Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Casino Stroll

Here's a look down Main Street in Springfield from the top of the new parking garage next to Union Station. This is a view no one has been able to see since the Hotel Charles was torn down as the consequence of a mysterious 1988 fire.

The old bus station across the street now serves only as the corporate offices of the Peter Pan Bus Lines.

Here's a nostalgic tour of the charming old bus station.

Just the other side of the arch, this sign still remains from the long gone and lamented Playtown, beloved of school skippers from several generations. For some reason someone nailed a board through it, perhaps to prevent it from falling down.

Jake's diner is still around, having survived many phases of downtown's decline.

This new place appears to be an attempt to establish the kind of hipster coffee shop culture one expects of a cosmopolitan downtown, perhaps in anticipation of the future crowds of people they hope will be wandering around when the MGM casino opens in less than a year.

The Mocha Emporium is practically the only sign there is of anticipatory economic activity related to the casino. Instead, nearly all the major downtown structures have vacancy and for lease signs on them. Wouldn't you think, if there is faith among the local business community in the casino's success, that investors would be snapping up these rental properties for future projects designed to cash in on the casino?

At the corner of State and Main, the casino itself is rising behind black screening.

Everywhere is the contrast between the old run-down South End and the promise of future glamour.

Develop Springfield doesn't look like it's doing much developing.

The building across the street from the casino itself is a boarded up ruin. If any property would be expected to attract business investors, wouldn't it be the structure exactly across the street from the casino entrance?

As the casino rises, the old Red Rose Pizza is starting to look a little lonely as one of the few businesses still surviving in the neighborhood. A person known to know such things told me that MGM offered the owners of Red Rose $13 million dollars to go out of business, but they turned them down.

I hope they know what they're doing. Casinos have a reputation for going to extraordinary lengths to prevent people from leaving the casino complex once they get them inside. They hire experts to examine with scientific precision exactly why people depart the casino, and then they go to great lengths to eliminate whatever the reason is their customers are leaving by providing that service themselves in a superior way.

If their scientific studies reveal that people are leaving the casino in order to get some exceptionally good pizza available elsewhere, they will probably do something like import a master pizza chef directly from Italy and put him to work in a space designed to make you feel that you are dining in an authentic Italian pizza parlor in Rome. Typically, the casino will then devote some of their big gambling profits to subsidize the cost of the pizza (just as they often do with drinks and other entertainment in order to keep you from leaving to go to outside bars, restaurants or other attractions) so that their gourmet pizza offered in a stylized Roman setting will cost less than half the price of anywhere else downtown.

It will be interesting to see how our friends at the Red Rose deal with that kind of competition.

Around the corner from the casino site is Court Square, which is also devoid of any businesses. Not even the old barber shop that had been there since 1892 remains, although their sign does, right beside a painting of Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno.

There is also a painting of the late Tony Ravosa, who in his day was sometimes called "The King of Court Square."

This September 2003 entry from The Diary of J. Wesley Miller offers a poignant description of the Ravosa family's Court Square estate:

After voting I headed downtown to tour Ravosa's place on Court Square, officially known as the Chicopee National Bank Building, which is up for auction at the end of the month. Of course I have no plans to bid, but they don't know that....

I headed over to the Civic Pub where I met as planned with John S. Williamson, Vice President of CB Richard Ellis of Hartford. He is a short, very friendly and accommodating man who said he would give me a tour of the property. He said the building is steam heated but we couldn't go down in the basement. We took the elevator to the second floor where Ravosa's law office is with diplomas and certificates on the wall. On the third floor was another modern but unused law office. It had brass chandeliers which I recognized as being from Ravosa's old club The Bar Association.

I told Williamson that I'm no fan of Peter Picknelly, but I think Picknelly would be the perfect owner for this building and he agreed. Then we took the elevator up to the top floor and into Anthony Ravosa's apartment. I've never seen a private residence downtown as wonderful as Ravosa's place. You walk out of the elevator and you are in a two-story cathedral like space that is very ornately decorated. To the left is a spiral staircase leading to a loft and a stained glass window with a sunset motif. It was too superb for words.

The living room has a huge television built into the wall and there is an ultra-modern gourmet kitchen with marble counters. We did not go into the bedrooms in back nor did we go up on the rooftop to see Mrs. Ravosa's famous garden. Yet there is no question that of downtown homes Ravosa's is the star attraction.

The whole apartment is a celebration of urban life, and what a complement it would have been to the vibrant city Springfield once was. Tony Ravosa has many flaws, but he loves life and he loves Springfield, and yet he was shunned by the dull, dim-witted mediocrities who run this city and who could never even pretend to match his vision. I walked over to the window with the sunset motif and pointed out to Williamson how through that majestic window you could see all of Springfield's major towers, including the courthouse, Court Square, First Church and even the Springfield Armory off in the distance.

I heard Williamson asking me, "Attorney Miller, are you alright?" Suddenly I realized that there were tears running down my face, so I took out my black handkerchief and wiped them away. Then we took the elevator back down to Main Street where I thanked Williamson for the tour and promised to send him some postcards. After we parted I started walking up State Street towards my car. Russ Denver was walking past the Civic Center and waved cheerfully but I was in no mood to stop and just kept walking.

Among the celebrity paintings designed to conceal the empty storefronts is this one based on the Grateful Dead. Who says this town ain't got no heart? Ya just gotta poke around!

I was among those who did not want the casino to come to Springfield, in part because with its long history of public corruption, Springfield is uniquely unsuited to host a casino. However, now that it's almost here, I want the casino to be a success. However, my Main Street stroll showed me little evidence that investors and business entrepreneurs are coming to the table as yet in anticipation of sharing in the casino's presumed success. What I see instead is our Valley holding its breath, watching the casino go up, but hesitating to make any investments. Maybe that will change as the Grand Opening approaches, but we are less than a year out, and if the casino is going to bring the downtown as a whole back to life, so far there is little evidence of it. Right now, the only game in town appears to be "wait and see."

Meanwhile, in Washington Congressman Richard Neal, whose committee will be crucial to writing tax reform laws, has been meeting with President Trump to discuss the details. Neal doesn't look too happy in this photo from Politico.

Finally, did you know that Amherst has a new rotary? It works, you can indeed drive round and round in your car, although reviews from pedestrians are mixed.

(photo by Jerry Fischer)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


A friend and I checked out that new place everyone's talking about, The Iconica Social Club, located in the heart of downtown Hamp. It doesn't seem to be an actual social club, except to the extent that one can of course socialize there, but anyone is welcome right off the street without having to join or do anything club-like. It is essentially a bohemian style coffee shop. What's neat is that they brew the coffee cup by cup as you watch, guaranteeing the freshest and finest quality drink.

Your coffee is also served on a tray in a beaker such as you last saw in science class. It's a gimmick, but a cool one and the rubber stopper actually keeps your coffee piping hot while you drink the portion you have poured into your small glass cup.

You pay a little more to get a coffee that has been personally brewed on the spot just for you, but not much more, as mine cost only three dollars. Of course, their cross the alley competitor, the iconic in its own right Haymarket, charges only $1.90 for a small, conventionally brewed coffee.

Hopefully, there is sufficient business for both establishments to thrive. The Iconica has a very interesting interior, with all kinds of real antiques everywhere you look.

They've created a little park for those who prefer to drink their coffee outdoors.

However, I preferred the chilltown upstairs loft. I always was a two-fisted drinker!

Check out Iconica, it's a trip.

All good squirrels are presently gathering nuts for the winter, but some kind person made their task easier by leaving some peanuts (gourmet dining in the squirrel world) in the nook of this tree by the old courthouse.

Finally, here's Springfield homeboy Dr. Timothy Leary gazing upon the Northampton street scene.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I was walking through downtown Hamp on my way to the bus stop when I saw some plastic flying saucers in the window of Retro-Genie, the antique shop under what used to be called Augie's.

I call them flying saucers because the word "Frisbee" is actually a copyrighted term referring to a particular brand of aerodynamically engineered plastic discs. Retro-Genie being an antique place, that's what their flyers were, such as this gem from the long lost and lamented Steiger's Department Store.

Here's the Steiger's that used to be at Springfield's Eastfield Mall, shown here as it was around 1970.

There was also this saucer from Friendly's. A copyright notice on it reveals it to have been a promotional item from 1983.

Friendly's in prior decades.

Walking around campus I came upon this clever poster by the UMass History Club.

The other John Quincy Adams.

Finally, this visitor to the Hotel Northampton appears unclear on the concept.

Oh wait, one more thing - this local history meme floating around the internet suffers from a typo.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Common Account

Here's a picture taken by someone of Northampton Mayor David Narkiewicz at this year's County Fair posing with J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr:

The Mayor himself took this picture from a window in City Hall this week as a double rainbow appeared over the Valley in the wake of a violent cloudburst.

I saw the same rainbows while crossing the Calvin Coolidge Bridge on a bus, but the speed of the bus prevented me from getting my camera out in time. A shame, because the view from the bridge of the Connecticut River is one of the most spectacular vistas in the Valley and to get a shot that included two rainbows hovering over it would have been an exquisite, perhaps once in a lifetime photographic achievement. Oh well, sometimes you score, sometimes you don't.

The rainbows had a very short lifespan, shimmering over the Valley for only a couple of minutes at most, but creating an almost transcendentally beautiful visual ending to the last weekend of summer. And don't tell me that technically summer isn't over. Around here, when the students come back in the fall, that is considered by everyone in the northern Valley to be the true end of summer.

I ran into Mayor Narkiewicz myself in the Haymarket the other day.

Speaking of the Haymarket, it's doing an interesting experiment these days called The Common Account. It is explained as follows on the Haymarket website.

Early in the spring of 2017 we created what we call the Common Account. We wanted to try to address some of the issues in our town around homelessness, hunger and panhandling. There are many points of view on this subject, and even individually one’s own vantage point changes. We wanted to address this in our own way, as members of our community, and as a small business that is partly sustained from selling food. The Common Account funds our sliding scale menu for those who cannot afford the full price. People donate to the fund increasing its balance while others who are in need draw down from the account.

In other words, it is a way to allow the homeless and poverty stricken to come in off the streets for an occasional cheap meal in a first class restaurant, courtesy of the generous donations of the customers who come into the Haymarket every day. Alas, the month of July was a financial bust, with only enough donated to cover a little more than half the cost of the semi-free meals.

However, the figures for August are out, and believe it or not all the food costs were covered and then some!

Wow, doing good while still making a profit. Who'd a thunk?

I will leave you with this charming portrait of the Attorney General of Massachusetts.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


This weekend I went with some friends to the big horse races in Saratoga, New York. It's a very high-class scene for three poor boys from Springfield, but that's part of the fun, mingling with all the beautiful people.

On our way to the tracks, we paused in Albany to check out the state capital grounds.

Of course a sign such as this serves only as a dare to me.

There is this weird theater in Albany that is simply called "The Egg." I wish I could have gone inside and checked it out. I mean, how safe can it be with no windows?

Lots of betting going on, as seen in this picture by Cray Soda heir Jeff Ziff, but no betting for me, as I know all too well from hard experience about fools and their money.

The paparazzi were everywhere, but I was successfully able to avoid them.

After the races, we went to downtown Saratoga where the people were literally dancing in the streets.

Closer to home, these signs have appeared all over the UMass campus. Thank goodness there is no place at UMass for expressions of hatred towards President Trump and his policies!

That is what those signs mean, don't they?