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‘Dirty Old Boston’ harkens to community of decades past

For Kevin Fennessy, the now defunct Raymond’s Department Store brings back memories of his father shopping downtown “in the Theater District’s grittiness.”

Fennessy, who has lived in the Boston area all his life, said there is a variety of things he missed about Boston in the 1970s.

“I miss the nightlife of the ‘70s with the Kenmore Square clubs like the Rat, Cambridge’s Inn, Square Men’s Bar [and] Jack’s,” he said.

Fennessy is among a group of Bostonians who remember an older age of Boston, with fewer students and corporate stores.

One Facebook page, called “Dirty Old Boston,” allows such residents to reminisce with vintage Boston photography, and more than 14,000 people have become fans since its inception on Sep. 22.

The page includes photos that document people, local hangouts and other defining characteristics of Boston before the late 1980s. The concept has gained a following among both longtime residents and those relatively new to the city. Jim Botticelli, the page’s founder and administrator, said he started the page as a means of showing Boston the way he knew it.

“I wanted to document where the city had been in the past,” Botticelli said. “There are a lot of young folks around here who weren’t around back then and have no clue, but they’re all on Facebook and like to look at the pictures.”

Botticelli, a recently retired teacher who taught in the Boston area for 31 years, is no stranger to the city. After growing up in Lexington he moved to Boston to attend Northeastern University.

Botticelli said that the number of changes he has seen in his time in Boston shocked him, and it is important to him that he remember these changes.

“It’s a lot cleaner, it’s a lot brighter and it’s a lot more expensive,” he said. “It’s gone from a city of families to a city of not families — a lot more students and condominiums.”

Despite these changes, Botticelli said he is not upset that the city is different than it used to be.

“I’m trying not to put a value judgment on it. Change is change,” Botticelli said. “Nobody’s getting hurt by this, except, maybe, for the many people who can no longer afford to live here because of these changes. Obviously it’s a negative change for them.”

Fennessy also said he feels as though Boston has become less family-friendly over the years.

“I miss the uniquely Boston shops before every city became an outlet for Macy’s and Banana Republic and the Gap,” he said.

Paul French, a truck driver who has lived in Jamaica Plain his whole life, said the city has experienced improvements, but corporatization has visually altered Boston.

“The landscape has changed incredibly,” French, who moderates the Facebook page “J.P. Loop,” which also accepts old photos of Jamaica Plain and the Boston area, said. “I still love the city, but I feel that it went corporate. There’s an improvement as far as the accessibility of public transportation. As far as neighborhood stores though, it’s pretty much negative, and it’s all corporate.”

French said the inclusiveness makes the Dirty Old Boston Facebook page especially intriguing.

“A lot of people contribute things and I like the inclusiveness of the page,” he said. “It’s just fascinating.”

The Dirty Old Boston page is open to contributions from anyone looking to share, Botticelli said.

“The only thing we’re looking for is pictures from before the El went down,” he said, referencing the abbreviation for “elevated,” the former Orange Line branch of the T.

This would be before 1987 or 1988, he said.

The Dirty Old Boston page has been gathering photos from all over the city, and many of Boston’s longtime residents such as French, Fennessy and Store 54’s Wayne Valdez have been eager to contribute.

Valdez said the page is a great opportunity for people to share.

“People want to share their photos, and no one prints anything anymore,” Valdez said.

Valdez acknowledged the effect that economic changes in recent years have had on those who can no longer afford to live in the city.

“Things always change and grow, but I know from looking at these pictures that people can’t afford to live here like they used to,” Valdez said. “The rooming houses were all being abolished so homelessness shot up. I don’t always see it in the pictures, but that’s one of the things I get about them.”

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