Sign of the Times


The passing of another era has been marked with the removal of another landmark from Wakefield‘s downtown.

On Sunday, the giant projecting “Santoro’s” illuminated sign was removed from above what was one of the early submarine sandwich franchises in the Wakefield area.

Why didn’t the preservationists step in and protect this historic landmark? Were they not aware that George Washington’s tree surgeon once stopped there for a large Italian (hold the hot peppers) on his way to salvage a cherry tree?

savings_bank_clockLike it or not, the Santoro’s sign and The Savings Bank clock were probably the two most prominent symbols of business in Wakefield’s downtown over the last half century. The two objects were almost opposite each other on Main Street in the very center of the downtown.

The majestic Savings Bank clock has stood the test of time as an elegant symbol of prosperity on the west side of Main Street, near the neighborhoods where Wakefield’s early captains of industry dwelled in grand old Victorian homes on streets with names like Chestnut, Avon and Yale.

In contrast, the brash, retro Santoro’s sign directly across Main Street projected far out over the sidewalk in front of a shop that served the quintessential working man’s lunch – the submarine sandwich. Santoro’s was on the east side of Main Street, the same side where immigrant families once lived, working in the factories owned by Yankee industrialists like Cyrus Wakefield, who chose to build their own mansions on the West Side.

The Saving’s Bank clock had been missing since last year while it was out for repairs before being restored to its rightful place just last week. It’s almost as if one iconic sentinel had waited for the other to resume its post before making its own departure.

santoros1The old Santoro’s sign no doubt oversaw many a first date in the 1950s and 1960s, when Wakefield High School couples with little cash and no wheels made do with romantic dinners of subs and Cokes.

“So sad to see,” said one Wakefield native from that era. “It was one of the things that made Wakefield Wakefield.”

Icon or eyesore, the old Santoro’s sign was for many a distant echo of a downtown Wakefield fondly remembered, even as the square slowly slips toward a trendy homogeneity of tasteful wood-carved signs all illuminated with the same officially sanctioned gooseneck lighting.

The audacious, internally lit Santoro’s sign represented a time when a landlord and a business owner were free to do pretty much as they pleased. You may not have liked everything you saw, but horovitzthere’s no denying that it brought creative variety and individual character to the downtown.

The old Santoro’s sign and the business it advertised also has a place in the literary legacy of the mid-20th century. Internationally renowned playwright and screenwriter Israel Horowitz (WHS class of 1956) worked Santoro’s into several of his Wakefield-based plays, perhaps most notably The Widow’s Blind Date.

In Horovitz’s play, Archie, George and Margy – three adult characters who grew up in Wakefield – are having a reunion of sorts after Margy returns to town following a long absence. When Margy has trouble remembering Archie, he tries to refresh her memory. He reminds her of another time they had bumped into each other santoros_gonesince high school. “I saw you in Santoro’s, buyin’ subs,” he says.

And now another symbol of Wakefield’s past is gone.

Under the new sign bylaw, the only way the old Santoro’s sign could have remained was if Santoro’s continued to occupy the space. But Santoro’s wasn’t coming back and that meant the sign had to go too.

As Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.”

[This column originally appeared in the January 22, 2015 Wakefield Daily Item.]

One Response to “Sign of the Times”

  1. I used to stop at the Santoro’s almost across from the Atwell building at least once a week before school for a tuna sub to enjoy at lunchtime. (The other days I brought tuna sandwiches from home, lol) Sad to see the sign gone, too bad the “new” Wakefield is going so “upscale”. Just one more reason that I probably won’t go back.

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