Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Friday, June 11, 2010

House of Television and Other Signs of the Times, Part 3

The remains of the Christian Bookstore building the day it was leveled in April.

So here we are in The Center of Sixteen Acres, which is looking less and less like The Center of old with every passing year. Where is that psychedelic Greenleaf Park sign? Vanished, along with Greenleaf Park's “Friendly Field” baseball diamond and dugouts—the entire complex is now a parking lot.

The Parker Drug sign was pretty cool—when was it taken down? Somebody tell me when Parker Drug closed! Where am I gonna buy my MAD Magazines now? I need an ice cream cone at Princess Parlor! I need a donut at Liberty Bakery! I’m craving a drink at the Parker House! DENIED! They’re all—ANCIENT HISTORY!!

Of course, the House of Television sign (pictured above) is long gone, and so is the Christian Bookstore (pictured below) building, where a CVS is going. A few years ago a Starbucks was supposed to be built at the site, but the chain began closing many of its franchises, and the corporate execs might have decided the The Acres is more of a Dunkin Donuts crowd anyway (there is a already Dunkin Donuts on the other side of the intersection).

Not that market saturation matters much, especially since the CVS is going up across the street from a Walgreens, but it’s a good thing SOME store will do business at the Christian Bookstore site. For a while the structure housed such esteemed establishments as a Nail Spa, and then it was shuttered for a couple of years. The Center was beginning to look rather ghetto-ized, with a Goodwill store and a Family Dollar in the old A & P building for good measure.

I had known that the building’s days were numbered when I drove by and noticed that an earth-mover had busted up and removed the asphalt parking lot, and I had resolved to take a photo of the structure before it bit the dust. But in one short day it was torn down, leaving me kicking myself for not snapping a couple of shots. Architecturally, it was nothing spectacular, but that is exactly why I wished I had taken one last photo—because few pictures, if any, exist of the place.

However, thanks to GoogleMaps’ street-level images, a handful of photos of the old building still exist online—at least until the Google van takes some new shots. So I was quick to rip them off the Web.

Long ago, the Christian Bookstore building housed the Acrebrook Restaurant, along with Acre Drug, before the drug store moved across the intersection. The structure also contained the Fred Locke Stereo store, where I bought my first car tape deck. When I Googled Fred Locke Stereo, I had no luck finding any photos of the store, but I did come across this nifty UFO, last seen flying over Sixteen Acres in the ’70s.

Here is part of a 1976 newspaper advertisement (click to enlarge), with George Washington wearing headphones, along with a badass turntable on the right. A Sansui 221 receiver for $128: what a bargain.

I was driving by the site right after the building came down when I noticed the only thing left standing: the Ameritax sign, which was destined for destruction. So out came the phone camera at the red light. Sure enough, the next day, the sign was gone.

Our tragical history tour of old signs and buildings moves on. Another look to the right on Wilbraham Road reveals the old Giovanni’s Pizza/Grinders neon sign, which I thought was headed for the scrap heap a couple of years ago after a couple of letters had burned out. Fortunately, Bruno’s, the shop that currently occupies the space, fixed the sign, and all the letters work.

No, I don’t have a photo of the old Giovanni’s exterior sign, but here is one of the wood-cut sign from inside the restaurant. Does this take you back a few years? Feel like looking through the window watching the workers in orange and white striped shirts throw dough in the air? How about a game of Asteroids and a slice? Only in your memories.

A look to the left down memory lane reveals Bing's Gulf, where the Pride station is now, and next to it the House of Television, replaced by People's Bank. Also torn down eons ago was the Burns Package Store building, which used to house Carlise's hardware. Carlisle's was a chain that opened its Sixteen Acres store in 1956 and closed in 1965.

It’s time to head down Parker Street for more of the long-gone signs and buildings of yesteryear. If you look carefully below, you can see old Donut Jar building, which eventually became a day care center, I believe. When I was a kid, the big joke among us kids was the Donut Jar’s sign, which featured a Flavor of the Week: apple. The apple doughnuts must have been pretty popular, because that was Flavor of the Week for several decades! Apparently, they never got around to changing the sign. (Duh!)

On the left you can see part of a gas pump from the ARA convenience store, which has been demolished, as well as the Donut Jar building.

Okay, we’re heading down Parker Street, and we’ll take a right on the Outer Belt…I mean Bicentennial Highway. Before we get in an American Graffiti-style drag race, let’s take a look at the Allen and Cooley Cinemas. The Burt Reynolds movie The End was playing here when this photo was taken in 1978.

Below that is an interior shot of the Allen and Cooley—yep, I remember taking in that horrifyingly bright red décor before midnight showings of such flicks as the Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Kids Are Alright. Boy did this place (and we) get trashed during those midnight movies. How many gallons of booze and puke were cleaned off that floor over the years?

Once, after a midnight screening of the movie Woodstock at the Allen and Cooley, my friend Rick Riccardi and I stepped outside to find ourselves, to our dismay, in the middle of a heavy rainstorm for the long walk home. To make matters worse, Rick suddenly slipped and slid down the steep embankment that faced the Bicentennial Highway. Covered in mud, he looked just like one of those Woodstock patrons that were sliding through the gigantic puddles in the movie! Actually, we both looked like filthy, wet hippies after cutting through Veterans Golf Course and getting soaked to the skin. Good thing our parents weren’t up when we got home.

The theater became Christopher’s nightclub in the mid-1980s, followed by Mikara’s (Didn’t Foghat play there once?) Now it’s an AAA Office.

No, this isn't a generic photo of just any old Caldor. It's the real Acres McCoy! I ripped it off of the Allen and Cooley Lot fan page on Facebook. It shows you how much of an institution this place was: how many parking lots have a fan page on Facebook? Anyone have a photo of the old Grant's? Let me know!

All right, we’ve passed the old Caldor parking lot and McDonald’s, which were the hangouts for Cathedral High School students back in the day. Let’s take a cruise down Sumner Avenue. There’s the site of the old Friendly’s, on the right, another former Cathedral stomping ground.

Further down, on the left, was the former Abe’s Kosher Market. Now it’s a Dominoes Pizza. What ever happened to Abe’s signature cow’s head sign?

Our cruise continues. There's the Bing Theater, circa 1978, with the Burt Reynolds movie Hooper playing. The building was a gas station in the 1930s, and then converted to a theater in 1950 and named for Bing Crosby. Movies were always a buck at the Bing when I was growing up, and they were always second-run.

Well, maybe not ALWAYS a buck.

In its final days in the late 1990s admission price was $3—still a bargain. In the bitter end, the city seized the building because the owner owed years of back taxes on it. The last movie to play there before its closing was the remake of Psycho in 1999.

The Bing fell into serious disrepair after it closed. Did Norman Bates’ mom (AKA Norman Bates) jump off the screen and slash it to bits to protest the theater’s demise? Check out the short “horror” film Terror at the Bing (AKA At a Theater Near You) produced by local writer and director Marty Langford about two filmmakers prowling around the abandoned and haunted theater.

Ah yes, the old Bing clock. Unlike the vast majority of theaters, the Bing let you know what time it was during the movie. I had mixed emotions about that clock: I thought its glowing red numbers and hands were cool, but at the same time, during a Sunday matinee, it always reminded me that it was getting late in the afternoon, and I still had a lot of homework to do. The movie on the screen transported me to another world, where I was free from the nagging feeling that I had goofed off all weekend instead of doing homework or studying for a test. Then a glance of that clock brought me back down to earth. Oh shit, I have to read an entire book and write a book report! A sheer impossibility! Damn you, wretched clock! I wonder if that fucker still works.

Does the concession stand bring back any memories? Goobers and Raisinettes?

Fortunately, for the Bing, there was always a committed group of enthusiasts, including actor John Shea, a Sixteen Acres guy, who wanted to fix the place up and reopen it as a performance space and art gallery. Despite numerous obstacles in the past 10 years, the renovation is finally taking place, and there are events scheduled there. Terror at the Bing was screened at its June 5 reopening, and a Dead Heads Family Reunion concert, which also features a Grateful Dead art, and memorabilia show, will take place on June 25 and 26. Dead Heads are invited to shake their bones, but don't smoke 'em: those seats are being renovated, and they don’t need any more burn holes.

The Bing Arts Center today (below). Unfortunately, the raised lettering on top of the old Bing marquee is gone.

No, you can't get a slice at Olympia Pizza across White Street any more, but you can get a meal at A Touch of Garlic.

In my next entry, our Sumner Avenue cruise will include a stop at the old Cinema X. Care to guess the year on the undated photo below? You can't see the movie on the marquee, so that won't give you a clue, but those muscle cars might.