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Enduring institutions complete a bridge between generations

Date: 4/17/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

If you’re looking for way to underscore the passage of time, join one of the Facebook groups that begins with “You Know You’re From [name of town] if …”

I belong to the Springfield and Holyoke groups and most of the posts are nostalgic fun.

One person posted the challenge of naming the roller coasters at the former Riverside Amusement Park. I couldn’t answer it. Can you?

Another spoke of the good time skating at the Rialto on Walnut Street in Springfield. I found at a flea market years ago two beautiful embroidered patches from the roller skating rink. I picked them up since the business had been in my neighborhood.

Do you remember retail outlets such as Bradlees, Caldor’s and Lechmere? If you’re older you can add Topps and Zayre’s on that list. OK, for the people my age reading this column, do you remember going to Sears in West Springfield? I worked at Lechmere for my first year out of college, as journalism jobs were in short supply.

Explain the concept of drive-in theaters to young people today: spending warm summer nights sitting in your car watching movies of frequently dubious quality with a tinny-sounding speaker hung on the slightly raised window of your door. Guys, do you remember getting the look from your date’s father when he found out you were going to the Air Line drive-in on Memorial Drive in Chicopee? What did they call it? “The Passion Pit?”

In the Holyoke group someone posted a great interior shot of the Victory in its salad days picturing a full theater. I instantly recalled a trip in high school to see director Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” there in 1968. It was supposed to be educational. I’m not sure it was.

Remember when Eastfield Mall opened and it seemed so sophisticated to have a shopping area such as that? It has to be sophisticated with a restaurant called “The Flaming Pit.”

Another posting was “Laughing Brook! Can anyone say sixth grade field trips? Those were the days.” Of course, Laughing Brook is now just a series of trails and its significance as the home of Thornton W. Burgess is greatly diminished.

That’s the flip side of these kinds of questions. The nostalgia is great, but the reminder is how so many landmarks – physical and emotional – in our lives change so completely and in a relatively short time period.

Perhaps this is why I love history so much. Understanding history – even as ephemeral as at which stores we used to shop – allows us to maintain a context for our own lives.

It is a context that we can share with others, which in turn creates community. Those institutions that endure then complete a bridge between generations.

The recent tour I took around the proposed campus for the MGM Springfield casino is what spurred this train of thought. It may not seem important to some to preserve historical buildings or at least their facades. “Progress” is the reason most cited to trump tradition.

Yes, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would say that jobs and tax money are far more important than history.

I’d like to think that history doesn’t have to be sacrificed for either though.

If the goal of the MGM project is to create an urban core casino that uniquely integrates itself into the neighborhood and fits within the city, then preserving the buildings or their facades should be a top priority.

I’ve been told that doing so might add more money to the project. I believe MGM could afford it.

The casino will alter downtown Springfield in a way it hasn’t seen since the factories that were in the area shut down or relocated. There is absolutely no reason that remaining historical buildings in the casino site can’t be preserved in some way. I would hope the Massachusetts Gaming Commission recognizes the importance of doing so and craft an agreement with MGM that will ensure this historical context to continue.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.