Saturday, February 13, 2016

Goodbye Mr. Keyes

Lowell Cultural Resource Inventory
It is with a heavy heart I announce the passing of the Keyes Block (the old Cosmo building on Market Street).  Probably the oldest building in the Acre, the old boy has passed due to old age.  There were attempts to resuscitate the poor soul, but alas its last days have come. 

Originally called the Bull Block, it was built in 1833-34 by Abner Bull and passed through several hands until Irish immigrant Patrick Keyes bought it in 1866.  Keyes and his family remained as occupants in the upper floors until 1906.  Keyes operated a grocery store on the ground level and became active in Lowell politics.  His children all attended local school and many became teachers in the city’s schools.  His story is representative of so many others who came to Lowell as an immigrant and sought their fortune and new life in America. 

The iconic brick structure built in the Greek revival style had a number of evolutions.  In the 1830s it was witness to the Irish/Yankee riots.  In the 1840s it saw the rise of the Paddy camps.  In the 185os the Know Nothings passed by on the “smelling committee” visits to Notre Dame Academy.  When the Civil War began Lowell’s Irish marched by after attending Mass at St. Pat’s on their way to battle.  After Mr. Keyes sold it in 1906, it was at the center of the Greek community where shops sold feta and black olives.  Finally, many will remember it as the Cosmo and the hangout of some of Lowell’s livelier characters. 

When the bricks begin to fall to the demolition ball, one of Lowell’s earliest buildings will fade into history.  I have this thought.  Maybe we could take the granite lintel and sills that date back to the erection of Bull Block and put them to good use in the Acre.  Maybe use as curbing in an Acre garden or outline where the shanty once stood in St. Patrick’s churchyard as a memorial.  I’ve contacted the owner, Mr. Kazanjian.  Let’s see what happens.


  1. Sad we are not going to get the immigrant tenement museum like in NYC you had been wishing for David. Like your idea for shanty memorial.

  2. I remember trying to go to sleep at night, while living on Suffolk St., and they'd have the jukebox blaring. You could even hear people yelling or talking loud from inside the place. I also remember shoe shine boys going there during the afternoons after school to try to earn a buck shining shoes. That building also housed Tournas' Peanut Shop too I believe. Lots of history in that building.

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  5. There were six of us villains who lives at 324 Suffolk Street just adjacent to st. Patrick's Church in school and of course the canal. We all had to learn how to Irish step dance. The older 3 got pretty good and we're in competition. I shall never forget one Christmas Eve service. At least four of us were in the choir under mr. Mcgrail's leadership. As was customary in those days, (circa 1960) they had hired two professional singers from Boston, a man and a woman, to take the lead parts in some of the Holy songs that we sang. One of my older brothers had tried alcohol that night for the first time. I think it was Boone's Farm cherry wine. As the bass emanating from the huge organ pipes check our little bodies, the man first started singing operatically. Buy Boone's Farm Brother started laughing. Which got all of us laughing. Poor mr. Mcgrail tried and tried to stare us down, all to no avail. Even though we couldn't stop laughing, I'll never forget the feeling that we had committed a sin in church. That was truly a Christmas Eve service to remember.