Right there in front of me stood the screened gazebo at a retirement community in Pine Point—an area that was once all woods. OUR woods. I'm going to call this development "Keyrock Woods" to avoid any litigation. I stared at the gazebo and tried not to flip my lid. “Count from one to ten and calm down, man,” I told myself. I went inside the gazebo, sat on a bench, and stared back through the screen door at the tiny speck of woods left of what was once our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise off Breckwood Circle/Grayson Drive. I sighed, whipped out my phone (excuse me while I whip this out) and then I took another picture (below) of what was left of our beloved forest. Here was once a vast expanse of nature in the middle of the city, and now it’s all gone—thanks to the Keyrock Woods development and the Prospect Park homes right next to it. “You know,” I muttered, “I should put my fist through one of these screens to show them what I think of what the fuck happened here. Nah, screw it.”
Confused about the whereabouts of the old Pine Point Party Woods? If you’re driving south on Breckwood Boulevard toward Duggan Middle School and you notice the Baliet Elementary School on your right, you will see Plum Street on your left, and further down, Pear Street. A left on either street will take you into the vicinity of the old Pine Point Party Woods. But don’t look for this sanctuary nowadays. The woods off Plum and Pear might have been forbidden fruit for money-hungry builders for six decades, but the property finally succumbed to development pressure several years ago.
I sat in the gazebo and my mind began to wander back 30 years ago to our antics in the Pine Point Party Woods.
July 5, 1980
I woke up to a voice. “Ooooooooh!” Such a pathetic howl. Was it an animal in pain? “Oh man! My head is killing me. My back—”
“What the hell?” I thought. “Where am I?” Oh yeah—I’m in the back seat of a car. Cripes, it was MORNING. “Oh my God, I feel like shit!” cried Rick Riccardi. I sat up and looked at him through the windshield. Wow. He SHOULD have felt like shit—he just slept on the hood of his Bill Jameson’s car!
It was the morning after Independence Day in 1980, and, despite our comatose condition, the heat and the humidity was waking us up—MUCH earlier than we wanted to rise. Bill Jameson had slept across the front seat, and Stan Janek and I were in the back, where we had passed out sitting up. Stan was still unconscious in a semi-fetal position. We eventually got up and out of the car to take our never-ending pisses, my urine as colorless as our zombified faces. Then we staggered around and milled about not knowing quite what to do. We were shuffling, as slowly as Tim Conway’s old man character on the Carol Burnett show. Rick, after drunkenly swaying through his long, long piss, crawled into the back seat and fell asleep. Man, was he in bad shape. He was still intoxicated!
We had been drinking Haffenreffer malt liquor—the green death—all night, and we were paying the price. What time was it? Who the fuck knows? Quarter-of-puke is what time it felt like to me. I thought certain it was only a matter of about 15 minutes before the green death—in the form of Haffenreffer…or bile—would rear its ugly head and gurgle its way back up my esophagus—unless I drank some water.
I know there’s got to be the morning after, as the Maureen McGovern song says (the fucking slut), but I never mourned morning like THIS morning. Man oh man.
The previous night (morning, really) we had ended our little bender the way we had begun it—in our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise: the woods behind Breckwood Boulevard and Rosewell Street, in an area bordered by Stevenson Avenue to the north and Gilbert and Wilmington Avenues to the west.
Back in the day this forested area was the best-kept party secret in Springfield. Unbelievably, we never ran into anybody in there at night—which was strange, because it was such a great place to drink. You’d think that some obnoxious Pine Pointers would have run us Sixteen Acres boys right out of there—Springfield teens being such a bunch of territorial fucks three decades ago. But no. Us Acres kids drank there unmolested. “Yeah!” I screamed one night. “This place is OURS!” And it was. Once upon a time.
The woods in the Breckwood area of Pine Point were named for “Lamont,” the man, the legend. Just kidding. We called these woods “Lamont” after the street.
Because the trails were so well worn by dirt bikes during the day, you could drive your car deep into the Lamont Woods and drink without worrying about the police. No way in hell would they take their cruisers through THIS maze. Just drive down Lamont Street, keep going as it turned into a dirt road, and then, of course, proceed with (no) caution when it turned into a path. Actually, there were probably half a dozen paths that led into our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise, but our entrance was the one mostly free of the annoying surprises—low-hanging branches, deep puddles, and quicksand-like mud—that threatened to block access now and then.
No, the Pine Pointers in the Breckwood area didn’t call this land off Lamont Street the Pine Point Party Woods. WE didn’t either. It’s just a name I coined for this blog entry. The people in that neighborhood just called it “the woods.” My circle of friends in Sixteen Acres just referred to it as “the woods,” or “the Lamont Woods,” or just “Lamont.”
But I digress. Back to the muggy morning of July 5, 1980, when my Haffenreffer-hammered head hurt like hell, when the incessant chirping from birds was propelling hundreds of imaginary needles into my scalp. My skull already felt like a loaf of toast that had been soaked in beer, but now the birds turned my brain into a pin cushion. “Let me see,” I said to myself, trying to piece the night together. We had gone downtown to watch the fireworks, and we parked in the lot at the abandoned Howard Johnson hotel on East Columbus Avenue. Oh, it was all coming back to me now, all of us squeezing through a gap where a board was missing on the hotel doorway, and having a huge firecracker fight in dark ruins of the old Howard Johnson. We were running amok in the pitch-black building, in and out of rooms, sabotaging each other like ninjas, tossing firecrackers at each other’s feet. Were we insane? Quite.
We bolted out of there when someone in the parking lot tossed a couple of M-80s through the door. “Okay,” we reasoned, “we don’t need an M-80 blowing up in our faces, and the cops are definitely coming now! We’re history!”
I know what you’re thinking. It’s not exactly the kind of an evening that’s going to get a bunch of 17- and 16-year-olds laid. But we got lucky that night—not lucky in the carnal sense of the word, but in the not-getting-busted-or-killed-for-our-stupid-antics sense. You see, on our way back from downtown we stopped in an abandoned parking lot next to the old Waterfront club on the corner of Hickory Street and Eastern Avenue to urinate, to dump some empty bottles, and to drain some excess water out of Bill’s cooler, which was leaking. After we took care of business, Bill turned the car around in the pitch-black darkness. Pretty slick, right? The problem was, during this maneuver, his left front wheel went off the asphalt and the car rocked, almost rolling us off the “cliff” into Watershops Pond—the portion of the pond that becomes the Mill River.
“What the fuck?” Bill screamed. He quickly gunned the engine and got the car unstuck. “Jesus Christ! Did you guys see that?” Yes. Thank God he had rear-wheel drive. “Why isn’t there a fence here?” he asked. “Jesus fucking Christ! Why isn’t there some kind of barrier on this side of the parking lot? We almst went right into the pond!” Why isn’t there a fence? Because it’s a friggin’ abandoned parking lot in a shitasss neighborhood! “Let’s just get the fuck outta here,” said Stan.
We had decided not to press our luck after that fiasco and get back to our oasis, our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise.
What did we do before we passed out? We listened to Bill’s Black Sabbath tape. I also recall talking about the Watershops Pond legend of the Lee family, who mysteriously disappeared in 1930. The Lees were discovered as skeletons in their car at the bottom of Watershops Pond 11 years later. David Lee, his wife, and their three children aged 8, 6, and 4, had evidently slid right off the road and into the pond during a snowstorm. The remaining snowfall covered the car’s tracks and nobody knew their fate until 1941, when the pond was drained.
“We could have ended up like the mother-fucking Lee family!” I announced.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, was the general consensus.
“Well, who would’ve found us if we rolled off that cliff?” I asked. “Nobody!”
Whatever. There was no answer. Everyone was either passed out or well on the way.
Now, in the cruel, cruel morning, with the mother of all hangovers, I checked myself: no injuries. I probed my memory: no arrests or any other unfortunate incidents. We had simply driven back to the woods, and for some reason we thought we might as well spend the night. Great idea. A nice little camping exerience. I think Rick slept on the hood because his back was getting stiff after he had nodded off in the front passenger seat. Yeah, sleeping on the hood. THAT made a lot of sense. THAT must have been really good for his back.
Again, I can read your mind: a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds staying out all night? What did their parents think of this? Well, I can’t remember ALL the details of that evening (facts such as the make, model, and year of Bill’s car), but I’m 90 percent sure we all told our parents that we were staying over somebody’s house that night. Either that or we said we were going to an “all-night roller-skate” at the United Skates of America in Chicopee—we used that alibi a few times.
Come to think of it, we should have just cruised over to the all-night skate. At least we would have had instant access to water the next morning.
Yes, back to the inglorious morning. Jesus Christ, was I thirsty. Our hangovers were debilitating and our dehydration was bordering on life-threatening. Of course, there was no water in the car. This was 1980. Nowadays, everyone nurses a bottle of water everywhere they go, every minute of our friggin’ lives. But that wasn’t the case 30 years ago, no siree! It never occurred to us to stock up on water the night before. Big mistake!
There was brief talk that morning of going to AM/PM Mini Mart at the corner of Breckwood and Wilbraham Road for nourishment, but we were lazy, immobilized by the green death. “Come on,” said Bill as he started his car. “Who’s coming with me? We need water!”
He turned on his tape deck and started blasting the song Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. God. Black Sabbath. We had listened to the album about six hours ago and we had sure grooved to it, but it wasn’t what we wanted to hear just then. The sound of silence was much, much better. “Turn it down, Bill, Jes-us!” I said.
The Sabbath sabotage roused Rick. It was apparent the power chords of Tony Iommi and the vibrations of the engine got to him. He stumbled out of the car, bent over, and ralphed on the path. The old Technicolor yawn. The sound of his puke made me gag. The smell made me retch. Was I next? Possibly. Flies instantly descended on the puke puddle.
Bill shut off the car, stopping the Sabbath onslaught on our eardrums. We needed water, but we were certainly in no condition to present ourselves to the public at the moment. Rick’s sneakers were covered with vomit, his skin was dotted with mosquito bites, and his clothes were drenched in dew because it had been a humid night, and, after all, he had slept OUTSIDE. Indeed, there was a layer of dew on the body of the car, a film of condensation all over the windows and the chassis, except for the perfectly formed dry shape of a human form on the hood— like a crime scene outline—on the spot where Rick had snoozed.
At that moment, I craved water more than I had craved anything in my life. Yes, even more than Farrah Fawcett. That morning, I would have much rather taken my tongue to a dripping rusty faucet than have run my tongue over a ready-and-willing Farrah Fawcett. (Wow, that was pretty forced. What the hell—I’ll leave it in.)
“Hey,” I said. “What about the ice?” I remembered that when we had dumped the cooler water last night, there had been about a dozen ice cubes remaining. I ripped the lid off the cooler. Shit. Melted! There was now just a half-inch of filthy water in there, under four empty Haffenreffer bottles. Ugh! Bits of peeled beer bottle labels and God knows what else floated in this toxic soup. I know for a fact that Bill had NEVER cleaned this dirty cooler. Perhaps, I thought, if I strained the water it through my T-shirt…Christ. Fuck that! It would have been more hygienic to wipe the condensation off the car with my T-shirt and then suck on it! And yes, I thought about it. Fuck!! Water, water everywhere, but no motherfucking drop to drink. Haffenreffer Bloody Haffenreffer.
We needed water right away, dammit! A drink of water! A drink of water. My kingdom for a drink of water! Oh, to have nice cold water wetting my dry lips, flowing over my sandpaper tongue and down my parched throat, into my queasy belly.
We pleaded with Bill, who lived a street away on Gilbert Avenue, to slip into his house and get us some water. “Fuck that,” he said. No way.” How about just filling a couple of bottles at your backyard faucet and bringing them back? “Are you fucking crazy?” he asked.
Whose idea was it to sneak into some family’s backyard on the corner of Wilmington and Herbert Avenues and help ourselves to their hose? Who knows? But that’s what we did. We staggered from the woods like a family of Sasquatches, lining up at the hose to take our deep, gratifying swigs.
Thank God they left their water on! Bless you, whoever you are! We also filled a couple of Haffenreffer bottles and took them back to the car. Yum. Hose water. The taste of green death with a hint of rubber graced my tongue as I guzzled from the bottle. Ah, sweet water at last. After we rehydrated, I could sense that our little camping trip was nearing an end—I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who had to take a nice big fat Haffenreffer shit, and I wasn’t about to do THAT in the woods.
What Happened to Our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise?
I guess we took these kinds of party places for granted, as if the Pine Point Party Woods and the Gully on Fairlawn Street in Sixteen Acres would always be there. But developers had other ideas. In 2001, the City Council approved a special permit for the Keyrock Woods senior living community on 17 acres of our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise, right where our entrance path used to be, dooming the southern end of the tract of the forest.
The northern half of the woods, amounting to about 20 acres, would soon be obliterated as well: by 2004, GFI Residential had put up 13 houses off Arnold Avenue and Christopher drive, and 13 more houses were under construction that year. Now there are a total of 77 homes there.
It’s astounding to see the difference in these photos: from sanctuary to sprawl. Below are satellite photos of the area side by side for comparison, prior to the construction (left) and after (right). Click on the photos to enlarge them.
I mean, Geez. Take a good look. Before:
…and take a look at the place now:
Keep in mind that the “before” photo doesn’t reflect all the construction that took place in the 1980s, 1990s, and the early 2000s.
See that dark chicken drumstick-shaped wetland in the middle, prior to the paving (below)?
That’s all what remains of our precious Pine Point party paradise (below):
In 2004, the Conservation Commission required the builder to surround this small wetland with a 100-foot tree buffer. If it weren’t for the tiny swamp, even these trees would have been plowed into oblivion. These are the very trees that now provide the “woods” in Keyrock Woods.
Again, take another gander at the before and after photos of the entire area. Talk about a scorched earth policy. Developers have even put houses on Stevenson Avenue to the north and on Delaware Avenue to the south.
Yes, there are even houses on both sides of Olney and Bissel Avenues now.
I began this blog entry with my venture into Keyrock Woods gazebo, and now I continue it with a small tour of today's Keyrock Woods. I walked out of the gazebo in disgust. Even with this devastation, I thought, I must be able to find the woods that are left and take a “hike” into the small buffer of trees and wetland, right? I thought wrong. I found the woods, but there is no way to get in. Below is a pathway AROUND the woods.
The puny woodland that escaped the bulldozer’s blade consists of a dense area of trees and brush steeply sloping down into the swamp. If you want to immerse yourself in THIS “forest” (below) you’ll have to die and be reincarnated as a squirrel to penetrate this thick vegetation. Wouldn’t it have been nice for the senior citizens to have a larger wooded area in which they could saunter down a leafy path, with trees on BOTH sides? Fat chance. The builders of both projects knocked down every tree they could. Feast your eyes, because this is as close as you can get to the “woods.”
I can’t say I’m surprised by this turn of events. Truth be told, Springfield will even cut a small residential lot in half and allow a developer to shoehorn a ranch house in sideways to get the tax revenue. And the demand for housing was very real during the real estate boom of 2004. Springfield’s senior planner at the time, who I will not name, pointed out that the wooded area around Arnold Avenue, in the northern half of the woods, was subdivided in the 1940s, but the parcels were never built on. The neighborhood enjoyed a bit of country in the city—and so kids like us—for 50 years. It was undoubtedly all farmland a hundred years ago, reverting back to woodland over the decades and providing us with the perfect cover to drink in peace.
How rural was this area? A woman I know who grew up on Gilbert Avenue in the Sixties and Seventies remembers a chicken farm at the end of Lamont Street, and a horse being kept on a property at the end of Gilbert Avenue. “The horse used to get loose every once in a while and roam the neighborhood,” she said. “There was also a small chicken farm. There used to be chickens walking on the dirt road.”
I could lie and tell you that I have numerous fond memories of playing in these woods when I was a kid, but I don’t. I never really even knew of this forest’s existence until I was in high school, when a friend, Tim Anderson, who lived on Rosewell Street, let me in on the secret. Back then I could even walk from my home on Maebeth Street down Sunrise Terrace and cut through the woods off Breckwood Circle to Rosewell Street without having to trudge all the way down to Breckwood Boulevard to get to Tim’s house. Needless to say, that shortcut is long gone.
Before the Bulldozers: WHERE was the Beef?
I find it amazing that there wasn’t much opposition to either the Keyrock Woods senior living community or the 77-house Prospect Park subdivision to its north. At a Pine Point Community Council meeting in 2001, residents listened to a presentation by the developer, The Roche Associates, and seven of them voted in favor of a zoning change that would make the Keyrock Woods buildings a reality. Four voted against it, and three abstained.
That’s it for a protest: four nay votes at a meeting that had little influence on the process, and those four people were mainly concerned about getting a guarantee that NOTHING BUT a senior living community could be built. Talk about giving away the farm! In the end, it is the Planning Board whose vote really counts, and guess what—the Planning Board voted in favor of the proposal.
At least The Roche Associates left a tiny bit of woods—albeit a measly 500-foot-by-300-foot patch of swamp and trees. Yes, David Ortiz could hit a baseball over these woods with a check swing.
Unfortunatley, GFI Residential didn’t even bother to leave ANY vestige of woodland to the north. Was there opposition to the Prospect Park development? If so, the dissenting voices weren’t heard in the political arena. In the end, the lone criticism, according to the Sunday Republican, was “a fence painted with a swear word near the homes” indicating “that some are not happy about the development.”
No, I wasn’t the graffiti artist. I swear. I was living in Boston at the time and I had no idea what kind of revolting development was taking place in our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise. In Boston, however, I did join the fight to save the 47-acre Hancock Woods in the city’s West Roxbury neighborhood from becoming an assisted living facility in 1994 and 1995. And in the process I learned how open space preservation fights work: the developer, in the face of a huge public outcry, inevitably scales back his building proposal. It didn’t really matter in the case of Hancock Woods, because even after the developer’s proposal resubmission, we ended up persuading state officials to buy the land and make it a state reservation. There we were, taking on a well-connected developer, Robert Walsh, who is a good friend of Mayor Tom Menino, and we were still able to quash the project. But we had a city councilor and a state senator on our side.
Moral of the story: if there isn’t an organized “Friends of the (fill in the blank) Woods” group willing to make a stink and get politicians to stick up for them, the developer won’t make any concessions, and the woods will be gone faster than you can mumble “those motherfuckers.” No, mumbling and murmuring doesn’t save any woods from being cut down, folks. Angry residents must be motivated to do more than paint an obscenity on a fence. You must be willing to chain yourself to a tree, and many of us Friends of Hancock Woods certainly were.
So, right around the time Hancock Woods was saved, the Pine Point Party Woods were paved.
Up went Keyrock Woods...
...and up went Prospect Park.
Below is a photo of the Arnold Avenue portion of the Prospect Park development. These houses aren’t exactly dumps, but the quality of life in the new neighborhood would be much better with a bit of open space left untouched, dontcha think?
I just love how developers always seem to give their projects names that include “Woods” and “Park.” The Hancock Woods developer was going to name his monstrosity—you guessed it—Hancock Woods. We told the Boston Globe that he should name it “Hancock Woods Defoliation,” and the reporter eagerly put the quote in the paper. Nope, there ain’t much woods at Keyrock Woods, and there ain’t no park in Prospect Park.
Our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise was the last unprotected open woodland left in Pine Point, and it deserved a better fate than to be wiped off the map. Our oasis was a-wasted without a fight.
Wait a second. I take it back. In spite of the devastation revealed in the satellite photos, I believe I found some undiscovered open space left in the Keyrock Woods area. Check out photos. The Roche Associates did in fact leave some some greenspace after their devastating construction.
And look: they actually replaced some of the ecosystem they destroyed with a thriving wetland:
Thank you, oh thank you, The Roche Associates, for thinking of planet earth in your planning, and leaving the senior citizens with some green space in which to frolic and a wetland to enjoy.
The same can’t be said for GFI International, who left absolutely NO woods. Wait a second. I stand corrected. They seem to have left two treebelts on either side of the southern end of Gilbert Avenue, judging from the satellite photo:
“Isn’t that incredible,” I thought when I zoomed in on the satellite view. “This I must check out.” So I hopped in my car, camera in hand. Well, it turns out that there isn’t much to see, but I thought I’d provide you with a photo of the southern end of Gilbert Avenue.
At one time, all the roads surrounding around our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise pretty much resembled this photo of Gilbert Avenue. But don’t be fooled by this picture. It’s a mirage. These treebelts you see on the sides, the “last vestige” of woods, are wafer-thin.
You know, ever since I moved back to the Springfield area three years ago, I had avoided checking out these housing developments because I knew that they would just bum me right the fuck out. So what made me go there? Maybe I knew that it was time to take a cruise down memory lane and pay tribute to not only the woods, but to Bill Jameson. You see, a year after our Haffenreffer night, he moved to Los Angeles, and he was murdered—shot dead in the doorway of his house. Why? Good question. The details of the deed were murky, and to this day the homicide was never solved.
Bill's whole history is kind of mysterious. He grew up in Sixteen Acres, but he moved to Gilbert Avenue when he was six. Then his family had packed up and moved to Texas when he was around 11, but he came back to Springfield when he was a teenager, and he ended up on Gilbert Avenue again. He even wore a cowboy hat once in a while, which is something you don't see every day in Springfield. Then he took off to Los Angeles when he was 18.
In L.A. he supposedly feuded with some Hispanic gang, and they offed him. Simple as that. All we received at the time was secondhand information—we didn’t know his family, so we never heard all the facts. Hell, we didn’t even know Bill all that well. He was a friend of a friend, but he was a nice enough guy. He had a bit of a temper—he certainly wasn’t too pleased about the M-80s being tossed into the abandoned hotel while we were inside, and he let people in the parking lot know. We had also heard other things: his family kept a bowl of gasoline in the backyard to start summer bonfires, and one day he threw the flaming bowl at his stepbrother when he was eight, disfiguring the poor guy's ear. I had also learned that he pulled a gun on his babysitter when he was 10.
I wonder what really happened to Bill. He was quite good-looking, and he did well with the ladies. I remember around the time of our Haffenreffer night he was seeing this really hot chick who lived two streets away from me. After we heard about the murder we theorized that he might have fooled around with a woman who had a hot-tempered boyfriend—or a pissed-off husband, who also happened to be a gang member.
I shouldn’t even dishonor Bill’s memory with our conjecture. Why did someone shoot him? Who the hell knows? Shit like that happens all the time in LA, we said. Fucking sucks, we said. And then we moved on.
Did we note the irony of Bill, a gun victim, being the grandson of a man who achieved some fame as a gun inventor at the old Springfield Armory? Probably.
Thirty years later, as I ended my tour of Keyrock Woods, I decided to belatedly memorialize Bill and the passing of our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise. But how? The foolish act must involve flowers, I said to myself, just like the roadside memorials to accident and murder victims. And at the same time, I reasoned, it must also pay homage to our Haffenreffer night. I also resolved to make a video of the whole process. With video camera in hand, along with a couple of “props” after a packy run to Winn Liquors on Wilbraham Road, my first stop was the Keyrock Woods gazebo. Then I drove down Christopher Drive, the brand new street which runs right through the northern portion of our former Precious Pine Point Party Paradise. I took a left on Stevenson Avneue, and then another left on Gilbert Avenue, the street where Bill lived. Of course, I didn’t want to create some kind of scene right in front of his old house, so I was a big pussy and paid my respects on the “wooded” area of Gilbert Avenue.
As you’ll see in the video (not to give the whole thing away), my tribute in the gazebo was quite fitting—even though my taste buds suffered quite an assault. But I wasn’t quite satisfied with my memorial on Gilbert Avenue, because I couldn’t find a flower. I had to settle for a weed on the side of the road. “Fuck that!” I said as I drove away. “Bill deserves better.” I drove back to the gazebo, plucked a flower, and made my way to Gilbert Avenue again. For those of you who consider this an act of vandalism or littering, let me assure you that this video was, in a very real way, a “green” production.
But wait. I’m not through. One last parting shot—in the spirit of the person who painted the “swear word” on the fence back in 2004. When I plucked the flower back at Keyrock Woods, I couldn’t help but voice my opinion of the paving of our Precious Pine Point Party Paradise.