When Lowell was Spaghettiville…
…and Wednesday was Spaghetti Day
South Lowell’s Moore Street still spans the half-mile between Lawrence and Gorham streets, but it feels quieter now, emptier. These days, the neighborhood, like a lot of Lowell, is undergoing a revitalization and renewal, but change comes at a cost. Moore Street’s 20th century institutions are passing into history, and are being replaced by new buildings and new stories. This neighborhood has been called “Sacred Heart” for its church, and “Spaghettiville” and “The Bleachery” for its factories. These names represent memories, lost institutions. New condos now fill the church. The factories have left, too.
Just off Moore Street, around the bend from Sacred Heart, the former Prince Macaroni Manufacturing Co. complex persists, its empty hull a ghost ship hidden behind the pale sea of gray rooftops and grayer pavement. It seems to be waiting to be expunged from existence, or to be assigned some new purpose.
The Irish called this neighborhood “The Grove” when they carved it from the woodlands and farmland surrounding the Lowell Bleachery Co. in the 19th century. Soon after, this outpost hosted an eclectic mixture of Bleachery workers and rural farmers. Some of their names — Moore, Meadowcroft and Whipple — still survive today in the neighborhood’s street signs.
After the Bleachery closed in the early 1930s, the neighborhood fumbled for its identity — until Prince arrived. To many outside of Greater Lowell, the Prince name conjures up memories of the Boston cityscape. Who doesn’t remember the iconic commercial from the ’60s and ’70s, with little Anthony running through the alleys of Boston’s North End as his mother beckons him back to his Prince spaghetti dinner?
Forced to expand its Boston facilities, the Prince Macaroni Manufacturing Co. moved its plant to Lowell in 1939, to the old Bleachery site off Moore Street. The city even renamed Bleachery Street to honor Prince. Everyone soon knew that Prince Macaroni on Prince Avenue was a damned good company to work for.
Walter Kucek spent nearly his entire career there. A Lowell resident with deep roots in Dracut, Kucek progressed quickly through the company, which promoted from within and hired from Lowell’s large ethnic communities.
Kucek eventually became president of Prince Macaroni’s captive graphic design unit. He created all the graphics for Prince’s promotions, ads, newsletters, even its annual reports. Kucek’s wife, Dot, worked at Prince, too, as did their son, and many of their friends.
“It was a family affair,” Dot Kucek says. “You just don’t see things like that anymore.”
Some 19 years after Prince closed its Lowell plant, the Kuceks spread out years of Prince memorabilia that Walter helped produce on their kitchen table. A 1972 annual report shows the Prince complex in its heyday on its back cover and reminds us that “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day.” A darker-haired Walter stares out from a 1980 newsletter. A few 8-inch by 10-inch glossies peek out from a nondescript manila folder, showing the former Prince Grotto Restaurant, located in Prince’s Lowell complex.
“You had to wear a jacket there,” Walter says of the Grotto. The black and white photographs show a decor that looks lush, posh and respected.
Ohio-based Borden Foods bought Prince from the Pellegrino family, the company’s owners, in 1987. Borden fulfilled a promise to keep Prince’s jobs intact for 10 years, but employee fears materialized in 1997, when the aging plant was closed. Four-hundred Prince employees lost their jobs.
The Lowell workers didn’t go quietly into the night, however. That summer, Prince’s union, former managers and investors formed Boston Macaroni, and, with U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, nearly convinced Borden to sell them the Lowell plant. The deal died, however, when Borden refused to sell the Prince name. Many area families boycotted Prince in the months and years that followed.
Vestiges of Prince’s six decades in Lowell still linger. Residents still remember Wednesday as Prince Spaghetti Day while driving under the “Welcome to Spaghettiville” signs attached to some South Lowell bridges. But for longtime Prince workers, the company was a member of the family who died in 1997. Even though New World Pasta now owns the Prince name and sells Prince products in the same blue boxes, it just doesn’t feel the same.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. Prince Macaroni Co. artifacts once belonging to Walter Kucek can be seen at the Lowell Historical Society.