The Who2 Blog

122 Bowdoin Street and the Kennedy Clan

Those who know Boston may be interested in the route that Ted Kennedy‘s body will take in his funeral cortege today. Near the Massachusetts State House the Senator will visit an odd address:

Continuing to Bowdoin Street, Senator Kennedy will pass 122 Bowdoin, where he opened his first office as an Assistant District Attorney and President Kennedy lived while running for Congress in 1946.

122 Bowdoin was indeed an important local station stop on President John F. Kennedy‘s political railway. He did more than just live there in 1946; he kept the place for years as a combination office and crash pad for whenever he was in Boston.

It was near the Boston political action, with a coffee shop downstairs where State House types would go to gossip and cut deals. When JFK voted on election day in 1960, 122 Bowdoin was the legal address he gave.

[A 2017 view of 122 Bowdoin Street from Google Maps; 122 is the closed green door, second doorway from the right.]

I once read in one of the JFK biographies — it wasn’t A Thousand Days but might have been Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye — that JFK kept the apartment while he was president, and that after JFK was killed in 1963, the Kennedy family still kept renting the apartment, year after year. The implication was that the family kept it into the 1970s and beyond.

In 1985 I visited Boston and made a special trip to find 122 Bowdoin and see if JFK’s name was still on the register. The address isn’t hard to find — it truly is just steps from the State House:


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122 Bowdoin looked like a hundred other apartment doorways downtown, with a narrow entrance into a small vestibule with a buzzer system, then a locked door leading to a lobby stairway.

Alas, the directory next to the buzzer showed no listing for John F. Kennedy. But then a second look showed a name that was close: J. Kennett. A subtle shorthand to protect the family’s privacy, I wondered? After all, if you pronounce both of the last two letters you get “Kennet-tee.”

Still, that was just a coincidence, I figured. I assumed the family had given up the apartment years ago.

Now I’m not so sure.

Check the JFK Library’s helpful list of John F. Kennedy’s residences over the years. Only two of them list dates with an open-ended hyphen: Hyannis Port (“1929-“) and 122 Bowdoin Street, Apt. 36 (“1947-“).

We know the Kennedys still own the first address, the compound at Hyannis Port; Teddy just passed away there, in fact. Does that mean they also…?

These days you can rent your own apartment at 122 Bowdoin: $900 for a studio, $1850 for a two-bedroom. Pretty fair prices for Boston.

But can you rent apartment 36?  It seems that someone has: the current name on the nameplate for apartment 36 is “J. King.” (But wait!  John Kennedy… J. Kennett… J. King?  Just a Koincidence?)

Whatever the truth about 122 Bowdoin, I find it touching that Sen. Kennedy will cruise by today.

As an aside, the JFK Library also lists “The President’s Books at 122 Bowdoin Street.” Among the 150 or so titles:

Pennsylvania 1651-1756
The Man versus The State
Lolita
The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume I-IV
Rasputin–Neither Devil Nor Saint
Off My Sea Chest
Things Catholics are Asked About

You’ve got to love a president who reads. Salute!

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