Nichols, Malcolm Edwin, 1876-1951
"Bostonians wherever they live should get behind Boston."
The words of Malcolm E. Nichols, Boston's last Republican mayor, uttered in his 1929 annual address, sounded the message that still prevails today, and goes out to suburbia.
Nichols, as mayor, as a tax lawyer, and during service in both legislative branches on Beacon Hill, realized that Boston's vitality determined the economic lifeblood for the entire region. He fathered the Greater Boston proposal that would have federal census figures group the forty-one communities in this metropolitan area.
In his four years closing out the roaring twenties at Old City Hall Mayor Nichols concentrated on municipal services, building the physical plant and raising city worker salaries almost $3 million. He saw work start after ten years of discussion on the East Boston vehicular tunnel; built 197 new streets and two dozen new schools; started repair work to the Central Library foundations; and established the Boston Traffic Commission and Boston Port Authority.
Police authorized strength was increased. A seven-year wrangle which prevented the union label going on products of the municipal printing plant was resolved. Expansion got under way at the city's airport in East Boston. Charles River basin improvements began. Exchange Street (now New Congress) was widened. And in a move to combat downtown traffic congestion the Mayor proposed a $5 to $10 annual parking fee. He said that better than four out of every five cars parking on downtown streets were owned by nonresidents.
Mayor Nichols' administration culminated in a building boom resulting from the 1928 pyramidal building statute. This allowed more flexibility for skyscraper construction and tapering structures such as the United Shoe Machinery Building. Other major projects encouraged by the zoning relaxation were the Sears Roebuck Fenway building, the North Station-Boston Garden-hotel complex, the 75 Federal Street Tower, and the start of Boston University's Commonwealth Avenue campus.
The Nichols administration encouraged plans for the water supply system drawing from Western Massachusetts rivers. Nichols proposed an overpass at Commonwealth Avenue near Charlesgate three decades before it materialized. A supporter of better mass transit, he helped pilot the first car opening the Ashmont-Mattapan Square high-speed trolley line.
One of two Maine natives to occupy the Boston mayor's chair, he was born in Portland on May 8, 1876. While attending Harvard College he worked at odd jobs and sold newspapers to pay expenses, and was graduated in 1899. Turning to elective service, he was in the City Council in 1905 and 1906; served three years as a state representative and six years as a state senator; became chairman of the legislative committee on taxation; and helped direct passage of the state income tax law in 1916.
He served briefly in 1919 on the Boston Schoolhouse Commission; then was named to the Transit Commission. He was named Collector of Internal Revenue by President Harding in 1921, and two years later was chosen president of the Boston Federal Business Association.
After several tries at the mayoralty the GOP member won an upset in the nonpartisan 1925 election over three Democrats. His first year as mayor saw a tax rate increase, followed by three consecutive cuts.
Unable to succeed himself by law, Nichols stood aside during the next four-year term of James Michael Curley. Trying again in 1933, he lost to Democrat Frederick W. Mansfield.
Old timers today recall a personal glimpse of "Mal" Nichols sporting his familiar derby hat, a trademark, and often displayed at Boston parades.
ln one little-known aspect he was a forerunner for consumerism. One of his early actions as mayor was the order to carry on the city's fight for telephone rate reductions.
Mr. Nichols died at age seventy-three on February 7, 1951, at his Centre Street home in Jamaica Plain, a little over twenty-one years after leaving Old City Hall.
Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.
Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:
Photographs and other images collected by the Boston Landmarks Commission for reference use and for publications as well as photographs taken by the Landmarks Commission documenting their work and city neighborhoods.
Collection of publications produced by the Mayor's Office and various offices within the Mayor's Office on many topics relating to Boston.