With the Halloween season in full swing, I find myself spending late evening hours watching creepy movies in the dark. One of my absolute favorites is the psychological horror film “Session 9,” a cult favorite filmed in 2000 at the now demolished 500 acre Danvers State Hospital site near Boston. When it still stood, the Danvers site was part of the Massachusetts Film Office’s Fee-Free Location Program, where qualified filmmakers could use state owned sites at no cost.
“Session 9” may provide one of the best visual records of the hospital buildings and landscape before the massive Gothic Revival Kirkbride building and grounds was no more. Although a listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not prevent the demolition of a historic building-as was stated in the film-the site was eligible for rehabilitation tax credits that may have been available to help fund a reuse project. There is entirely too much controversy surrounding what went down with the demolition and subsequent construction of Avalon Danvers to get into in this blog but a Google search on the topic definitely makes for interesting reading.
An interesting side note: Danvers has been shrouded with eeriness for centuries before the state hospital came to be. The actual site of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 took place in this same location, not in the present-day Salem as it is commonly attributed. At the time, Danvers was known as Salem Village and that is where the first accusations of supernatural-induced hysteria began. The main Kirkbride building of Danvers Hospital was situated on the exact site that was once the home of John Hathorne, one of the judges of the witch trials.
In any case, what remains today of Danvers State Hospital is the centermost part of the main hospital building. Everything else was demolished and new construction has taken over. In my thesis research about this site, I came across writings by many individuals who expressed the view that there is no sense of history to this site after entering through the 19th century remains of the Kirkbride building. Never having been there myself-at least not yet- I can’t say for sure how good or bad of a job Avalon Communities did with this site but I do believe that the destruction of such a building is a loss on so many levels. Not only is it physically gone forever but there is one less piece of understanding who we are via how we got here that is missing. I think that’s a big reason why I love watching “Session 9” so much. At least there is a way to see Danvers State Hospital in some detail while it was still there.
For the last two years, we knew it was coming. It just was put off for so long it still came as a shock to see the work begin on this historic building at the corner of Broughton and Jefferson Streets. Yesterday as I walked from the parking garage to work, my eyes were immediately drawn to the garish red and yellow sign pictured above. It is jarring against the historic landscape of Broughton Street. I can’t be the only one who is surprised that there wasn’t more of a fight to prevent this from happening at all, but even more disappointing right now is the simple fact that this sign was allowed. It really just is a distracting eyesore.
It’s highly unfortunate that they couldn’t arrange a different location for this. Although there are a few chain restaurants in operation on Broughton St., the loud presence of McDonald’s just cheapens the scenery. They are going to have a walk-up window on the Jefferson side of the building, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the foot traffic at certain hours, say when the bars let out, if they plan to stay open that late. I feel like allowing this caliber of fast food business into the historic downtown just starts a slippery slope of what’s next. Dollar Store? Burger King?
My main issue is that if the city of Savannah made it easier for small businesses to start up and thrive then this building could have gone to a local merchant. There are so many vacant and unused properties in this city, the wasted potential is maddening. Here was an opportunity to kickstart a new local venture, but instead the city chose to go with fast, cheap and easy. If that mentality sticks around, it won’t be long before the whole downtown is seen that way. Let’s hope it doesn’t ever get to that point and fight harder against similar situations in the future .
What makes Savannah unique-or any interesting locale, for that matter- is not the familiarity of commonplace chain stores and restaurants, but rather the things that stand out and make it unequivocally feel like Savannah. The sense of place experienced in a stunning historic city like this is not something that should go down without a fight.
Is there no better way to add some character to your historic site than to place a garish, tacky speed gauge sign right in front of it? I honestly do not understand why the City of Bowie would add one of these cheap looking signs, that light up and flash your mph as you approach it, directly in front of one of the biggest landmarks in Bowie. The Belair Mansion stands as a testimony to the early settlement of this area in Prince George’s County, MD and represents several periods of residency, from the 1750s through the mid-twentieth century. These signs, I find, are a public nuisance anywhere but it really just takes away from the mansion and its beauty. The historic atmosphere is compromised and for what? This street does not even have a big issue with speeding, and having lived here most of my life I can honestly say there has never been any kind of catastrophic accident warranting this speed sign. Take a look and see for yourself..It was hard to get a clear shot of this while driving, hence the 16mph but it gives a rough idea of what one sees while passing the historic mansion. This, I do not approve of at all. I would love to see what other residents think, but I’d have to say this is an epic fail on the city’s part.
**UPDATE 9/5/2011…looks like many folks found this sign problematic, as it is no longer there!**