Owned by Sixteen Acres’ own Socrates Babacas, a developer who was a controversial figure in Springfield politics, Warehouse One closed in 1975 after tax violations and numerous complaints of fights at the place (including one involving the district attorney’s son). Now it’s just a warehouse again.
Babacas, who died in 2006, ran for mayor of Springfield in 1971, but pulled out of the race after being arrested and charged with passing bad checks. The Birchland Avenue resident once offered to buy the Philadelphia Phillies for $225 million. He also wanted to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994, and was part of a group that was vying to purchase the Chicago White Sox in 1980. Oh yeah, he also wanted to buy the Patriots.
In the distance, at the corner of State and Oak, Preacher Man was doing his thing: praising the Lord and bumming for money. Damn it, this was a red light that I wanted desperately to turn green. Preacher Man was pressing the pedestrian walk button repeatedly, like the squeegee guys in New York, to hit up as many drivers as possible. A walking city landmark, Preacher Man was wearing his signature fake priest’s collar, but the only salvation he really cared about was his next dollar, bottle of booze, and hit of crack. His M.O.: handing out religious literature that he had pilfered from churches, as well as lottery cards with the numbers he has already filled in—the idea being that you buy one because it’s a sure winner: it had been blessed.
But Lady luck wasn’t smiling on Preacher Man—no one would open a window, despite his persistence. He had one hand on the hood of the car in front of ours and he waved the lottery tickets with the other. He looked skyward, enraptured. He looked down and stomped his foot. He was clearly not happy that no one wanted to listen to his benediction, even though his ramblings are virtually impossible to understand.
I had given Preacher Man money in the past—before I left Springfield in 1986 and when I came back in 2007. He sure was less intimidating in the Eighties. Now, with crazy, Einstein-like salt-and-pepper hair and beard—he’s a truly scary sight. Back then he was better-groomed and his hair, of course, was darker. Since I’ve been back, Preacher Man’s left eye also has gotten gray—with a cataract, adding to the bizarreness of his “sermons.” Once I asked him what happened to his eye. He responded, “Which one?”
He staggered toward my car. Bad news. He had been arrested for a couple of disturbances in the past few years, including a stabbing. Word had it he got locked up on purpose to get off the streets in the winter. I had always considered him harmless, but he was busted a few years ago for making lewd comments to a couple of girls and getting an eight-year-old boy in a headlock. This happened at a park right around the corner and it has undoubtedly hurt his “ministry” efforts, although I get the feeling that his victims weren’t totally innocent. Kids have been known to give him a hard time. Back in the 1980s he used to chew out children for skipping school in the park, and they yelled back at him. I think he might have been getting teased in this latest incident.
And there he was in the window: the cataract, the lottery tickets, and a red rosary around his neck. The light turned green. I accelerated. In the rear-view mirror Preacher Man ranted and raved and headed back toward the pedestrian button.
Read more about Preacher Man in this post.