Homeowner eyes 'Bette Davis' over fallen soldier for street name

Matt Lynch

The silver screen icon or the soldier? The Oscar winner or the hometown boy killed in battle?

Those are the choices for a street name in a new development along Farm Road.

While city ordinance requires that new streets, parks, city squares and city buildings be named after Marlborough soldiers killed on duty, a Vega Road resident has asked the city to make an exception for famed actress Bette Davis.

In the '30s or '40s, Davis bought a home at 180 Farm Road for her aunt. The star of "Jezebel" and "All About Eve" occasionally visited the city.

Marlborough Veterans Agent Gary Brown says Davis' fleeting presence in the city isn't enough to trump the original street honoree, World Ward II soldier Harry P. Boivin, a Marlborough resident who died Sept. 17, 1944, during the Allied drive to Nazi Germany.

Boivin's name is next on the list of fallen soldiers to have something named for him.

"Bette Davis bought a house for her aunt," said Brown. "She may have stayed there, but she never really lived here and she didn't vote here. I don't think she deserves it."

Michael Meyers, the resident who requested the change and who plans to move to Davis Estates, sent an e-mail to the Planning Board seeking support for the switch, which would require City Council approval.

Developer Robert Valchuis originally planned to name the development Bette Davis Estate after the star who was born in Lowell, but backed off when her estate said that would require Valchuis to pay a licensing fee to use the name.

The project is now known as Davis Estates.

Brown said the council rarely grants exceptions to the street-naming policy, and Planning Board member Sean Fay was hesitant to endorse the change.

"If the city is going to do it, it has to have a compelling reason and I'm not sure if this reaches that standard," he said.

Asked if the ordinance is unfair because it excludes other people who may be deserving, such as a beloved teacher or local charity worker, Brown defended the city's policy.

"You have to look at this thing in the big picture," he said. "They've had their name written up in the paper, had the notoriety, had a chance to work for those achievements. A fellow killed in Normandy, all of his potential died with him.

"No one has any idea what he could have achieved," said Brown. "He could have been a rocket scientist, a politician, the mayor."

The city has a list of about 50 soldiers killed in action whose names are next in line for roads, parks and buildings, and Brown said Boivin is especially deserving.

Boivin, an Army private first class, is buried in the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium, and the street would be something for his children and grandchildren to remember him by, Brown said.

"The fact of the matter is we're talking about a veteran buried in Belgium," Brown said, "and a family with no grave they can visit."

Matt Lynch can be reached at 508-490-7453 or mlynch@cnc.com.