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Brookline Then and Now: Brookline Avenue, from streetcars to buses

February 24, 2024  Updated February 27, 2024 at 11:49 a.m.
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The older photo, which is undated, shows a streetcar coming down the tracks on Brookline Avenue on its way from Governor’s Square (now Kenmore Square) to Brookline Village. Connections could then be made to other lines going east to the Back Bay via lower Washington Street, west to Newton via Boylston Street, or north to Washington Square and Coolidge Corner via Washington and Harvard Streets. The brick building behind the streetcar is the Robert G. Winthrop elementary school, built in 1888, with the Brookline Avenue Playground just beyond it.

Later plans to convert the building – no longer used as a school – to a recreation center were delayed by the U.S. entry into World War I. The building was turned over, instead, to the Red Cross. It was taken over by the town’s Playground Commission in 1920, though parts of the building were used later in the decade to relieve overcrowding at the old Lincoln School on Boylston Street.

The Brookline Avenue streetcars were replaced by buses in 1926, and the tracks were removed. Bus routes, and route numbers, have changed over the years, but Brookline Avenue is now part of the route of the 65 bus between Kenmore Square and Brighton Center via Brookline Village. The old Winthrop School underwent a major redesign in the 1970s and is now the James J. Lynch Recreation Center and the headquarters of the town’s Recreation Department.

On the far left of the older photo is a wood frame house, with the original east end of Pearl Street between it and the school building. That house, and others in the block south of it, were replaced in the 1970s by a new housing development called the Village at Brookline Village. (Pearl Street now connects to Brookline Avenue further south.) The current photo shows much more traffic on Brookline Avenue, leading to and from the busy Longwood Medical Area.

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Ken Liss is president of the Brookline Historical Society.