The Commercial House, also called the Central House, had been erected in 1873 on a site just east of the massive Salem train depot and just north of the South River. (The river would later be filled in to create what is now New Derby Street.)
The new building replaced the Arrington Block, which had stood on the site since 1845, and featured a three-story, nine-bay main building with a lower and Slightly recessed 16-bay, ell on its southern side.
The substantial Italianate structure was designed by the firm of Bruce and Copeland. Originally, the main building was covered in shiplap siding, the ell in simpler clapboards. Both portions of the building were later covered with a stucco surface.
A number of the tenants who had leased space in the Arrington Block, including a cigar seller and a fruit store, opted to move into the new Central House.
Most of the upstairs space in the ell was probably leased to the Washington Hotel, a popular hostelry located in the Joshua Ward House just across the street, and designated as the Washington Hotel Annex. In later years it would be known as the Central House, the Radford Hotel, the Salem Hotel, and by the mid-1950s, the North Shore Rooming House.
The first floor of both the main building and the ell have been occupied by a variety of other retail businesses. Over the years the Salem Evening News has leased storefronts to bootblacks, pawn- brokers, tobacconists, tailors, newspaper and magazine distributors, express companies, and other commercial enterprises.
One of the earliest of these businesses was A.F. Goldsmith & Co., later the Goldsmith News Agency, which was a tenant from 1874 until 1899.
Another was a Chinese laundry, which operated in the building, mostly in the space at 179 Washington St., from the 1890s until the mid-1940s. The laundry had a number of owners, beginning with Moy Yum and ending with Lee Yee.
A succession of eateries have also leased space in this popular commercial block. The first was a restaurant run by Margaret Collins in the 1880s. Her establishment would be followed in the first half of the 20th century by the Essex Lunch, the Quality Lunch and the Astoria Restaurant.
Longtime residents may remember the building’s two post- World War II dining spots, Parsons Restaurant and the Crystal Luncheonette, as well at the Olympia Fruit Co., Colonial Wallpaper, and the Salem Card Shop.
Other notable postwar commercial tenants included the Soucy Insurance Co., Roderick’s Taxi, and Abel the Brush Maker. The Jewish Community Credit Union, the North Shore Babies’ Hospital, and a photo studio were among those who rented space in the Salem Evening News Building in the 1980s and 1940s. The commercial block was also popular with attorneys and Realtors looking to be in downtown Salem
For longevity, it’s hard to surpass the more than 100-year occupancy record set by the generations of hairdressers and ‘barbers who did business, in the portion of the building designated 177 Washington St. William Soper was working as a hairdresser at that location as early as 1881. He would be followed by two other hairdressers, F.E.D. Pariseau and Emile Levesque, and then, by the early 1940s, by the Caron and Simard Barber Shop.
When Alcide Caron retired, his nephew, Dick Simard, took over the business. His would be the last hair-related concern to do business at No. 177 — and the last tenant in the Salem Evening News Building.
Simard’s departure for Essex Street in 1987 marked the end of a long and colorful commercial tradition at 157-187 Washington St.
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