Saturday, August 30, 2008

Part of the Worcester Frustration

Part of it, for me at least, is the lack of choices that do not allow you to live your life as you would in a real city. Businesses and establishments are inconsistent the world over for sure, but when you walk out your door at 11:30am on a Saturday morning and your choices for something quick Downtown are Subway, Woosta Pizza, and Spoodles and only one of them is open when all three claim to have regular Saturday hours you can't help but walk back to your apartment with your head down muttering obscenities about Worcester under your breath.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Great Quote

"We have theories, specialisms, regulations, exhortations, demonstration projects. We have planners. We have highway engineers. We have mixed use, mixed tenure, architecture, community architecture, urban design, neighbourhood strategy. But what seems to have happened is that we have simply lost the art of placemaking; or, put another way, we have lost the simple art of placemaking. We are good at putting up buildings but we are bad at making places." -Bernard Hunt, London architect

Friday, August 22, 2008

Destination Worcester


Now can we please get a website that looks this good that is all about marketing the city to people who may want to live here?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All Good Things Must Come To An End

It is with a bit of sadness that I must announce that First Fridays for the time being are on indefinite hiatus. It was a ton of fun while it lasted and there is no saying that a more finely tuned version of the series might not pop up in the future. Until then though I went through the profile and tried to pay as much tribute as I could to everyone who has helped make it work.

Bob Largess and the Hotel Vernon allowed me to use the beautiful Ship Room in Kelley Sq here in Worcester. Derek Ring created one of the staples of the series which were his incredible posters that made the whole city and the greater New England music scene take notice. Keith and John Menard lugged their PA System from Douglas up here to the Woo once a month and never asked for anything in return but a pile of wings from Wings over Worcester.

We did ten shows over the course of the series with varied results. The one constant though was that all the bands played their asses off and I thank them for this. We never drew huge crowds but we had a small and loyal following that came out and took in the music in what weren't always optimum conditions. For that I thank you very much.

Of course I owe the most to the bands, most of whom came from an hour or more away, who came out and did these shows usually for less than gas money but had a shared belief that good shows should happen and need to happen. I think we can all get caught up sometimes in the socialization of the bar, club and music scene and forget that though a simple pleasure, sitting in an audience with a tasty beverage and just letting good live music wash over you can be one of the finest gifts we have the ability to give ourselves. Thanks again to the bands for allowing these shows to happen.

Maybe someday First Fridays will return but in the meantime, go to the profile, listen to 6 really great songs, and then follow the links in the top friends section to hear more great music. New England is one of the best regions in the world for original music. Take advantage and never take it for granted.

First Fridays

Monday, August 18, 2008

Latin American Festival 2008

Living in Main South for almost 8 years there was nothing I wanted to go to less than the Latin American Festival. Mostly because of years of encountering things like this:

I have to say though that all those years I was really missing out. What a good time this is!

Really this is all I have to say about it. Very very very good music and very very very good food being enjoyed by very very very good people having a very very very good time.

Musical highlights for me were Murga La de Todos (Uraguay), Franroy Figuero & Carlos Boys Band (Cuba), Grupo Boriken (Puerto Rico), Gregorio Uribe Big Band (Columbia) and Yomo Toro and the Frankie Morales Orchestra.

Just incredible. I am already looking forward to next year. Take advanage in 2009 folks. This is world class pro music that could be commanding quite a heavy admission charge and it is totally free and happening right here in your city. Do not sleep on this next year.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Strange Fruit comes to Worcester

If you didn't get to see one of the six performances this Australian performance troupe did over the past couple of days you really missed out on something special. I shot some video of it but these three videos do a much better job and capture almost the entire performance. I still can't really describe it in words so check out the videos yourself.

It was great to see something like this happening downtown. I saw Mike O'Brien watching and made sure to tell him that it's things like this that make city living great. He said there is lot's more to come. Let's hope I can take the man at his word.

Worcester Block by Block #2.1: Franklin, Salem, Myrtle, Portland

Although the main property in Bancroft Commons, the downtown development by the Mayo Group, is the old Bancroft Hotel at 50 Franklin Street, most of the land and buildings in the development exist on this block which neighbors the Bancroft.

The block consists of 4 residential buildings with street level commercial store fronts, 1 office building with street level commercial store fronts, an old theater, an enormous old indoor auto sales and service complex, and a large industrial building.

We'll start at the corner of Franklin Street portion and work our way around.

60 Franklin St: The Hooka Hot Spot

The Hooka Hot Spot is the first new business to open in the Bancroft Commons development and features hooka smoking as well as coffee, tea and smoothies. Aside from chips and salsa or hummus there really isn't any food at the moment. The Hooka Hot Spot is currently in soft opening phase and will have their grand opening in September at which time I hope to have a more detailed entry just devoted to them. Personally I am a big fan of the Hooka smoking and find it to be one of the more relaxing and conversation friendly activities you can participate in. If you have never done it right now is an excellent time to try it as the Hot Spot is offering a free Hooka to first time visitors for the entire month of August. I say try it out, what do you have to lose? They are open Sunday through Wednesday 5pm to Midnight and Thursday through Saturday 5pm to 2am. For more info, including an interesting page about the Hooka and it's history, check out the website.

62 Franklin Street: Offices

This building appears to be 3 floors of as yet to be renovated office space above the Hooka Hot Spot and Sylvia Dress Shop. I am not sure what Mayo plans to do with this address but as of right now it sits vacant. As with the rest of the development, it will be interesting to see what the future holds.

64 Franklin Street: Sylvia Dress Shop
Sylvia Dress Shop recently moved from their digs on Main Street over here to their completely refurbished store at 64 Franklin. I don't know much about dresses but what Sylvia seems to specialize in is fancy dress. Think gowns of the wedding, prom, and evening variety. For my thoughts on the old Sylvia location and the building it resided in see the future Block by Block entry on the Main, Franklin, Portland, Federal block.

66 Franklin Street: Mass Pro Hair Braiding
In one of the two little store fronts that straddle the entrance to the Paris. Awful signage and a business that I am not sure fits the demographic of the neighborhood. Although there seems to be an interesting one stop shopping thing that is developing here on Franklin I am not so sure if it's the kind of thing that goes with Mayo's vision of the neighborhood.

68 Franklin Street: Paris Cinema

Here it is folks, the granddaddy of the downtown eye sore. For those unfamiliar the Paris for years was a porn theater and store which was the sight of all sorts of arrests, prostitution and socially unacceptable behavior. Today it sits closed and vacant as a constant reminder to the citizens of Worcester of what their beloved downtown tragically turned into over the last 4o years of the 1900's. When I first became a resident of this neighborhood last October I applauded Mayo's intent to demolish the building. For the most part I still do but what I think would be great and one of the most psychologically satisfying things that could happen for Worcester as a whole would be the remodeling of this space into a replacement for the closed and shuttered Bijou Cinema which was forced out for the building of the City Square project in late 2004. From the small entrance way it's hard to tell but if you look at the back of the building (you can see it a little bit in the picture) it's a large old theater similar to the Hanover and The Palladium. It would do so much for the attitude of the city to see the Paris returned to the former glory of the Capitol Theater while at the same time filling the need of an Art House theater in Worcester that was left wide open with the closing of the Bijou. This may be a bit of dreaming on my part though. Read the comments at the bottom of the link I provided, they get pretty interesting.

70 Franklin St: Vacant store front

72 Franklin St: A's Barber Shop

74 Franklin St: Sonja's Wigs

76 Franklin St: Worcester Commons

76 Franklin is one of the three current residential addresses of the Bancroft Commons development. I've never been inside so I cannot attest to the apartments or what they look like.

78 Franklin Street: Vacant Store Front
Wow would a pizza place or some sort of takeout be awesome right here. I will more into this in later Block by Block entries but there is a real good business opportunity here for someone if they are willing to jump on it.

82 Franklin Street: More Apartments

Very cool old building at the corner of Franklin and Salem. What is something to take notice of next time you go buy is how the streets are names right on the corner of the building and the building was built at a time when Franklin St wasn't called Franklin St but was called Park St instead.

84 Franklin Street: 83oAM WCRN True Talk Radio
One of the more interesting new tenants in the Bancroft Commons development is local talk radio station WCRN. With their big, open, on air studio (bottom right of the above picture) facing the common they definitely add a nice feel to downtown. I am still tempted to go and hold up signs when Peter Blute says something I don't agree with. No real web presence yet though, which is odd for a station who is definitely trying to be a big time radio station. Get on the ball folks!!!!

Worcester Block by Block #1 in Pictures

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

David Simon does it again

I don't know about anyone else but I am very very psyched about this.

NEW YORK (AP) David Simon has made the streets of Baltimore famous with gritty television dramas such as "The Wire," "Homicide: Life on the Street," and "The Corner." Now he wants to take on the Big Easy. The next series he hopes to produce for HBO is about musicians reconstituting their lives in New Orleans, he told The New Yorker for its issue hitting newsstands Monday.

Simon, whose dramas are known for their authenticity and detail, has been spending time there researching the music scene."This show will be a way of making a visual argument that cities matter," Simon said. "'The Wire' has never done that. I certainly never said or wanted to say that Baltimore is not worth saving, or that it can't be saved. But I think some people watching the show think, Why don't they just move away?"

A goal of the show will be to celebrate the glories of an American city, and "why we need to accept ourselves as an urban people," Simon said.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Worcester Block By Block #1: Main St, Front St, Franklin St

Worcester Block by Block is something I have been thinking about for a long time. Basically documenting every block in the urban core on foot and then adding a little of my own commentary about the block to go along with it. As I have said quite often Worcester is an insider's city and I think that since I see so much of urban Worcester on foot that I see the city from a different perspective than a lot of Central Massachusetts residents. It occurred to me it might be fun to share some of this perspective. I figured I would start dead center in the middle of the city and work my way out in rings. Hopefully there will be entire posts along the way about single things on a certain block that deserve more attention. I also hope that my ADD doesn't get the best of me and I can follow this through to the four corners of urban Worcester. I also hope that during this little experiment I can get a new digital camera and take myself some pictures. If you are free during the day and would like to be the official Worcester Block by Block photographer though, let me know.

Let's get started

There are really only two things on this entire block, city hall and the Worcester Common Park. Along with the stretch of Main across from city hall the block also serves as the hub for the WRTA. Rumor has it though that the WRTA is looking to change this and move the hub to Union Station.

Most days during the week the Common is a wash with activity from people waiting for buses to downtown workers on their lunch breaks to people with nothing better to do then just hang out in the park. The Main St side of city hall is usually filled with inner city kids hanging out and always appearing to be up to no good. Who knows what they are really up to though. Most mornings Monday through Friday there is a vendor at the corner of Main and Front selling hot dogs.

The Common Park has always seemed a bit underutilized which may have to do with their not being too many folks living near it. Right now they are building a skating rink in the Common and have half of it dug up and fenced off which pretty much cuts off the main residential building (Bancroft Commons) from the area of downtown north of city hall. I question the wisdom of the build it and they will come thinking of the ice skating rink but am excited about the event pad that will be there during the warm months. I am interested to know how big the rink is going to be and if it will be possible to pay regulation hockey games on it. St. John's versus St Peter Marian anyone?