A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Salem Street Revival

Emory HouseI was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. From 1962 to 1965 I attended Classical High School there, and then tried my damnedest to get as far the hell away as I could. I made it almost 6000 miles before I started working my way back.

Fast forward about 40 years from high school graduation. I'm shopping for a home, flipping through the MLS listings, and intrigued by a house on Salem Street in Springfield. Not that I want to move back to my hometown; no way. And where the hell is Salem Street, anyway?

But I'm curious about the house; I can't get it out of my mind. It's got these odd panels all along the side, and I just want to get a look at the inside and satisfy my curiosity before I settle on the perfect antique cape in Ware or Montague. I take a friend along to the showing, and when we've toured the whole place and are standing on the front porch again, we look at each other and laugh. I've found my house.

Salem Street, ironically, is just one block over from my old high school. It's narrow, one-way, and only a block long. The entire street is comprised of a Victorian-era church, three turn-of-the-century apartment buildings, and three Victorian homes. Every building on Salem Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Only the brownstone church and a wooden structure attached to it are included in the Local Historic District which abuts Salem Street, however. Local Historic Districts provide the maximum protection against destruction of the character of a neighborhood.

I think that when the district was mapped, the rest of Salem Street was excluded because of its apartment buildings, which are part of a complex of a dozen or so jointly managed by a large corporation. So Salem Street is a bit of an orphan. Salem Street has the same brick sidewalks, vintage-look street lamps, and cast iron tree guards as neighboring Mattoon and Elliot Streets. But it doesn't have a street association like Mattoon's to deal with issues like parking and street cleaning. I belong to the Mattoon Street Historic Preservation Association, but I feel like a bit of a second-class citizen there.

So I was happy to learn that a neighbor--who doesn't even live on my street--has decided to focus some attention on my block. He's been working with the metal shop instructor at Putnam Vocational High School and with the Springfield DPW to have the tree guards repaired or replaced. For the last three years, the DPW has been ripping up the street on a regular basis, and the tree guards have suffered. Several are missing altogether.

Putnam students are excited about providing the labor for the project. The DPW may take responsibility and kick in some $$$ toward the material. I'm going to go before the Mattoon Street Historic Preservation Association and the Armoury-Quadrangle Civic Association in a few days and see if they'll appropriate any funds for this venture.

Replacing 25 tree guards on a dinky little street nobody's ever heard of: a laughably minor issue in the scheme of things. But hey, there are plenty of neat things that could be done here. This is just the first little baby step towards putting Salem Street on the map.

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