Saturday, October 30, 2010

Victory In The Making

What happened to downtown Holyoke.

Long ago, the streets used to bustle. The people used to move. The businesses used to prosper. It was a booming industrial city in a booming industrial country, during a booming industrial era.

For over a hundred years Holyoke created and manufactured on a global basis. Now... not so much. For decades now it has been a city on the ropes, it's former economic and industrial base almost vanished, poverty rates at state highs, and for too long relying on outside aid to stay afloat.

But in the city's present atmosphere of uncertainty and despair are glimmers of hope. Grasping at the city's bare old bones are small but lively groups of activists, advocates and long time residents. Urgent minds and hands trying furiously to cultivate rebirth and prosperity for the future of the city they love.

Successes by these advocates are mounting. Open Square, one of the earliest manufacturing plants, was once wrecked and empty. It's now brought back to life and housing coffee shops, art space and retail business.

Here and there in fits and starts, once crumbling red brick warehouses and defunct factories are being cleaned up and retreaded.

Pathways, parks and spruced up canal-sides. Rumors of giant high tech industries finding a home here in a stripped down but fully functional infrastructure that sustained a bygone manufacturing era.

Small groups and activists cannot attack the whole problem of Holyoke, it's too big. They have to pick apart the problems and repair, cause by cause; grabbing hold of whatever is within reach. Rejuvenating, restoring, setting it loose and then moving on to the next project.

One of those projects is the Victory Theater.

For several years now there has been an effort by the Holyoke advocates to restore this lost classic. Effort by people like this guy, who got himself involved.

The theater doors were open for public viewing and picture taking last weekend. After seeing many stories and photos on the net and news I was eager to get a look for myself.

As blown out and deteriorating the closed theater was when it was originally considered for restoration, it actually looked much better before the restoration work started. What now looks like utter destruction are just the beginning phases of the long slog ahead.

Much of the surviving finer details like the giant silk tapestries that lined the walls have already been removed for restoration or replication.

Loose paint has begun to be scraped away. Unsalvageable beams, trusses and girders are being ripped down to be replaced. Walls and floorboards are gutted. There's a lot of work to do.

A. lot. of. work.

But standing down in front of the stage and orchestra pit, ( and just the fact that there is an orchestra pit is awesome),

...or high above in the third level seating, you can get a sense of the grandness and attention to detail that was integral to structure and designs back in the day.

It's a lost art that should be restored. This is what needs to be brought back to life.

Poking around the dark lobbies, back halls and side rooms of the theater, I didn't see any bugs or mice, but the place was crawling with photogs.

Amateurs, hobbyists and pros were everywhere, sporting everything from point and shoots to top of the line 'L' series lenses perched on heavy Manfrotto tripods. It seems almost dangerous to bring such expensive equipment to such a dusty equipment unfriendly place. Measurable depths of particulate and debris was coating or being kicked up from every square inch of the place.

A photo equipment unfriendly environment indeed.

So you might appreciate my abject horror when my own modest but most expensive lens suddenly pops out of my pocket, and with a dull thump lands in a half inch of the finest demolition dust. Then it rolls a bit before going plunk, plunk, roll, plunk down some rotting god forsaken steps and into a pitch-black hole down under the stage. Now imagine yours truly steeling his nerve and crunching down, gingerly stepping into the black pit in pursuit. Repeatedly pressing the shutter button and using his camera flash to light the way in bursts of gruesome.

Amazing. Almost every nook and cranny of the place needs to be done over. It's almost bewildering how much work will be needed to get a show going on that stage again. Success will be a monumental achievement.

But there are people working on it. They've drawn up plans, they're getting people and resources together...

...they're keeping the hope alive.


Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Tony, this is such a wonderful piece. I'm so sorry I missed the tour. I would have loved to see it myself. I'll be linking to your post on "Another Old Movie Blog." Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Sadly Tony, we are a Country in decay. Thank NAFTA for many jobs being shipped overseas.

Anonymous said...

The jobs were gone long before NAFTA. Sadly the city can not replace those manufacturing jobs with a few cafes and galleries. Those factories once fed thousands of families. Now we are trying to build an economy based on everyone providing services to each other. The same money goes round and round and is being siphoned off at the top faster than ever. best wishes for Holyoke I love it here but looking around, it's hard to e both optimistic and realistic.

VanDog said...

It was all too brief meeting you Tony. You were the person I most wanted to talk with during the Victory tour. I'm sorry I got side tracked waiting at the door.

Love the photo taken from the Lyman St, 1st level canal bridge.

Holyoke Home said...

Thanks so much for visiting our fair city!

Mary E.Carey said...

It would be so great to see a prosperous Holyoke. The theater reminds me of the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield that has been beautifully restored.

Theresa said...

This is such a great blog entry and boy do these people have a lot of HARD work ahead...will take a lot of passionate people to restore and revive Holyoke. I hope your lens is o.k.

Yvette said...

Lots of hard work ahead, but it will all be worth it, I'm thinking.