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Howard Johnson
Howard Johnson's Restaurant
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 The first Howard Johnson restaurant franchised road side stand opened in Dorchester in 1935 at 944 Morrissey Boulevard.

Howard Johnson's Fire
Howard Johnson's Fire
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 Boston Globe article January 26, 1981

Fire hits Dorchester HoJo?s; $300,000 loss

By Kenneth J. Cooper
and John E. Yang
Globe Staff

Boston Deputy Fire Chief John Kilroy estimated that damages to the wood-and-aluminum building at 944 Morrissey Boulevard, at the corner of Conley Street in the Neponset section, totaled $300,000.

The structure?s distinctive orange gable roof, covered with porcelain tiles, collapse into the dining room in several places and had been burned through in others. The cupola with the simple Simon weather-vane toppled at the height of the blaze.

Fire companies ran hoses across Morrissey Boulevard, blocking traffic in both directions. The south-bound lanes of the roadway quickly filled with slush; Metropolitan District Commission crews plowed the area.

Restaurant workers said about a half-dozen diners and four employees were in the restaurant when the fire broke out. All escaped without injury.

Two firefighters were treated at Carney Hospital in Dorchester and then released, according to a hospital administrator. One suffered a contusion to his right arm and the other complained of discomfort in his feet, the administrator said.

The first alarm was struck at 8:40 p.m. and the fire was contained by 11 p.m., Kilroy said. Fifteen fire companies with about 65 firefighters battled the blaze at its peak. Equipment ringed the building in the empty parking lot.

Restaurant manager Louise Seppala said the fire started in an attic storage room toward the back of the restaurant when insulation around a pipe near the ceiling ignited. Fire officials said they did not know what caused the insulation to catch fire.

Waitress Diane Sternberg said she smelled smoke and notified Donald Currivan, a cook. Currivan spotted the fire and, with customer William Barry, 17, of North Quincy, tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher until the thick smoke drove them back.

Hundreds of spectators watched the fire destroy the landmark. ?I hate to see it go,? said Catherine Flaherty of Neponset Street, the mother of five. ?When I was a teenager my father used to bring me here for ice cream. It?s always been here.?

?It was well-suited as a stopping place in 1935 and it was sell-suited now,? said Stephen Graham, president of the Pope?s Hill Civic Assn.

The company-owned restaurant was open 24 hours a day and regularly did heavy business for breakfast. During the summer, visitors to nearby Tenean Beach would stop in for ice cream.

Opened on June 15, 1935, the restaurant was the first of the chain that has become familiar sight to highway travelers across America.

The late Howard D. Johnson, the chain?s founder, started his ice cream business in a news stand adjacent to Wollaston railroad station and opened his first roadside stand at Wollaston Beach in 1924. Johnson awarded the franchise for that first restaurant on Morrissey Boulevard to the later Harry L. Densberger. In later years it has been company operated.

The chain now operates 867 restaurants across the United States and in the Bahamas, Puerto, Rico and Canada, and 521 Howard Johnson?s Motor Lodges, according to Standard & Poor?s.

The company was sold to the Imperial Group Ltd. Of Britain in June 1980.

Last Tuesday, another vintage Howard Johnson?s restaurant was destroyed by fire at the Portsmouth, N.H., traffic circle.

(Also contributing to this report were John Wm. Riley of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents John Ellement and Barbara Stevens)

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Howard Johnson's Restaurant
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Created: November 21, 2007   Modified: November 21, 2007