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also in issue architecture Featured Posts

The Hotel Vernon

Vincent Pacifico

One of Worcester’s most iconic and significant historic properties is hidden in plain sight in the heart of Kelley Square. Most of us drive right by it and don’t even realize how legendary the Hotel Vernon is. This four story masonry building is located at the corner of Vernon and Millbury Street and has its back towards the highway. The building has a bar room on the ground floor with hotel rooms on the second through fourth floors with communal bathrooms. At its original time of construction in 1901 the area was known as Vernon Square and was most likely a gathering place for the neighboring community. The construction of Interstate 290 changed everything when it cut off the Vernon Hill neighborhood from the square making it harder for people to access the downtown from all of the residential areas. But what makes this place so legendary? So far this describes most hotels built in the early 20th century.

During the years of prohibition this building became a gathering place for locals to drink and hang out. Local baseball legend Babe Ruth frequented the Hotel Vernon during his time on the Boston Red Sox and it’s said he used to eat raw hamburgers here. However, it wasn’t on the ground floor bar that people drank at – that’d be too risky. A secret speakeasy bar located in the basement is where all the action happened. You had to know how to get down there and what the secret password was to get in. It’s said that no one ever got caught drinking there. Today the speakeasy still stands, feeling almost stuck in time with dust on the bar and dim lighting as you walk through the cave-like basement. A truly magical piece of Worcester’s history still very much intact.

But what’s up with the nautical theme and the big boat steering wheel? They call it the Kelley Square Yacht club and it has its very own ship room that resembles the inside of a yacht. This was during the great depression when money was tight so it gave everyone in the neighborhood their own yacht to hang out in. Nautical treasures and memorabilia can be found through the ship room and bar room.

Today, over 100 years later, the Hotel Vernon is still very much alive and well, serving cheap beer, putting on live performances and renting out rooms. Its charm is still very much there and its secrets of the past are still hidden in plain sight. If you’re looking for a cold drink and know where to go, tell them that Madame Rhubarb sent you…

Photo Citations

Image 1-7: Image taken by Peter Fauci

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architecture Featured Columns

A Farm Fresh Market

Vincent Pacifico

As most Worcestonians probably are already aware, there is a fantastic marketplace called the Worcester Public Market located right in the heart of the Canal District that sells farm fresh groceries, unique cultural eats, and local artisan goods. Opening its doors during the height of the covid pandemic, this market was a huge hit and continues to be as it grows and brings on new local vendors. Located right on the corner of Kelley Square where Harding and Green Street come to an intersection, this building was erected on the vacant dirt lot that we probably all remember as the parking lot for Crompton Place that was muddy and filled with potholes. Taking the shape of the lot, this building is very unique in its style, colors and design. This is a great addition to Worcester’s downtown because it starts to provide local residents with a place they can start to buy some farm fresh groceries, local artisan products and tasty eats on a daily basis. There really hasn’t been another place in the area that has compared to what this market provides the local neighborhood with making it a more walkable and exciting place to live.

The market consists of an open food court on the first floor with unique and diverse choices for food such as Jamaican, Mexican, Japanese, and American to name just a few of the great options- an eatery designed with something appealing for everyone in the family. The front most corner space facing Kelley Square is the brew yard of Wachusett Brewery. This space is fabulous and has its iconic airstream trailer as the bar – a truly unique bar design that you surely won’t see anywhere else. The interior design of their space features old barn wood material, giving a cozy place to eat, drink and relax. The second, third and fourth floor of the building consist of 48 residential apartment units that truly make this development a successful mixed use complex. These apartment units feature high ceilings, quality finishes, and great amenities for its residents. These units are well designed, comfortable and they take you out of the chaos of the surrounding city.

The Worcester Public Market is a great precedent for the future of the city and what it could be. The idea that local farmers and artisans can sell their products in the center of the city to residents living there is a wonderful idea and a great addition to Worcester. This has become one of the most popular destinations in the city and it’s only getting busier. Being able to live, work, shop and enjoy all in the same area without using a car to get around means we are on the right track to sustainable urban living.  

Photo Citations

Image 1-10: Image taken by Peter Fauci

Categories
also in issue architecture Featured Posts

Worcester’s Most Endangered Structures

Vincent Pacifico

Calling all preservationists, architectural experts or those who just love old buildings. Preservation Worcester has posted its annual list of the most endangered structures around the city. This is a list of historically or culturally significant buildings that must meet a specific criteria and are deemed to be in severe disrepair or danger of demolition. Worcester has a long list of contributing buildings and historically significant structures but unfortunately as the years go by, the list gets shorter. All of the buildings they list must be at least 50 years old and contribute to Worcester’s historical and architectural heritage.

The oldest building that has made the list is known as Cow Tavern, which is located at 274 Salisbury Street. This Federal Style house was built in 1780 and was operated as a tavern until 1830. Symmetry is one of the main characteristics of buildings of the Federal Style. This structure shows clear resemblance of the style in the facade with its centered front door, symmetrical window placement and the two chimneys flanking both sides of the main entry.. Currently the house sits vacant and shows extreme disrepair in its windows, clapboard siding and foundation. With its prominent location in the city’s west side, hopefully this structure can be restored by the right owner and its history preserved.

Another unique building that made the list is known as Larchmont which is an Italianate and Second Empire Villa located in the Quinsigamond Village neighborhood. It is one of the only surviving structures in the city of those architectural styles. Designed as a single family home by Worcester architect Elbridge Boyden and constructed in 1858, this property is in immaculate condition and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was last used as a funeral home and its current owner appears to be seeking a demolition permit from the city. During the extent of the city’s one year Demolition Delay Ordinance, hopefully the property owner can come to an agreement with a developer who intends to retain the historic structure on the property.

29 Bellevue Street is a great example of an original looking three decker built in 1900. This style building was very popular around the city and greatly contributed to housing Worcester’s working class population.This building retains much of its original architectural fabric such as the cornice details,shingle siding and wood trim boards. You don’t find many buildings anymore that have their original elements intact or even surviving for that matter. The building recently had a fire and appears to be in great need of repair. If its owners choose to restore the building to its original look, they have a great canvas of original parts to work with.

With quite a few more buildings on the list, Preservation Worcester did a great job of bringing to the public’s attention some of the city’s prized homes, barns and carriage houses that are in need of repair or saving. As sustainable design becomes more important and as construction prices keep going up, preservation and restoration seems out of reach for many. However, looking at how these buildings have stood the test of time, for some being almost 250 years old, it only makes sense to retain and upgrade these prized structures. For our city to retain an important sense of place and a unique character in the built environment, we need to preserve the heritage that previous generations have built so that future generations can also learn and experience a sense of the past when they see an old building.

Photo Citations

Image 1: Photo by Vincent Pacifico

Image 2: Photo by Vincent Pacifico

Image 3: Photo by Vincent Pacifico

Sources

Categories
also in issue architecture Featured Columns

Worcester Auditorium

Vincent Pacifico

One of the city’s most iconic buildings, The Worcester Memorial Auditorium, is on the road to redevelopment. Sitting at the edge of Lincoln Square, this historic five story building was designed by Worcester Architect Lucius Briggs alongside Frederick C. Hirons of New York City. The building was completed in 1933 and was meant to honor the 355 Worcester residents who died at battle during World War I. The building was the first of its kind in Worcester and was the first auditorium in the city. Over the years it has served the community as an excellent performing arts venue and has hosted concerts, games and ceremonies of all kinds.

The building features a Classical Revival exterior, a beautifully ornamented limestone facade and a grand staircase in the front leading up to the main entrance. Massive doric style columns tower over the front entry giving the front facade a strong and prominent look. Ornamentation is visible on all of the facades which contributes to the classical look of the structure. The building’s interior features an Art Deco Style, a main auditorium space that is 31,000 square feet which seats 3,508 people, a Kimball Pipe Organ along with a smaller space called the Little Theater which seats 675 people. The building also houses a memorial chamber commemorating those who lost their lives in World War I, which has three murals done by Leon Kroll; most notably “Shine of the Immortal”.

Currently the building sits vacant, deteriorating as the years pass. From water damage to deteriorating facades, it will take quite an overhaul to bring life back into this magnificent structure. With the help of the Architectural Heritage Foundation, the building may have found a new use. Being such a large building with 165,000 square feet of space available, it is being proposed to be revitalized into a mixed use complex including performance venues, educational spaces, office space and even retail. The new development will engage the community in new spaces focused around technology, education, digital media and much more. The revitalization of this building will benefit from the historic tax credit program with the National Park Service and will retain much of its historic character into its future. With a combination between its historic architectural fabric and the new contemporary design renovations that the project will include, it will be one of the most unique buildings the city has ever seen.

While originally built for the community of Worcester to come together and share moments, it is nice to see the same vision for the future state of the building. Lots of work and funding is what will ultimately kickstart this project, but there is no doubt that it will be a worthwhile effort contributing to the revitalization of the city. Whether it’s a performance, conference or a casual visit, your next trip to the Aud will surely be an unforgettable one. 

References

Photo Citations

Photo 1: Worcester Memorial Auditorium, Worcester Massachusetts by John Phelan _on Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Worcester_Memorial_Auditorium,_MA.jpg

Photo 2: steps and carvings by Liz West_on Flickr

steps and carvings
Categories
architecture Featured Columns

Union Station’s Past and Present

Vincent Pacifico

The two iconic towers that stand in Washington Square are well known by most and can be seen from many locations in the city. Perhaps one of the best views is driving on interstate 290 West and looking down at them from a bird eye view. Worcester’s famous Union Station has been a prized piece of architecture for a century and will continue to be for many years to come.

What we know as Union Station today, the place where we jump on the commuter rail to head to Boston for the day was not always how it was, or even where it was. The train station that stands today is more than a century old but is not in fact the original station that served the city in the 19th century. The original Union Station was built in 1875 featuring a Gothic Revival style and was located just east of today’s station where Interstate 290 is currently situated. The building featured a large train shed which covered the tracks and rail cars along with a single clock tower which rose over the city 212 feet. The station served the city with various lines up until the early 20th century when it was demolished to make way for a new station with elevated rail lines that would cause much less traffic on the street level.

In 1911 the new Union Station was built. It featured a beautiful terra cotta faced facade designed in the French-Renaissance style along with two towers, each 175 feet tall clad with marble. The building was tastefully accented with ornamentation, arches and ionic style columns. During Worcester’s heyday the station was busy and had up to 140 passenger trains going in and out daily. Due to the materials used to build the two towers, the vibrations of all of the trains coming and going led to structural weakening of the towers, therefore they had to be removed in 1926 taking away much of the building’s charm. 

Common of many railroad stations around the country, after World War II, there was a decline in the use of Union Station and the building was left abandoned in 1974. The station sat empty until 1995 when the Worcester Redevelopment Authority acquired the building and completely renovated it. The two towers were rebuilt with new innovative materials that could better withstand the vibrations from the rail lines along with the interior being restored to what it had originally looked like. New windows and interior finish work was completed to give the building the same beautiful look it once had. The grandhall space today is still one of the most stunning rooms in the city and it is commonly used for events due to its elaborate aesthetic and its ability to hold large crowds.

The train station today does not get nearly as much traffic as it once did in the 20th century. Your destinations are definitely limited but you can still easily take the commuter rail towards Boston for an enjoyable commute. Even if you’re not taking the train, it’s still worth walking through the front doors and admiring the space inside. Besides the waiting platform, there is a restaurant on the ground floor and a convenient parking garage located in the rear. Over the years Union Station has risen and fallen a few times, it’s changed locations and has been left completely abandoned, however the beauty we all love from the original design has definitely been recreated and better developed for the city’s new fleet of incoming trains.

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architecture art&culture cover story Featured Posts

Worcester: – A Working City

Irena Kaçi

I once heard that the name Worcester translates into “working city”. A little
research has revealed that this was nothing but an old wives’ tale, borne no doubt
out of our city’s incredible production and factory legacy and its proud labor force.
The truth of it is, unsurprisingly, more complicated. It is unclear what the name
Worcester meant for the very first people who settled here in 1673, who then
would’ve been living in Quinsigamond Plantation. It took almost two hundred more
years for Worcester, as we have come to know it, to become its own city in 1848.

This year we celebrate the Tercentennial, three hundred years of immigrants and
settlers pouring into this city and calling it home, integrating and clashing with each
other with every added layer. Neighborhoods were unofficially divided by
nationality, for example Italians lived around Shrewsbury Street while Vernon Hill
was overwhelmingly Polish. I spoke with Bill Wallace from the Worcester Historical
Society to learn a bit more about the past three hundred years. “It has taken a long
time for us, for the record keepers to fully understand, accept and celebrate the
many contributions of immigration into our culture, and that’s where we are now,
that’s what we are trying to acknowledge and celebrate.” Per this initiative the
Worcester Historical Society has launched several budding exhibitions over the past
century telling some of these immigrant stories.

One such initiative, launched almost 35 years ago, told the story of Orthodox Jews
immigrating into Worcester from all over Eastern Europe at the turn of the 19 th
century, living all along Water Street. The whole area was lined with small bakeries
and restaurants, where local newcomers could meet up with each other, and take
comfort in community in their new home. “This particular exhibition was a seminal
moment in the way we tell the story of Worcester, because most of the stories told
up to that point were stories of immigrants from the Anglicized parts of the world.
This was the first time that we had shifted our focus into talking about immigrants
from other parts of the world, from Eastern Europe for example.”

Present day efforts to define and record Worcester are far more inclusive and
widespread. “We have worked hard to reach out and cover ground with all of our
immigrant populations, Armenian, Finnish, Swedish, Albanian, African-American
and the Latino/a communities, as well as the people indigenous to the Worcester
area before settlers started pouring in. For instance we just wrapped up an
exhibition on the LGBTQ community called ‘For The Record’ in 2019 and it was very
powerful. For that we partnered with local universities like Clark, WPI, Holy Cross,
and Assumption.”

I was fortunate enough to catch the most recent exhibit at the Worcester Historical
Museum, involving the evolution of women’s fashions over the course of history.
The exhibit covered apparel from various societal strata, ranging from casual factory
wear, glamorous evening wear, and present day business attire. Part of the

exhibition also covered hair fashions, including a dedicated exhibit called ‘don’t
touch my hair’.

It’s not easy to capture the spirit of something so sprawling and dynamic as a whole
city, full of people who are themselves evolving. Nevertheless, developing and
honoring a sense of integrity is something with which all good historians are tasked.
When I asked Bill about pivotal moments that he would describe as defining of
Worcester and its history, he was able to distill the following top three: Goddard’s
first liquid fueled rocket launch, the first –as some historians tell it –American
revolution, and the first political national women’s rights convention.

Robert Goddard at Clark University

When Goddard first launched a coffee can at his Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn on a
cold March afternoon in 1926, it revolutionized the way that we, as human beings,
viewed ourselves and the things that we might do. Goddard predicted that we’d be
able to use his model to go to Mars someday, and many didn’t take him seriously or
believe that he had proven that. The New York Times even wrote an article mocking
Goddard for his beliefs. “It wasn’t until 1969 when we finally landed on the moon
that the New York Times had to issue an apology to Goddard. And this really big
thing happened right here in Central Massachusetts, in our own backyard.”

The second most important event was the first American Revolution. “On
September 6 th 1774 over four thousand organized troops, a small militia, threw out
the British governance all over Worcester County. They weren’t even armed but

they managed to take a stand and overthrow British rule in this area. A lot of
historians think of this rather forgotten event as the true beginning of the Civil War.”

Women’s Rights Convention

And lastly, the first national women’s rights convention that took place on October
24 th , 1850 in Brinley Hall across from present day Mechanics Hall. Abby Kelley
Foster, a local hero, was a pioneer abolitionist and women’s suffrage advocate who
spoke at the convention and set one of the earliest precedents of the adage ‘no press
is bad press’ by growing the movement through a deluge of bad press. Abby Kelley
Foster’s pioneering activism is reflected in present day Worcester and resonates as
another one of Worcester’s numerous strengths.

Present day Worcester has been growing and developing along similar lines for as
long as I’ve been here. In 2009 a group of animal rights’ activists launched what has
since become one of the biggest vegetarian expos in the country, with over 100 local
vendors and thousands of attendees. New England Veg Fest, as it is called,
celebrated its 10 th anniversary in 2019, with their biggest expo yet. “We used the
time off that we had in 2020 to help us reorganize and we ended up having a zoom
event in 2021. This year, we are back at Worcester State University and it’ll be just
as great as it ever was.”

Indeed all of Worcester is presently engaged in numerous initiatives to invite
everyone to come to the table and carve out a space. The Regional Chamber of
Commerce has set up various programs through which underserved communities

can make their voices heard and their dreams realized. The Diverse Food
Entrepreneurs program run by the Worcester Regional Food Hub receives more
than double the applicants it needs every cycle, and the results of this effort are
evident in the lush diversity of Worcester’s restaurant scene, including Vietnamese,
French, Cuban, and Ethiopian.

Worcester Historical Museum

Of course the future is still being written. When I asked Bill Wallace what he, as a
historian, sees in Worcester’s future, he reminds me that he’s no oracle. But insofar
as hope can be fortunetelling, he is hopeful that the initiatives of the Worcester
Historical Society will bear fruit and inspire other areas of Worcester to continue
working towards inclusion and harmony. “Looking toward the future we have some
exciting projects coming up, we have the Worcester Latino Project’s exhibition
‘Somos Worcester’ that I am hoping will take place sometime in 2023. We are in
partnership with WPI for that one, and it’s been really gratifying so far. The exhibit
will come up some time in 2023. And we are in talks with the Albanian Festival
Community to begin a project on the history of Albanians in Worcester.” As the
Worcester Historical Museum expands in scope, it will also expand in form, as the
museum recently is absorbing two small spaces nearby.

The Tercentennial celebration later this month aims to highlight and celebrate all
the changes that have been made in the past ten years, despite the hurdles of the
pandemic. The Canal District stroll rounding out with the Polar Park fireworks
honors the incredible transformation of Kelley Square into one of our city’s most

entrepreneurial centers, housing countless local businesses. The Festival on the
Common celebrates

While it is true that working city as a moniker was a mere fable, it is the kind of fable
that for me has grown into the meaning, is still growing. The strength of cities lies in
its variations, in having multiple avenues of possibilities and perspectives. As we
reflect on three hundred years of Worcester being some version of the city we all
know today, it is important to keep in mind our immigrant roots, the pioneering
spirit of our predecessors and our compatriots, the people working hard to make
the city a home for all, a place worth living in, a city that works, a working city.