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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spitting to All Fields, Part 11

Springfields skyline. Rewind a few decades:

The good old Third National Bank clock flashing the Roman numeral III.

The Third National Bank building

For decades, this TNB building, built in 1926, shared the distinction with 1200 Main St. of being the tallest on Main Street (both at 125 feet). The 1908 construction of 1200 Main, labeled a  “behemoth,” prompted such a ruckus that the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a law limiting commercial building height in Springfield to that height—also the height of the steeple of the Old First Church in Court Square. As a result, Springfield developed a modest (that is, dinky) skyline compared to similar-sized cities.

The height limit was finally broached in 1970 with the construction of Baystate West.

It started, of course, with a hole. Yes, that’s the former Carlisle’s hardware store in the background, which was long closed by 1970.

You can see the old Hotel Charles at the top middle.

The overpass to Steiger’s with the Third National Bank clock flashing away.

The overpass is complete! Now comes the tower: at the time, Springfield’s tallest at 371 feet (29 floors). An interesting Wikipedia site has not only a list of Springfields skyscrapers and their stats, but also links at the bottom other cities and their buildings. 

The good old rotating cube

The dandelion fountain

When Forest Park Zoo Animals Attack, Part 4

Upon opening the doors of the monkey house in Forest Park, my nostrils were always hit with a freight train of stink. But we were used to it, so my family and I hopped on board and entered. Our father always reminded us be on our toes, because many of the monkeys had a habit of spitting and throwing their scat around. 

It may seem incredible to some, but back in the 1960s and 1970s zoo officials let visitors feed the monkeys CANDY! My brother Dan and I had a routine to ensure that the less-aggressive monkeys got some of our sweets. The alpha male of each cage used to bully the others when they dared to lunge for our tossed treats, scaring the poor critters away, but if I dangled a Necco or a Smartie and coaxed him to the front of the cage, and Dan tossed a piece to the back, the cowering monkeys would be guaranteed a snack.

One time we performed our old ruse, and the oppressor monkey, angered at being tricked, slapped a puddle in front of him and sent water flying our way, but we were used to this kind of tantrum, and our quick backpedalling kept us dry. The bully flew into a rage, swinging his arms at the other monkeys, and then looking on the floor for turds to throw at us. The best he could come up with was an orange peel and he sent it flying, and then he followed it up by spitting, but by that time we had moved on to the next cage. 

The inside of the monkey house was used for storage in 2010, when the photo above was taken by Rusty Clark.

Beginning in 2011, however, the building has been the setting for a farmer’s market.

Posted on the “You Know You Grew Up at the X If” Facebook site: the most recent photo of the interior of the building, along with plans to turn it into what appears to be an art gallery (?), complete with a carousel (!) next to it and connectors to the two adjacent buildings.

Strange Springfield Gang Names

What about Springfield’s bizarre gang names over the years? I mean, seriously—the Johnny Appleseed Gang? Below I’ve listed all the Springfield gangs I know existed in the past five decades, and I included their rivals, their turf, and their heyday—beginning with the top ten weird gang monikers. Number one, of course, is Johnny Appleseed, but I didn’t rank the strangest in any particular order. I’ll leave that up to you:

Johnny Appleseed Gang: rivaled the Brown House Gang, lower Forest Park, late 1960s

Midnight Glowers: Donald Street, North End, early 1980s

Dairy Mart Gang: corner of Dickinson and Belmont, 1970s

Treetops: Sixteen Acres, mid-1970s

The Down Ones: Six Corners, early 1980s

S.W.A.T (Soldiers With a Talent): rivaling Sycamore Street Posse, Mason Square, today

Demon Strators: rivaled Whops/Last Survivors, Calhoun Park, North End, early 1980s

Whops/Last Survivors: rivaled Demon Strators, Plainfield Street, North End, early 1980s

Latin Destroyers: North End, early 1980s

Savage Crusaders: Nursery Street, early 1980s

These six get honorable mention:

Playboys: Waverly Street, rivaled Whops/Last Survivors and the Blue Boys, North End, early 1980s

DSN (Dark Side Niggaz): Quincy/Orleans Streets, Mason Square, today

Blue Boys: Patton Street, rivaled the Playboys, North End, early 1980s

Latin Warriors: North End, early 1980s

Bridle Path Gang: Sixteen Acres, rivaled the Circle Gang, late 1960s

Motley Crew/Motleys (unofficial names): Sixteen Acres, 1960s

Brown House Gang: Forest Park, rivaled the Johnny Appleseed Gang, late 1960s

And the rest:

Five Percenters: Mason Square, today

Orchard Street Boys: Orchard Street, North End, today

La Familia: Several territories, several rivals, today

Los Solidos: Several territories, several rivals, today

Latin Kings: Several territories, several rivals, today

Neta: North End, today

Spanish Lords: aligned with Demon Strators, rivaled Whops, North End, early 1980s

Outlaws: Donald Street (no longer a street), North End, early 1980s

South End Posse/South Side Posse: South End, 1990s

Eastern Avenue Posse, rivaling Sycamore Street Posse, Eastern Avenue, today

Bristol Street Posse, Bristol Street, today

Sycamore Street Posse, rivaling Eastern Avenue Posse, Sycamore Street, today

Bergen Circle Posse, rivaling the Sycamore Street Posse, Bergen Circle, today

Gunn Square Gang, Gunn Square, today

The Circle Gang: Sixteen Acres, rivaled the Bridle Path Gang and Orchard Gang, late 1960s and early 1970s

The Rail Gang: Sixteen Acres, rivaled the Mallowhill Road Gang, mid-1970s

The Clan: Sixteen Acres, rivaled the Orchard Gang, late 1960s and early 1970s

Mallowhill Road Gang: Sixteen acres, rivaled the Rail Gang, mid-1970s

Orchard Gang: Indian Orchard, rivaled the Circle Gang, The Clan, and the Motleys, late 1960s

The Corner Gang: Pine Point, late 1960s

The X Gang: Forest Park, 1960s and 1970s

The Circle Gang: Florentine Gardens (Forest Park), 1970s (Yes, there was another Circle Gang.)

The Center: Holy Name Social Center, (Forest Park) 1970s

Terrace Gang(s): Trinity/Longfellow Terraces (Forest Park), 1970s

South End Gang: South End, 1950s-1980s

Tapley Boys: Mason Square, Tapley Elementary School lot, circa 1967

Had enough? No, the Van Buren Boys from Seinfeld don’t have nothin’ on these gangs. I’m sure I missed a few (dozen). East Side? Hungry Hill? Post a comment at the bottom and fill me in! A 1973 article about the Terrace Gangs: 

I was driving by the Shell station at the corner of Breckwood Boulevard and Wilbraham Road on the afternoon of March 20 and marveled at the amount of police cruisers, ambulances, and fire engines in the parking lot, but where was the accident/incident?

The next morning I drove by again and saw that the main door and window had been boarded up (pictured at the center above). Could it be, I asked myself, that someone turned it into a drive-thru—similar to my friend Pumpkin Head smashing into the Dairy Mart on Plumtree Road and the elderly gentleman crashing into the old Big Y on Breckwood? (I had described the latter accident in Spitting to All Fields, Part 4.)

Sure enough, when I got to work and read The Republican, there it was: whammo. Luckily, no one was injured.

Yep, as a shopper/pedestrian, you definitely drop your Red Bull and Slim Jims and yield to a van crashing through the door and window.

16 Acres the band? Yes, although they’re from Atlanta. I have no idea how they came up with the name.

What’s this? A marijuana leaf was penned into the bleachers of Cathedral High School at the institution’s temporary home at the former Memorial School in Wilbraham. Pot smokers? At Cathedral? Say it ain’t so. Here is an excerpt from the February 28 edition of the Wilbraham-Hampden times:

“Feb. 5 at 8:40 a.m. K-9 Officer Joseph Brewer and other neighboring K-9 officers conducted a narcotic search of Cathedral High School in Wilbraham. One of the dogs alerted them to a vehicle in the parking lot. Inside the vehicle were baggies of marijuana, packaging materials, a scale and grinder. A 17 year old was charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute.”

Speaking of cops: bring back the 1970s Ford LTD police cruisers!

If she looks familiar, it’s because she’s former Police Chief Paula Meara. Now she’s the chairperson of Springfield’s Casino Site Committee.

This cruiser looks like it’s in front of the John Hancock building in Boston. What’s it doing there? Oh yeah, just around the corner, in Copley Square:

The Circle, Part 3

He picked up the neck of a broken bottle, glared at me, and ran it slowly across his own throat, leaving no mark. I was waiting for him to smile, but he didn’t, so I took him seriously: the Circle Gang was known to use weapons. But would he stab an nine -year-old kid? Unlikely, but does a third-grader know that? Not necessarily.

What incident am I referring to above? The time I had my second “encounter” with the Circle Gang. The first one, in which one of the gang took my YMCA carnival tickets, was detailed in Spitting to All Fields Part 10.

As a child I certainly knew enough to stay away from the “reading area” behind the library—at least until I was 11, when the gang members went their separate ways. Until then, The Circle guys had a reputation of not being too friendly to strangers who dared to sit on their benches. A few months after my carnival tickets incident, four kids hanging out at the tree walked up and cornered me when they heard me breaking beer bottles I had found in a little league baseball dugout next to the library. I saw them coming, and it was too late to get away. I was trapped in the dugout. And—oh shit—one of them looked like the ticket bandit I had sworn at a few months before at the carnival. It was either that dude or his brother. I was praying for the latter.

“We’re gonna get blamed for that,” one said, pointing to the glass.

“We should make him pick it up,” said another. “Hey, aren’t you the one who ratted on me to the professor at the carnival?”

Wow. It was HIM. He plucked a bottle neck from the glass pile and made a cutthroat move with it.

I looked at the shards on the floor, avoiding eye contact.

“Hey, he thinks we’re going to beat him up.”

“You better get outta here.”

I ran as fast as I could to the sound of their laughter.

James Coleman (pictured below), who wrote the book The Circle about the gang, smiled when I told him this story, but winced when I asked him if he thought they would have “kicked my ass” if I hadn’t run. He didn’t like me using the term “ass” because he disliked, as he put it, “wirty dords.”

No, they wouldn’t have hurt me, he insisted: I was way too young for them to bother with.

“You ran away?” he added with a smile. “You didn’t stand up for your right to hang out at Greenleaf Park?”

I answered his question: “Did I run? You bet I did. In the words of Richard Pryor, ‘Why get killed when you can run? Your ego will heal must faster than a broken jaw.’”

“I don’t like Richard Pryor,” he countered. “Too many wirty dords.”

I didn’t ask him about a longtime rumor that there were hypodermic needles permanently embedded in the tree. I decided to check it out myself the other day. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see a syringe or two jammed into the bark, considering the drug problems of many in the gang, but I didn’t see anything:

Whoops! I guess when you look hard enough:

Just kidding. I found that photo of a tree in Golden Gate Park on the web. I guess some junkies like to give trees some ornaments.

You know what’s funny? I don’t live in Springfield anymore, but I brought a bit of Sixteen Acres with me: my street is a cul-de-sac ending in a circle around the tree, and I call it The Circle. And there is a patch of woods across the street from our house our family calls The Gully. (Cue in The Twilight Zone theme song.)

Good thing there are no heroin addicts hanging out at The Circle on my street:

Oh-oh! Upon closer inspection:

Not really. Sorry, I couldn’t resist a belated April Fool’s day prank. For those who didn’t think it was funny, you know the old saying: “Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck.”

Sorry about the wirdy dords.


Anonymous said...

I actually did find a hypodermic there once in some bushes. I walked to 16 Acres school. I brought it home to my mother. It was actually more like a nosedropper with a needle on the end of it. i think my mother took the skin off my hands trying to scrub the germs off from touching it.

Hell's Acres said...

Yep, I've seen a few in the center in the past few years. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nice Page,
Where did you find the photos of The Springfield Mass Cruisers.
From Rob

Hell's Acres said...

Hi Rob,

I got the cruiser photos from the "You Know You Grew Up in Springfield, Mass. If..." Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/You-Know-You-Grew-Up-in-Springfield-Massachusetts-if/347088818713135?fref=ts.

Lots of great photos and memories on this fan page.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the point in the 60's...I knew the corner gang well...Ox,Bernie, Butch, Pete K, Dwight and etc..

Hell's Acres said...

What corner did the corner gang hang out on?

Anonymous said...

im ayoungin i used to live in springfield but my parents moved us putta there but me and my familey lived on eastern ave for over 32 years so when i saw your other page about springfield gangs i kinda wasnt suprised about the Eastern Avenue Posse