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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bullshitting to All Fields, Part 3

The city did a good job with the tornado-ravaged woods just west of the intersection of Bradley and Plumtree Roads, making a small park. Actually, we have the “community restitution crew” from the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center to thank (pictured below), which cleared downed trees and built a footbridge.

“A good healthy sweat worked up in service to others is not only part of contributing to communities, it’s part of reclaiming lives,” said Sheriff Michael J. Ashe. Kind of reminds me of William Weld in the 1990 gubernatorial election promising to “reintroduce inmates to the joys of busting rocks.” Then again, at least the Howard Street crew was doing something constructive. Ashe had been practicing these “community corrections” for a decade before Weld’s remark. No, Weld didn’t end up forming chain gangs of rock-busting prisoners, but he did cut state funding for textbooks in prison education programs—not a great move, considering that only three to four percent of those graduating from Boston University’s degree program at MCI-Norfolk return to The Big House after release, compared with the state’s 27 percent rate of recidivism.

But I digress. I took my mountain bike down to that section of Watershops last summer and, first of all, it’s amazing to see the pond from Plumtree and the South Branch Parkway after it had been hidden by thick forest for decades.

Here is the completed footbridge:

I was able to get a picture of a blue heron:

…and an eastern great egret:

…and a big-ass swan:

Everybody remembers the scene in The Shawshank Redemption in which the prison warden discovers where Andy Dufresne hid the pickaxe he used to escape: in his Bible.

Well, police suspected a Springfield dude of selling drugs out of his apartment on Whittier Street (near The X). When they found cocaine, money, scales, and paraphernalia at his crib on May 13 they noticed a bible. They opened it and found an unlicensed semiautomatic handgun and magazine, with 10 rounds of ammo. Salvation certainly didn’t lay within. “There was something bad in the Good Book,” wrote reporter Jack Flynn in what has to be The Republican’s best lead paragraph in a while.

Among the many charges was “improper storage of a firearm.” Amen to that. The story, of course, made the wire services and was picked up on the Boston TV stations and newspapers. This wasn’t juicy enough for a national story, although a Wisconsin paper did publish it. The Hartford Courant’s lead: “Police said the Bible didn’t save a 32-year-old Springfield man...” It continued, “During the search, a detective noticed a Bible on a nightstand next to James' bed and, thinking that James did not seem like an overly religious person, opened it to find that he had hollowed out the pages of the book to conceal a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun.”

So long BB King, who we saw rock in Symphony Hall in 1986.  He also played there on September 17, 2006 (pictured below)... 

…and at the Paramount Theater in 1997:

JB Bradley took this photo of BB King in Springfield in the 1960s. Bradley was a promoter for the Colonade on Lyman Street and the Music Club on Dwight Street. Did he play at one of these venues? Who knows? Anybody?

The last time I saw him: 1996 at the Boston University Armory, which was torn down in 2002.

From BB to Bobby: The House that Orr Almost Played In

While I was digging up old ticket stubs, I uncovered my autograph of Bobby Orr. 

The New England Whalers, still in the WHA in the 1978-1979 season, hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in a pre-season game in the Springfield Civic Center. I figured this was my opportunity to see Bobby Orr play one last time, since he was definitely on his last legs (pun intended). After more than a dozen knee surgeries, he sat out the entire 1977-1978 season, but the following summer decided to make one more go of it. My friends and I knew he might not play in an exhibition game to save on the wear and tear on his damaged ligaments and cartilage. We went anyway: the possibility of seeing Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe on the same ice was too much to resist.

Sure enough, he sat the contest out, but he made it worth our while, signing autographs before the game, between periods, and after it ended. I also had him sign a dollar bill—and I accidentally spent it a few days later! D’oh! I doubt it’s still in circulation, since the average lifespan of a buck is 5.8 years. Maybe someone recognized the name and kept it.

Orr played only six games that season, scoring his last goal on October 28, 1978, 20 days after he signed the autograph.

This spring I enjoyed one last cross-country ski at Veterans Golf Course, schussing around the bare spots before the snow finally melted for good.

There was still enough snow on the bridge over the South Branch of the Mill River to make my way over to my old grammar and junior high school grounds: Ursuline Academy, now the Pioneer Valley Christian Academy.

Nobody out here but the geese and me.

When I approached the Christian Academy, I knew that the school was doing some kind of large land-clearing project, knocking down a bunch of woods. I came to the edge of the golf course and peered through the trees and looked at a clearing where there used to be forest.

I rounded the corner and…

Ah jeez, will you look at this?

Here’s an aerial view of the trees knocked down (in the middle) before the bulldozing began.


I guess it’s a $6 million construction project that will double the size of the school.


Well, I guess they’re pretty happy about it. The school had a big celebration last fall. How do I feel? About them tearing down the woods I used to play in as a child and hike and ski in as an adult? About losing a good chunk of green in the South Branch green belt? What do I have to say about their celebrating?

Lost Maple Street (and State)

Below is the baccalaureate procession of the University (then a college) we know and love that sits on Wilbraham Road in Sixteen Acres. This event took place on May 29, 1966 in the historic South Congregational Church at 45 Maple Street.

It’s incredible how much Maple Street has changed across the street:

Above is the roughly the same view in a photo taken between 1905 and 1915.

The apartment building on the right is still there, but where are all the buildings on the left? Torn down to make Maple a divided road. Let’s hear it for urban renewal, folks! This happened in the early 1970s because of the construction of the Civic Center and the anticipated traffic from Dwight Street, which was extended across State Street. The Civic Center is the large white building in the photo below and Dwight abuts it, “becoming” the west side of Maple on the other side of State.

Above is the intersection now, looking south.

Above is the same intersection, looking southwest. The Epiphany Tower on the other side of the street somehow wasn't in the way of the wrecking ball.

Standing right in the way of the southbound Maple Street addition back then: the Arcade Theatre, which opened in 1931 at 171 State Street. It was the only downtown Springfield theater to show films in 70-millimiter projection. The place closed in 1971 and was demolished in 1972. Pictured below in 1933 is the same block. The Epiphany Tower is the tall building.

Here is a combined past/present photo of the same view:

In 1950, Mayor Daniel B. Brunton (middle) and librarian John Humphart (right) are pictured with some of the 1,000 children attending the annual vacation reading club party at the Arcade.

The Arcade's manager was busted in 1969 for showing an "obscene" film.

Also paved in the way of progress: the Arcade's neighbors to the west, 159-163 State Street:

Below are some of the Maple Street buildings that were torn down for the Dwight Street Extension. You can also see them in the convocation photo:

34-40 Maple St.

Another view of 34-40 Maple St.

28-34 Maple St.

18-20 Maple St.

Next door: the Mansion at 14 Maple, above, almost got a reprieve 1973 when there was a proposal to move it to Mattoon Street, but no dice.

Further south on Maple was the old Wesson Mansion (below), built in 1982. It became the Colony Club in 1915 and hosted such guests as Presidents Taft, Roosevelt, and Hoover, as well as Congressman John F. Kennedy.

It burned down on February 19, 1966.

What replaced the Colony Club: an office building

Happy Acres

Ever hear of “Happy Acres”? Probably not—just as many off of North Brook road whose streets have bird-like names (Sparrow, Partridge, Starling, Finch, Pheasant and Meadowlark) had no clue that their development was named “Wing Park.” So get this: homes being built on a handful of streets, including Kathleen, Fox Chase, Lumae, and Timothy Circle were a part of Happy Acres.

So, are residents of these streets leading more blissful lives than the rest of us? I mean, check out that price: