Monday, December 1, 2014
There I was, in the hallway of the MassMutual Center’s convention space at Boden USA’s clothing liquidation sale on November 29, when I saw One Financial Plaza out the window, so I had to take a photo (above).
The building reminded me of “City Hole,” the gargantuan divot that was on the site for 11 long years, and evidence in the early 1980s that downtown Springfield had “jumped the shark.”
But is downtown making a comeback, especially with the casino coming? After all, I was downtown with my family to go to the Boden sale, then off to the Festival of Trees in Tower Square, and then we rounded the day off at the Springfield Science Museum for the gingerbread house exhibit. There was also Springfield Falcons game in town that night, and as you can see on the sign on the right in the above photo, the UMass basketball team is playing Florida Gulf Coast University at the MassMutual Center on December 7.
But I couldn’t help thinking about City Hole.
The 17-story building was finally constructed in 1983 on the corner of Main and Court streets. It was known then as the Bank of Boston building and ended 11 years of the infamous “City Hole” blight downtown. It is pictured above shortly after it was built.
My feet crunched on broken glass as I walked to the curb and peered past Forbes & Wallace. “Where the hell is the bus?” I yelled. My question echoed down Vernon Street, under the second-story pedestrian walkway that connected Baystate West and Forbes & Wallace. The buildings were linked like Siamese Twins, and it occurred to me that when one Siamese twin dies, the other’s demise usually follows, because they share the same organs. My friends agreed. “Yep, remember Chang and Eng in my freak book?” asked Dan. “Eng died a few hours after Chang.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “That’s where I read it.”
“Hey, what happens when one Siamese twin murders someone?” queried Dave. “Does the other one have to go to the slammer with him?”
“Well, yeah, joint venture, aiding and abetting, and all that shit,” I said. “But I don’t think it’s ever happened.”
“That would be a great movie!” said Dan.
This truly intellectual conversation actually began a few minutes earlier when we were hanging out in what we called the “Grassy Hole.” The mayor’s detractors called it “City Hole” because the embarrassing cavity was right next to City Hall. The crater on the corner of Main and Court Streets, where J.C. Penney and the Capitol Theater once stood. The city had demolished the vacant 115-year-old building in ’72 in the name of urban renewal: surely, planners idiotically reasoned, someone will soon want to build something in such prime real estate. A few years later, when no one bought the property, grass was planted in the pit to “beautify” it, and benches (“bum beds”) were installed along the perimeter, acknowledging that nothing was coming there soon.
“Wow, can you imagine banging a Siamese twin chick?” Dan asked. “What would her sister do? Look away or watch?’
“She could join in,” said Dave. “Just think: you could play with four tits while you—”
“No,” I said, “You are high, man. They have two heads but only one set of tits.”
Forbes and Wallace in the final stages of demolition in 1983 (above). You can see the remains of the pedestrian walkway to the right.
When Dave and I went downtown two months later, we saw that a huge crowd had ringed City Hole: evidently, there was a fight at the bottom. We inched our way through the spectators. Whites, Hispanics, and blacks were cheering it on the action. Two Puerto Ricans were slugging it out down there: a quick, tall skinny guy—clearly the aggressor—was getting the best of a much heavier kid, who tried to walk away at one point, but the thin one ran up the embankment and booted him in the butt, and the crowd howled, so the latter turned around, marched back down the incline, and continued the brawl. Then the fat guy managed to get his tormentor into a headlock, wrestled him down, and sat on him. As high school fights go, this was a good one, because it went beyond the usual twenty to thirty seconds, and I loved the fact that the tables were suddenly turned on the showboating jerk. The fat kid used his girth and one arm to hold the punk down, and with the other arm he started pounding his victim’s head into the grass, which was turning red, thanks to his bloody nose. This, I thought this was such poetic justice, because the guy who had kicked the other one in the ass when his back was turned was now getting his ass kicked. Big time.
“Fuck him up!” the crowd chanted. “Fuck him up!”
A handful of Hispanic teenagers hustled down the embankment. At first it looked like they were trying to break it up, but they knocked the fat guy on his back and started stomping him. Hordes of kids streamed down and the real fight was on, with a couple of dozen of them fighting. We got the hell out of there!
The Capitol Theater, among the buildings demolished to make the City Hole, is pictured above in 1971. The Capitol stopped showing movies on Feb. 29, 1968. Its final film was Bonnie and Clyde, but it was the scene of rock concerts between the summer of 1970 and May 1971. You can see Forbes & Wallace to the right. The promoter who ran the Capitol before it finally closed for good booked such acts as Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Eric Burdon and War, J. Geils Band, and many others. By that time the seats had been removed from the floor. He writes: “While out of use, the old “air-conditioning” was still in place in the 60s. This consisted of holes beneath each seat, which led up from large ice rooms in the basement. Huge squirrel cage fans blew air over the ice and up into the theatre. In November, 1972, it was demolished and downtown Springfield lost an important part of its history.” The Allman Brothers, NRBQ, Savoy Brown, and FAT also played there.
Writes an attendee of the Alice Cooper concert: “A vivid memory of this show was Alice being led off the stage by a woman in a nurse’s outfit and coming back out in a straight jacket.”
The ad for the grand opening of the Capitol Theater on April 18, 1920
Check out the northeast corner of Main and Bridge Streets in 1981 above. Known as Fuller’s Block and built in 1889, it amazingly survives—but Princess Parlor didn’t. Everyone in The Acres remembers the Princess Parlor on Wilbraham Road, but how many of you remember the one downtown?
Fuller’s Block is pictured between 1891 and 1893 above. The bizarre “domes,” which contained outlets for the building’s air shafts, were said to inspire Dr. Seuss’s Middle Eastern minaret-style features in some of his drawings, including one from The King’s Stilts:
A minaret structure can also be found here on the right:
The “onion building” can also be seen below. The domes were removed, probably in the 1920s, when there was a reaction against the extravagances of the Victorian era. Thankfully, the building is still there!
Okay, back to The Acres for a couple of photos:
An old Sixteen Acres Gardens sign
The old Dairy Mart in The Acres’ Gateway Shopping Center (now the Breckwood Shoppes)
I took these photos a few years ago on that Hillbilly bridge behind the Gate of Heaven Cemetery. A new Sixteen Acres gang where the Graveyard Society used to hang out?
Moving out of The Acres down to Boston Road: Zippity Doo Dah at The Fox Theater on Boston Road.
Now let’s cruise down Boston road to the Wilbraham of yesteryear:
Len’s Diner, open 24-7, where Horizons (formerly Top of the Hill restaurant) is now. The sign on the right says “Home of the Square Burger—a Meal in Itself.”
From the Facebook group “You Know You Grew Up in Springfield, Ma, if…, the inside of the State Line potato chip building:
State Agricultural Commissioner August Schumacher (left) touring State Line, talks with plant manager Ken Corbett of East Longmeadow, while Irene Siuda, of Indian Orchard, sorts out chips that are not up to par.
State Line’s jingle in the 1960s: “Everybody Loves State Line Potato Chips—have some now.”
The old Lakeside sign and “cauldron”
The interior of the old Pizza Pub
Belli’s, once a destination nightclub, became a Ground Round in the ’70s. Recognize the diamond-pattern lattice windows (below)?
Now it’s condemned.
Some kind of delivery window (coal? ice?):
Did I open it? No! Who knows what was inside!
Okay, three more dives, and I’m done for the month:
The Vanilla Tree on Lyman Street. Dig the hearse!
Courtesy of the Springfield, the 413, Then and Now Facebook page: The Cornerstone on Page Boulevard:
Once a working class East Side bar, it was known as the Polish-American Club (or the Polish Home) in the Seventies and as Miller's in the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties, but the place had gotten rather seedy in over the years. Neighborhood complaints about the Cornerstone, which had been going on for decades, ramped up after a murder there in 2004 and reported drug activity. It was demolished in September of 2013, long after the city took it for non-payment of taxes in 2005: