June 16, 1958: A Boston Blow-Up at Valli’s
June 16 fell on a Monday, a quiet night in the quiet summer season, when venues closed and musicians and listeners alike headed for the shore. The grand opening of the new Summer Storyville on Cape Cod was two weeks away. But on this Monday, city-bound jazz fans were happily anticipating Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. Featured was Herb Pomeroy’s Orchestra, tuning up for its debut at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 3—and Gerry Mulligan was on hand as guest soloist.
Not far from the Jazz Night concert, at 76 Warrenton Street, was Valli’s Italian Restaurant, closed as usual on this Monday. Valli’s had opened the previous fall and provided work for a series of trios, including those of Al Vega, Ernie West, and Artie Barsamian. Valli’s also discovered “exotic” dancers, like Zehra the Greek Goddess of Dance, and Sheba, Queen of the Nile (this was at the height of the “baklava bistro” era in downtown Boston).
At 8:30, while Pomeroy’s band was entertaining a crowd of about 15,000 in the Public Garden, all hell broke loose on Warrenton Street. Valli’s blew up.
A “high powered explosion” blew out the club, cracked the wall on the building next door, knocked people out of their chairs at the Hotel LaSalle. Police and firefighters were quickly on the scene, but then an anonymous caller warned that there was another bomb planted next door, at the Jazz Box nightclub. The police evacuated that buliding, and the Hotel LaSalle at 68 Warrenton as well. There was no bomb, but there was plenty of confusion
Police quickly established that it was dynamite, ignited by a 25-foot fuse, long enough for the bomber to get halfway to Brookline before the blast. “The front doors were blown out into Warrenton st. and the place left a wreck. A piano was reduced to splinters,” reported the Globe the next day. That the place was empty at the time, the police surmised, meant somebody was sending a message. Valli’s did not reopen, and the crime remained unsolved.
Oh, and the music? Both John McLellan and Fr. Norman O’Connor gave the concert high marks. Pomeroy and company were ready for Newport, and we’ll catch up with them there.