Nissenbaum’s Auto Parts

The Somerville, Massachusetts institution fades away.

According to the company website, Nissenbaum Auto Parts was founded in 1910, by Jacob Nissenbaum, a Jewish immigrant who fled the repressions of czarist Russia, drove a horse and buggy as he collected rags and paper in Somerville and Cambridge.

Over the decades, future generations of Nissenbaums joined the business, in 1929, Joseph, Jacob’s son replaced the horse and carts with trucks and grew the business by purchasing scrap cars.

In 1937, Jacob retired, and Joseph passed away, leaving his son Max to take over as owner and manager who expanded the property and by the mid 50s, Nissenbaum’s started selling auto and truck parts, allowing customers to remove their own parts from the scrapped cars. The first state approved auto body incinerator was erected in 1964 and used until 1967, when vehicles were brought to the shredder.

The fourth generation recyclers, Joseph and Allen, joined the business in the mid 1960s and since that time, Nissembaum’s has dealt primarily in older automobile salvage. Today Neil Nissenbaum marks the fifth generation of family ownership, working alongside his father Joseph, who was 83-years-old in 2022 and his 78-year-old uncle, Allen

The property is now scheduled to be part of the Boynton Yards project, which opened a nine-story building nearby in May 2022, the first of four buildings planned for the life sciences.

According to the Boston Globe, the family listed the property for sale in December 2020, after discussions and years of watching how the neighborhood might change. The time felt right, the Nissenbaums reported.

Another factor, they said, is that demand for car parts has fallen off, particularly in a longtime blue-collar city that has seen more and more gentrification.

Not many years ago, Allen said, “everyone in Somerville had a used car. Who lives here now? People who ride a bicycle and drink latte. None of that group needs us.”

The Nissenbaums know their family history well, and they relate it with pride. They’re also realists, and they figure that the business will fade from most people’s memories after the new Somerville rises there.

“The name has been out front for 112 years. But when people drive down the street in five years, they won’t know we were here,” Allen said.

I shot these photographs on a Sunday morning in February 2023 with fellow photographers, Dave Brigham and Mike Zeis. Dave, Mike and I are holding tight to the remnants of the 20th century world we grew up in. We share an enthusiasm for fading architecture of the 20th century and a love for hand-painted signage and urban blight and our visit to Nissenbaum’s did not disappoint.

The above photographs were made with my Olympus PEN EP-2 digital camera. Please feel free to leave your comments or share your memories of a fading Somerville as gentrification continues to re-invent the city.

Thank you for visiting.