Suffolk Square Remembered: The epicenter of Malden’s Jewish community lost to urban renewal

Shops, restaurants, and homes were central to the Suffolk Square downtown between Cross and Bryant Streets. (Photo courtesy of Linda Zalk)

By Gandharvika Gopal 

Once a tight knit and vibrant neighborhood, Malden’s vanished Suffolk Square lives on in the memories of former residents.

“There was a bakery down the street, and they knew exactly what you needed and wanted because they knew everybody,” Linda Zalk recalled of the Suffolk Square neighborhood where she grew up. “Every owner of these shops had a connection to the community and you felt very, very safe going there.”

Linda Zalk and her husband, Allan Zalk, who also grew up in the Suffolk Square area and was part of the neighborhood’s Jewish community. (Photo by Gandharvika Gopal)

On August 16, 1961, the first sale of property was finalized in an expansive urban renewal project for Suffolk Square, now part of the larger Faulkner neighborhood of Malden. The area was home to a community of immigrant and low-income residents, predominantly Jewish families. In the coming years, much of the region was destroyed. 

“The experience living right near and actually being part of the Suffolk Square area was very, very significant,” said Zalk, who spent her childhood in the Jewish neighborhood. “Suffolk Square was, in the old term, a shtetl, but it was not only Jewish people. It was a very cohesive community of immigrants from all different ethnic groups. Everybody got along, everybody was really connected down in that area.” 

An old photo of Linda and Alan Zalk getting married in a typical Jewish ceremony under an arch of flowers. Men are wearing yarmulkes.
Linda and Allan Zalk on their wedding day in 1962. (Photo courtesy of Linda Zalk)

With the intersection between Cross and Bryant Streets as its epicenter, Suffolk Square was a self-sufficient community of family businesses and local commerce. “There was a major connection with [economics], socialization, education… as well as an everyday experience,” said Zalk. She remembers running errands to pick up the English and Yiddish newspaper for her grandfather and a loaf of bread for the family downtown. 

“First it would be the drugstore and you’d stop in and either get a newspaper or get some candy and meet everybody,” Zalk said. “Then there would be the fruit and vegetable stall. You keep going and there’s the haberdashery. Then you’d cross the street and you’d see the gas station where my father would go all the time.”

Zalk recalls being comfortable walking from her two-family house through the bustling intersections on her way to Lincoln Junior High School. Her father, who owned a floor waxing company, worked in an office she passed on her way home. 

An old photo (yellowed) of a stark school building. One old style car (1950s?0 is partially seen parked on curb.
Lincoln Junior High School, which Zalk and many local children attended. (Photo courtesy of Linda Zalk)

Children in the area grew up going to school close to home, and their classmates became lifelong friends. Their parents worked nearby, managing family businesses and building a network of local relationships. The people of Suffolk Square sustained each other, and they maintained those connections even after the beloved neighborhood was destroyed. 

Over time, families began to move out of Suffolk Square, whether for economic or personal reasons. “There was a deterioration, as it always is, after many, many years of existing,” Zalk said. During that time, the Jewish population in the area was in steady decline. In 1940, the Jewish population in Malden was estimated at 11,500 people, according to a pamphlet on the area’s congregational history by Avraham Greenbaum. By 1965, the population was less than half, with 5,500 Jewish people estimated in Malden. 

Local business advertisements were featured in the Lincoln Junior High School yearbook, including Suffolk Square’s Glick Company Meat and Poultry Market, and Metro Floor Waxing Co., which was owned by Zalk’s father. (Document courtesy of Linda Zalk)

As the population in Suffolk Square changed, businesses began to falter, and the local government stepped in. “They were all opportunists,” Zalk said. The mayor at the time, Mayor Walter Kelliher, and the Malden Redevelopment Authority took advantage of a federally funded renewal program sweeping the nation.

Cities across the country identified certain areas as “blighted” or “decaying”—places where the state of infrastructure and economy was a harm to the residents and nearby districts. Local governments then applied for federal funding to demolish and redevelop those neighborhoods and were often aided in their efforts. 

Suffolk Square, just one target of the massive urban renewal program at the time, became one of the most costly redevelopment areas in the state. Second only to Boston in federal aid, Malden’s renewal projects included 231 acres of the city between the Suffolk Square-Faulkner and Charles Street areas, the Boston Globe reported at the time. 

Click image to see an enlarged and zoomable version. This mid-1950s map shows a detailed view of Suffolk Square’s streets and buildings. Red indicates brick buildings, yellow is for wood, and blue is for concrete. Buildings marked with an “S” are stores, “D” is for dwellings, and “F” is for apartment flats. (Map created by Kim Brookes from digitized 1957 Sanborn maps, Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Sanborn Maps Collection. See the Library of Congress for more information and map key)

The Malden Redevelopment Authority first submitted an urban renewal plan for the area in July of 1960, outlining purposes, objectives, and regulations for the project. They determined the Suffolk Square-Faulkner neighborhood as a “decadent area,” defined as detrimental to safety and health. “It is in the best interests of the City of Malden and of the general welfare of its people to undertake an urban renewal project,” the proposal stated. 

While the Redevelopment Authority promised aid and assistance to residents facing relocation, some locals didn’t wait for the project to be finalized before leaving the area. The Malden Evening News described a “small but growing exodus of tenants” following news of the renewal project. Premature vacancies of homes and businesses in the area resulted in arson and vandalism, which the local government was eager to control. Redevelopment Authority directors urged tenants not to move, despite fears of “a last-minute rush for apartments available outside the renewal area.” 

Goldman Funeral Home, a local business in Suffolk Square, was the first property acquired by the Redevelopment Authority in August 1961. (Photo courtesy of Linda Zalk)

One year later, Goldman Funeral Home on Bryant Street was sold to the Redevelopment Authority as the first sale of property in the renewal plan. In 1963, the Federal Urban Renewal Administration approved a $1,464,622 grant for Malden’s total clearance redevelopment plan. This would enable the city to proceed with the relocation of “73 families and 13 businesses,” according to the Boston Globe.

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The Malden Evening News announced the first sale of property in the Suffolk Square renewal plan. (Document courtesy of Linda Zalk)

To many, the Suffolk Square renewal project was considered a success and a positive example of redevelopment for neighboring cities. Malden’s economy began to recover, and the local government, led by Kelliher, established the city as a top recipient of federal funds. “Now on a renewal and rehabilitation thrust,” the Boston Globe wrote in 1965, “Malden this year observed the 325th anniversary of its settlements in a mood of comeback.” 

Some Jewish residents also contributed to the development project. Members of the Agudas Achim congregation sponsored a “nonprofit, middle-income housing complex, ‘Bryant Terrace,’ to be constructed in the heart of Suffolk Square,” the Jewish Advocate reported. The Redevelopment Authority approved the project by a unanimous vote.

Others were more concerned with the impacts of Malden’s urban renewal projects. In the 1963 local election, incumbent Councilor Nathan J. Schneiderman of Ward 7, which included Suffolk Square, was defeated by hardware store owner Philip Elfman by almost two thousand votes. “Elfman ran in protest of the way urban renewal was being handled in the ward,” the Boston Globe wrote. 

A view of the current area shows roughly where Suffolk Street used to intersect with Willow Avenue, leading to the heart of what was Suffolk Square. (Photo by Kim Brookes)

In the mayoral election of 1974, Kelliher was opposed by a 43-year-old mother and the only woman on the city council. Her campaign, though defeated, argued that Malden’s “human needs were forgotten,” according to the Lowell Sun. Kelliher disagreed. “I was called insensitive to people renewal and overly concerned with bricks and mortar redevelopment, but that’s a lot of malarkey,” the mayor said in an interview. 

The next year, Kelliher ran for city manager of Lowell. He was a strong proponent of large-scale urban renewal and opposed rent control in the area. While Kelliher was largely credited with revitalizing Malden’s economy ahead of the election, his views on redevelopment were challenged. Ultimately, the mayor’s campaign in Lowell was not successful.

Some former Suffolk Square residents, including Zalk, learned to understand the renewal project as a process of metamorphosis. “You just accepted it,” she said. “The people who owned those shops were the original immigrants, so by the time the urban renewal was coming and happening they were older, and whoever was in these other stores did not have a major role in the community.” 

Now, the redeveloped area includes a complex of inward-facing apartment buildings, a large public housing building for older people and those with disabilities, and a park with significant green space. The remaining streets are wider, facilitating faster through-traffic. Apart from a limited commercial center within the Bryant Street apartment complex, the region is primarily residential. Unlike the neighborhood Zalk called home, the current area features few family-owned or local establishments.

Zalk’s family was part of the earlier wave of families who left the neighborhood, before the initial urban renewal project was proposed. When she went into junior high, during the early ‘50s, her parents bought a single family home at the perimeter of Suffolk Square that was much larger than their previous home. Despite the distance, Zalk continued attending Lincoln Junior High and maintained friendships with people in the area, some of whom she is still in contact with today.

Zalk, third from right in the top row, as a junior high schooler. (Photo courtesy of Linda Zalk)

While the neighborhood wasn’t always the Suffolk Square Zalk loved as a child, it remained a sanctuary for Malden’s Jewish population and many other immigrants for decades. In reference to her current home near Oak Grove, Zalk said, “I could not have lived here when I was a kid. We didn’t know we were poor. We didn’t know that we couldn’t live with this other side of the city.”

“You just had everything there that gave you a very warm, comfortable connection to the area.” 

In 2014, Neighborhood View published a story on the Suffolk Square neighborhood, as recalled by former Suffolk Square resident Elaine Lubin and recounted by citizen journalist Sharon Santillo. The story received over 6,400 views and continues to receive views on a weekly basis ten years later. As a testament to the neighborhood’s impact, the story also received close to 300 comments, nearly all from former residents sharing fond stories and recollections of times spent growing up there. 

Significant research for this article was provided by Kim Brookes, a Malden resident, former archivist, and member of the Neighborhood View team of citizen journalists.

Neighborhood View is collecting stories, memories and photos of Suffolk Square for a planned multimedia feature on Malden’s lost neighborhood. If you have contributions you’d like to share, please email us at

About Gandharvika Gopal 3 Articles
Gandharvika (Dharvi) Gopal is a junior journalism student at Emerson College and a freelance journalist and writer in the Boston area. She is currently interning with Urban Media Arts as a contributing journalist for Neighborhood View.

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