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Tracking Joseph Rugo, his girls, and their Savin Hill three-deckers

Every weekday, Earl Taylor, President of the Dorchester Historical Society, sends via e-mail to his subscriber list old photographs from the neighborhood that are often accompanied by relevant historical information. Recently, he asked for photos of the legendary three-deckers that have dotted the Dorchester landscape for more than a century, evoking the following response from Bob Rugo, a member of his e-mail group:

 In the spring of 1923, my great grandfather, Joseph Rugo, who was a general contractor, applied for building permits to construct three-deckers at 20, 22, and 24 Hubbard Road, now called Hubbardston Road, in Savin Hill. His name appears on the permits as both the owner and the licensed builder; no architect is listed. His buildings, above, are the last three-deckers that are prominently visible at the top of the retaining wall along the Southeast Expressway, just north of Savin Hill Cove. The fourth three-decker on the street, 16 Hubbardston, closer to Savin Hill Avenue, was built four years later by someone else.

 In December 1922 Mayor Curley awarded Joseph Rugo the contract to build the Motley School (now condominiums) on Savin Hill Avenue, located directly behind the land on Hubbard Road.  In August of 1923, when Joseph wanted to add garages at the rear of each three-decker, he had to obtain permission from the state fire marshal because of their proximity to the new school.

 My great-grandfather had immigrated to Dorchester from northeastern Italy in 1892, returning to Italy in 1897 to get married, then bringing his wife and first child (my grandfather) to Dorchester in 1899. The family lived in a succession of rented apartments — in a three-decker at 321 Norfolk Avenue; on Franklin Court, directly across the street from 321 Norfolk; and on Piotti Place, then located off Franklin Court and now part of the Boston Edison/NSTAR facility on Massachusetts Avenue — before Joseph bought a house at 173 Magnolia Street, just west of Uphams Corner, in 1908. He was living there when he built the Hubbardston Road three-deckers.

At that time he had an office at 80 Boylston Street, known as the Little Building, at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets, overlooking the Boston Common. I used to visit my father and grandfather in his 8th-floor office there in the 1950s.

 In 1923, Joseph had six children: three boys who worked in the family construction business and three daughters, ages 16 to 23, who were not yet married. Apparently he intended the three-deckers to be available as homes for his three daughters.

 The eldest daughter, Emilia, married a retail store owner in Florence, Italy, around 1927-1928. They lived near a leather goods store in Florence that had been started by Guccio Gucci in 1920 after he had worked in England. Mrs. Gucci, who was British, enjoyed having an English-speaking neighbor with whom to have tea. 

In 1938 the rise of Fascism in Italy caused Emilia, her husband, and their son to move to Boston, where they lived in one of the Hubbardston Road three-deckers. After her husband died in 1946, she moved to Wellesley.

 The second daughter, Edith, was married around 1926 and lived in Dorchester on Larchmont Street in 1930 and on Fairmount Street in 1947. At that time she owned 20 Hubbardston Road, but apparently had never lived there.

 The third daughter, Anna, lived with her older sister on Larchmont Street in 1930. She married in 1931 and moved to Newton. Apparently she never lived on Hubbardston Road.