By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Listen to Jim Boone of the Springfield Preservation Trust and the buildings one passes everyday on Main, State, Bliss and Howard streets take on much greater meaning.
There is the building that was formerly a hotel and where President James Polk stayed during a tour of the northeast as well as an early movie theater and another with a stained glass atrium.
Boone believes the history of these buildings be will be greatly diminished if MGM carries out its plan to demolish many of the historic buildings in its proposed casino location. He was among the speakers at the recent Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing who addressed the future of these buildings.
He supports the plan proposed to MGM officials by the Historical Commission to at least incorporate the facades of some of these buildings into their casino.
“This is the first time MGM has built a casino in an urban setting. They say they want to do it right. Preservation has to be part of it,” Boone said.
There are six building that are in question. Boone said the Spiritualist Church building on Bliss Street has been purchased by MGM, which intends to move it and use the building as a childcare center.
Here are the buildings most at risk:
• The Young Women’s Christian Association building at 20-30 Howard St.
It is a facility for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. Currently the plan calls for the demolition of the 1907 structure, which architect Eugene Gardner loosely modeled after Ham House, a 17th century English Country manor house. MGM plans to demolish it and the Historical Commission has asked the façade be incorporated into the south wall of the casino development.
• The United Electric Company at 73 State St.
Built in 1910, it was the offices of the United Electric Company, the city’s first electric utility. It is currently an office complex, the building was designed by Boston architect Thomas James in the Beaux Arts style. The owners of the building have maintained that look in its elaborate lobby that has a stained glass atrium. MGM would demolish the building except for its façade. The Historical Commission would like to have not only the façade saved but the ornate lobby as well.
Boone said the façade would be the entrance to the casino building, according to the plans seen so far and noted the façade and lobby would make “such a classy entrance to the casino.”
• The Union House at 1132-1142 Main St.
Scheduled for demolition by MGM the building, the Historical Commission has asked for a re-use of the building constructed in 1846 as the Union House Hotel. Boone said the plans for the casino call for a four-story build to take the place of this four-story building.
President James Polk stayed at the Union House in 1847 during a tour of the Northeast.
• The Turnverein Building 79-83 State St.
The Historical Commission has asked the façade to be incorporated into the development.
• State Building, 85-95 State St.
The building would be demolished. The Historical Commission is asking the façade of the first three stories be saved.
• State Armory, 29 Howard St.
Although MGM plans to use the front half of the building and demolish the back half, the Historical Commission has asked the back half be retained.
• Edisonia Theatre Block, 1156-1178 Main St.
The Historical Commission is asking if the façade be incorporated into the new building.
Boone acknowledged there would an additional cost in construction in the preservation of the facades and the Union House building, but believes MGM could afford it in its effort to make the casino appear as part of downtown.
He also noted the businesses in offices in these buildings will have to find new locations, but questioned where those spaces could be found.
In response to an inquiry made by Reminder Publications, MGM spokesperson Carole Brennan said, “MGM’s extensive dialogue with the Springfield Historic Commission has resulted in an informed design that strives to reflect the history of the South End. In the coming days our team will be working with the commission to review the scope of its remaining preservation concerns, as well as conduct an exhaustive historical analysis. We have learned a lot from the Historic Commission, and believe the analysis will confirm that MGM Springfield has struck the appropriate balance to celebrate Springfield’s past, while optimizing opportunity for the future.”