Frank Thoughts: The Big House on the Hill
Frank Boland
December 05, 2013

The seven-year-old entered the building and walked through a dimly lit hallway.  He stepped around the body of a drunken man passed out on the stone floor then knocked on the apartment’s steel door.  The door was supposed to protect you from the outside world.   The outside world was Charlestown and the apartment building was public housing.   The people who lived there called it “The Project.”  Charlestown was famous in American history for the Battle of Bunker Hill.  But at that time, in1950, it was home for The McLaughlin Gang (Irish mobsters) -rivals to James “Whitey” Bulger.  The town and the building were at the very lowest end of the social economic structure.  And I was that seven-year-old.  

Six years later I was magically transposed to Belmont, Massachusetts.  Belmont is a suburban town next to Cambridge.  Cambridge, of course, is home to Harvard University and M.I.T.  It would be a stretch to say everyone who taught at either school lived there but it would be close.  Belmont is also home to an extraordinary number of very rich people.  The town became famous in a recent book “Coming Apart” by sociologist Charles Murray.  In the book Murray writes about the 1% -Belmont and the bottom 30% - Fishtown, Pennsylvania.   So I was transposed -in less than six years- from the bottom of society to the top.  But as so often happens in life, it was not quite the transformation that it appeared.

The town of Belmont has three parts.  There’s Belmont proper – an elite upper middle-class section and then there’s Belmont Hill.  The Hill was where the very rich lived ...  Charles Murray’s elite 1%.  It’s where Mitt Romney lives.  But that was not where I lived.  I lived down from the Hill and from the town proper.  It was literally down from both and formed the bottom of a valley.  The area was called Waverly.  It had its own zip code, separate from Belmont’s 02478.  All the homes in Waverly were two and three family.   It would best be described as a working class community.  But it was still considered part of Belmont.  It wasn’t exactly Fishtown but then neither was it Murray’s Belmont.

My perception of the world changed when my mother sent me to Oakley Country Club to caddie.  I was 12-years-old and awed by the aura of a private country club.  To me, all the members were rich!  At least it seemed that way.  So I asked each member I caddied for “Sir, may I asked what you do for a living?”  I figured there would be a commonality and once I knew what it was … well I’d do it.  But there wasn’t.  Until one day I realized they did have something in common!  Be they lawyer, doctor, insurance salesman, or Indian chief, they were all in business for themselves.  That was my moment of illumination.  It was why they could own THE BIG HOUSE ON THE HILL and belong to the country club.

Owning a business has always been the key to great wealth.  It’s why equities as an asset class have outperformed all others this year … and over time always will.  

 

Francis Patrick Boland

12/5/2013

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