll was just emerging. Bill Haley and the Comets the year before had the breakthrough “Number One” hit “Rock Around the Clock.”
Other artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley would have their first hit soon after that surely was a selection on the jukebox. To play a song on the jukebox required ten cents.
The building itself, which still stands, consists of three storefronts whose addresses are 94, 96 and 98 West Main Street. Maurer’s was the middle store at 96. It is approximately 20 feet across and 90 feet deep.
In 1956 an optometrist was at 98 West Main Street and Holcombe Tailors was at 94. Today, all three storefronts are vacant, but an “Osprey Boutique” will be filling the old Maurer’s location shortly. To the west is the United Reformed Church.
|Click for 1956 photo|
A 1917 Polk’s Directory shows a confectionery business at 96 West Main Street called Botti’s. “Confectionery” was the category under which the stores that offered candy, soda, and ice cream were listed.
A 1917 newspaper article states that John Botti had moved his established business into 96 West Main Street from another location in Somerville. So, the origin of the business could have been much earlier than 1917.
Ironically, this business was listed in the newspaper in 1917 as Confectionery and Tobacco. An acceptable combination back then. Directories from other years show that at some time between 1929 and 1931 the name changed from Botti’s to Maurer’s. Local historian Peter Vitelli remembers that there was a marriage between the Botti and Maurer families so obviously an in-law took over or purchased the business.
What is known is that George Maurer Sr. operated the business perhaps with his sons until his death in 1950. After his death George Jr. and John Maurer operated the business.
The Maurers were said to have a great relationship with their teenage customers. John certainly was hip as he played drums in a local band. Customers recall how welcomed they were – one summed it up by saying “they loved us.”
Today a place such as a mall that has many teens hanging out generates a lot of apprehension and liability concerns. But in the 1950s things were much different.
|Click for photo of Maurer boys|
in their high school band
|Maurer’s was often crowded. Sometimes an overflow crowd, especially on Friday nights, would hang out in front of the store.
Inside teenagers packed the tables in the relatively small store. They went on weekdays and weekends.
They went there both after school and during school for lunch. Maurer’s was just a four-minute walk from the high school. Back then all high school students were let out for lunch. Many went home, but others went to Maurer’s. During lunchtime it was not a problem if students brought their own food in with them. As long as they purchased a soda.
One ex-customer said it was the place where the cool kids hung out. But others said that all kids hung out there, even the nerds – well back then they were called “squares”.
|Yearbook photo inside Maurer's from 1945|
|Needless to say, where teenagers hung out there was romance.
One gentleman interviewed for this article John Colligas met his wife Beverly there.
They were married for 59 years.
|The counters were toward the front and the many tables were toward the back.
Much of the walls were covered by mirrors. One employee, Ann Newland, recalled the owners went to great lengths to make sure that those mirrors shined.
To clean them a mixture of vinegar and water was applied. Squeegees and newspapers were then used to finish the job.
Few recalled getting products “to go.” At Maurer’s most everything was consumed there.
The soda was mixed on the spot. The employee, who was sometimes referred to as a “soda jerk,” would use the hand pumps for syrups of different flavors that were mixed with fountain seltzer for sodas, floats, and ice cream sodas. Cola and root beer were the popular soda flavors.
There was no diet soda in the 1950s.
|1950s Soda Jerk|
|Ice cream came in various flavors. For many years the ice cream was homemade.
It was all hard ice cream. Soft ice cream did exist in the 1950s, but it was not as popular. Ice cream products included sundaes, milkshakes, and root beer floats.
Roasted peanuts were on the menu as well.
|People recall that Maurer’s had some candy for purchase, but few went there for the candy. There were plenty of other stores for that.
Today there is sadly no trace of the once beloved teen hangout. Just the memories for the aging eighty-year-olds. Maurer’s surprisingly was closed by 1961. Details surrounding the closing are unknown.
This author welcomes any information about this or any general comments. My email is email@example.com.