The Troy Street Observer

May 8, 1948: AFM Local 535 Burns the Mortgage

On May 8, 1948, it was party time as members of AFM Local 535 burned the paid-off mortgage on their building at 409 Mass Ave.

An earlier post described the situation with the American Federation of Musicians, and how the segregated locals 9 and 535 were merged into Local 9-535 in 1970. Here’s a bit more on the pre-merger locals.

Both locals wandered a bit before settling into their long-term homes. Local 9 was at 295 Huntington Ave near Gainsborough Street before moving to the Musicians Mutual Relief Society building at 52-56 St Botolph Street in 1938. Local 535 moved from a South End music store to offices on Columbus Avenue above Charlie’s Sandwich Shop, then to Worcester Street.

Photo of 409 Mass Ave
Only the “Local 535 AF of M” sign in the window identifies the union hall at 409 Mass Ave

In Dec 1938, the Local 535 Board of Strategy (president John Barkley, vice-president Newton Ball, and secretary Clemon Jackson) proposed that the local purchase the brownstone at 409 Mass Ave. The membership approved, and they moved in the following year. Their new home had two rehearsal halls on the first floor and offices and meeting rooms above.

Ten years later, the union paid off the mortgage and threw a party to indulge in the then-common ceremony of torching the mortgage documents. The building was now theirs! Said Lucius Taylor, Local 535’s secretary/treasurer, “Our turning point of independence has now been reached in our union. We have burned our mortgage and are embarking on a new era of solidarity and security for our union members.” Other officers participating were president George Irish, vice-president Joe Nevils, recording secretary Mabel Robinson, and John Cook, chairman of the board of trustees.

The music probably started before the ashes cooled. The house band was that of tenor saxophonist Irish, which he co-led with pianist Sandy Sandiford, and they had help from Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and Don Stovall, who came from their gig at the Savoy across the street to join in.

Local 535 stayed at 409 Mass Ave until the merger in 1970, when operations were consolidated on St Botolph Street. Losing the independence that came from having space of their own was one of the difficult aspects of merger for the former members of 535. Mabel Robinson remembered being kicked out of a room where her band was rehearsing because someone else reserved it for a card game.

I am looking for music appropriate for the burning of legal papers. Feel free to make suggestions.

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