Whats up behind Forbes Library? It looks like a bomb crater or moonscape, as a result of earth moving equipment scouring out the grassy area to the rear of the library, which has been extensively renovated in the last several years.
The goal is to provide new and expanding parking spaces to remedy what for years has been a parking nightmare for library patrons and others who illegally piggyback on scarce parking options in the neighborhood.
However, as I learned at a recent meeting of the library trustees, there are still many details to be ironed out about the exact configuration of the new lot-specifically the exact point of entry to the library parking from West Street. So it appears the bomb crater will be part of the library landscape for an undetermined time.
Meanwhile, it also appears to me that the rogue memorial that had surreptitiously been installed behind the library to honor the late Bart Gordon has become a victim of the parking lot construction.
Although not known to many citizens, a few years back a bench, engraved stone memorial, trees and landscaping were placed in a tranquil setting on library property by the citys public works department totally without authorization, either requested or given, by any of the five elected trustees, of which I was a member at the time.
Apparently, the work was done merely with the assent of the library director, Blaise Bisaillon.
If you walk 75 yards through the rubble at the rear of the library to the southwest corner of the property next to the Smith College parking garage, you can find shoved up against a pile of dirt and all askew what now remains of the memorial - a single bench and the engraved marker.
I considered myself a good friend and admirer of Bart Gordon, who made huge contributions to the city through his work on many civic endeavors, including the Board of Public Works and the Center for the Arts. He was truly a community hero, who died much too young.
But did that justify a free-lance memorial being installed by the Department of Public Works on valuable library property, honoring a single citizen who had no particular connection with the library, other than probably having a library card and being an avid reader.
But as quietly as the Gordon memorial was installed, it was with just as little fanfare unearthed, uprooted and pushed aside for the on-coming macadam.
It seems the secretive process that can give, can also take away. Thats why decisions in such matters as public memorials merit public discussion before not after the fact. And I think Bart Gordon, a man of the law and an energetic fan of his adopted city, would agree.
Big Bucks Condos As Eyesores
Early mornings used to be a good time to travel down to Lower Main Street, hike up the concrete stairway on the west side of the railroad bridge and traverse the pathway that runs along the old train station.
Named for William Nagle, late founder of the Honor Court, the walkway offered a birds-eye view of the downtown to the west and the quirky turn of Strong Avenue into Pearl Street beyond the Bay State Hotel.
But chain link fences these days prevent such ambling because of the construction of developer Michael Sissmans luxury condominiums which hug the hill on the east side of Strong Avenue. The boxy, wall-like structure makes impenetrable to the pathway walker any views of the street and the town below.
The condominiums change the face of Strong Avenue and Lower Main Street in ways that none of us, probably even the citys numerous planners, imagined or even bothered to consider. Strong Avenue now is beginning to resemble a small canyon seemingly squeezed by structures on both sides. At street level, it is all but impossible to get a clear view of the handsome old depot as it sits obscured by the high-rise, high-end condos for well-heeled newcomers to the new Northampton.
Of course, when the construction is completed, and we assume the chain link fences are taken down, we can once again traverse the William Nagle walkway, and we might possibly be able to catch a glimpse of the privileged new residents through their windows in the back which overlook the walkway. Except they will likely have to draw their shades to prevent public exposure and if we cant look in they cant look out. So much for the view.
Jazzy New Architectural Work
Okay, maybe Im all wet about this. Im wrong much of the time.
For example, not long ago I trained my non-professional architectural eye on the mess that Smith College has made of the Elm Street corridor by its renovation of the Brown Fine Arts Center and Art Museum and construction of the new Campus Center. I said it felt as if the college was turning its back on the community by creating a Marginot Line of out-of-scale structures that prevented any public view of the campus from Elm Street.
That is still the case, but I must say that I was blown away by a recent visit to the interior of the jazzy new Campus Center. This colorful, contemporary glass and steel playground for students is bound to be a favorite on the campus, because it is so dazzling when contrasted with such nearby structures as John M. Greene Hall, the Neilson Library or Wright Hall. This is a modern building with a capital M - with all of the state of the art gadgetry and technology that students crave and enjoy. The furnishings in brilliant hews of lime, orange, yellows, and reds mesmerize the visitor and the soaring glassy spaces for lounging or socializing both extrude out into the campus and pull the campus into the building at the same time.
The new Campus Center is so festive, playful and hip that it makes the much trumpeted nearby renovated museum appear to be even more industrial and corporate than it actually is.
For the college community and for the students, the sparkling Campus Center is a certain winner; yet viewed from Elm Street we are greeted by a conventional entrance, replete with delivery truck and service driveway in contrast to the cheerfully exuberant student access on the south side.
But then, a college campus is for the students and other members of the institution, not for citizens on the outside.