Opinion

Jourgensen: The mini-Combat Zone that wasn’t

Selling marijuana on the Lynnway has generated its share of controversy but does anybody remember the great massage parlor uproar of 1980?

It all started, according to Item reports on the fracas, with “whispers of concern” in October of that year about an application filed with the city to open a health club at 821 Lynnway.

Proponent Gerald Benjamin, a Lynn resident at the time, proposed limiting access to his club to men only four days a week and to women only the remaining three.

That obvious gender bias didn’t generate public consternation but the notion of a “Route 1 type massage parlor” opening its doors in Lynn certainly did. Massage parlors were allowed in Lynn 39 years ago, but only if men massaged men and women massaged women.

That restriction did not prevent city officials from rushing to stop Benjamin from opening his club and keep an operating license out of his hands. After former city Health Commissioner Dr. Joseph DiClerico refused to issue a license, Benjamin went to court to force the city to issue one.

DiClerico was outmatched in his bid to keep rubdowns off the Lynnway even before Judge Samuel Adams ordered the license issued. John Mihos, who is still a formidable attorney, represented Benjamin in Superior Court and a city inspector (the great Gerry Carpinella) and the Police Department had signed off on the club proposal months earlier.

It turns out — according to Item coverage — that the City Council told DiClerico to not issue the license until the council could craft a new and improved massage ordinance.

That 21-section opus came before the council on Nov. 17, 1980, with exhaustive language addressing any “establishment for the giving of massage, vapor, pool, shower or other baths.”

More than a few people in the Council Chamber on that late fall night must have squirmed in their seats when they heard the long list of body parts that could not be touched or displayed under the ordinance and the list of sex acts it prohibited, including “flagellation.”

 

Even though Benjamin prevailed in court, the council eventually had the last word on massages in Lynn when it amended the 1980 ordinance two years later with strict licensing and educational standards language for masseurs and masseuses.

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My thanks to the informed source who told me about the former ballfields off the Lynnway where the light post sat in the middle of the outfield and the competition was fierce. Ballplayers finished games and wandered up to Summer Street where both sides of the street bustled with bakeries, butchers and restaurants.

There was the Warner Cafe, Dorothy’s Luncheonette (no one under 40 knows what a luncheonette is), Victor’s Meat Market and Peter Shabowich’s cafe. There was also a vibrant collection of social clubs at one end of Summer including the Odd Fellows Hall, the Three Crown Order of Vasa and Woodland Temple Lodge of the Pythian Sisters. A very different time in Lynn indeed.

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A friend gave me a copy of a February 1944 Daily Evening Item front page with news ranging from the dramatic to the fantastic to the heart-tugging. Basil’s Chicken Rancho restaurant on Exchange Street apologized in an advertisement for being able to provide customers with only one pat of butter due to wartime food restrictions. Another advertisement urged residents to contribute to the “victory waste paper collection” sponsored by the Lynn Salvage Committee.

News of the day from the war reported air assaults on Berlin and Tokyo and a bizarre story titled, “Lynn Army officer may now be ‘king’ of a Fiji island.”

You can’t make it up.

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