On Tuesday, Boston.com told the story of Alex Robinson, who found a message from a previous owner under the threshold of a Charlestown row house.
The message was scribbled in pencil across a piece of wood by ‘Albert Stella,’ presumed to be a previous owner of the house. It read in part: “Threshold 5/10/41 by Albert Stella this floor was laid. Go fuck yourself.”
The note seemed like blunt but good-natured chiding for whoever undid the hard work Stella put into laying down the floors. In this case, Robinson, a tech consultant who bought the home in 2014 and has spent the summer attempting renovations at least in part on his own, found himself on the receiving end.
After publishing the story, Boston.com heard from some Stella family members, including Bill Stella, Albert’s son, who talked about his dad, the neighborhood, and the house Robinson now calls home.
“I grew up in that house on the third floor,” Bill Stella said.
Albert Stella was born Albert Estella, in Portugal. According to his son, Albert and a brother immigrated to the U.S., and started their working years as vaudeville performers in Boston.
“They used to perform at the Bowdoin Square Theatre. They were dancers and singers,” he said. “When vaudeville died, so did they. They had nothing to do.”
It was the 1930s, and with the old theaters abandoning vaudeville, Albert took a job at a railyard, where he remained employed for the next 40 years. It’s also where he got his somewhat Anglicized name.
His son, Bill, explained: “In those days, you would go to the foreman to look for a job. The foreman was an Irish guy. He said ‘What the hell is your name? Estolla? From now on you’re Stella.’” (The impromptu name change caused trouble years later when Albert went to check on his pension. He had to get his name formally changed through the courts to get the money, according to Bill.)
After finding a stable job in Boston, Albert and his brother returned to Portugal to find their brides. The two brothers married two sisters and brought them back to Boston.
Soon after arriving back in Charlestown with his wife, Albert and his new wife, Marie, had their first son, Joseph. Bill was born five years later, in 1938.
Albert and Marie raised their four kids in the Charlestown row house now owned by Robinson. Life in the Charlestown row house was full of activity. Even the birth of a baby didn’t slow down the goings-on within the Stella household.
“I was born in that house. Most of the kids were back then,” said Bill. “They called the doctor over and he had to wait until she was dilated. She was cooking a turkey dinner while they waited. The doctor would sit down with my father and have a drink. Then she said ‘I think it’s time,’ and they went upstairs to have the baby.”
Shortly after giving birth, Marie joined Albert and the doctor for dinner.
There aren’t likely to be any babies delivered in Charlestown row houses these days. But some things about the life of Albert Stella and that of the row house’s new owner, Alex Robinson, aren’t so different.
It was after shifts working at the railroad that Albert Stella laid down the row house’s floors. “He did as much work as he could in that house,” said Bill.
Robinson is now working on the same floors in the evening when he returns home from his job as a tech consultant.
Bill was three-years-old when his father wrote his cursing message under a first-floor threshold. “I saw you wrote he used square nails. That’s likely because they were cheaper, or someone gave them to him.”
Bill remembers the Charlestown he knew growing up. Next door was “Big John Doherty,” an amiable Irishman who used to give Bill tea and a scone as a snack.
“I thought they sucked, but I always said ‘I love them, John.’” said Bill with a laugh.
Across the way were the Fallons. Pat Fallon was a cop, and wasn’t particularly loved by the neighborhood.
“Pat Fallon was a prick,” said Bill.
Overall, Bill remembers a “very close-knit” neighborhood where people knew each other and felt safe.
“Everybody trusted everybody else. On the other side was a park where everyone would play,” Bill said.
More than seventy years later, Robinson said the neighborhood is still “definitely close-knit.” He described his neighbors as both “welcoming and helpful.”
The park Bill remembers is still there.