Saturday, October 1, 2011

"The Stage Point Neighborhood; People who are a Somebody"

Our Lord at St. Joseph's Church building

A peninsula named by the local Native American Indians as "Long Point" is known today as the Point Neighborhood, yet the early European settlers to Salem, MA  that harvested fish from the harbor also called the land mass "Stage Point"

The salt air tickles at my nose as I hurry along the narrow land mass that extends into Salem Harbor. Stage Point, a thriving peninsula, is freckled with the wooden framed stages used by the locals as fish drying racks. On my way to meet my husband, as his long hard day of labor is almost done at the sperm oil and candle factory in the Point along the harbor, I am hungry yet the multitude of inhibitants of the sea that now dry in the hot simmering sun makes my stomach churn. The peninsula that I was familiar with was to eventually undergo many transformations due to the increased needs for the factories and for the need for more homes to accommodate its workers. During the 19th and early 20th century many of the peninsula's shallow places were to be filled in and streets were to be laid out. And the land south of the river that once was reserved for farm fields and summer homes would eventually give way to industrialism in 1840 when the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company(Shetland Park) opened its first mill and provided homes and work for Salem's new immigrants until 1953.

The French-Canadians emigrated to Salem, MA in search of steady work and a steady income. Eventually, the people from Russia, Poland, and Greece found refuge in the point area too until by the mid 20th century an influx of newer immigrants became residents of the Point Neighborhood from Latin America countries. However, before our modern day point area was to become what is is today it was leveled in 1914 by the Great Salem Fire. As factories once outstripped the local homes; the rebuilding of a neighborhood was to see only two industrial facilities reborn - the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company and a small brick bakery building at Leavitt and Pingree Streets which now houses Harbor Sweets, a candy manufacturing company. Also, at one time there were two religious complexes in the neighborhood, a Methodist Episcopal church and the St. Joseph Roman Catholic parish - it was the latter that was to be revived by the residents of the Point for the residents and for the people. The Great Salem Fire not only reflected the resilience of a community it reflected the awareness for healthier and for safer homes that lined the narrow streets reconstructed with newer fire safety codes which minimized the older danger of the original inexpensive wood-framed dwellings that catered to the factory workers and their families; just as the House of the Lord catered to those same families who were seeking spiritual worship at St. Joseph's Church, yet now the edifice sits as an abandoned church that abandoned the souls of a community and is slated to be probably demolished not by nature like it once was because of a fire; demolished by man to make way for a new fate by our local politicians and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs that bought the site in 2005.

St. Joseph’s Church was a place of worship for over 100 years for the people in Salem, MA. The original edifice was lost during the “Great Salem Fire.”
This occurred on June 25th 1914 when over 20,000 people were left homeless and about 10,000 people unemployed. However, the building was to be rebuilt by the people who worshiped there in 1949. The building itself has a unique architecture and a unique history. However, its slated demolition will be a loss for our residents like so many other buildings within our city have been in the past. The demolition of the original Salem Depot, during the 1950’s, where Riley Plaza now sits, is still a great loss today to our city. Back in the 80s former mayor Tony Salvo stated, "Part of Salem died when they did that. It was a big mistake tearing that building down. The old train station was like a castle. It was a landmark." A landmark that will be remembered with regret and nostalgia.

I remember growing up and always loved the crucifix with our savior that overlooks the entrance to the church. It has been a comfort to me as well as others over the years. I remember my two nephews being christened as infants within the walls of the church and also when my brother renewed his vows with his bride there. Now, I enjoy the same comfort that I felt as a young girl when I look out my window and watch the sun rise and the sun set upon the structure. It is a building that should have the sun continue to shine upon it. Even the Committee on Divine Worship through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000 agrees that church architecture does embody the Gospel and if razing an old church is to take place then special care is needed in the treatment of the building which is “dignified and beautiful.” My question is then if Catholic bishops believe a church building to house the embodiment of the Gospel then why would a church that has been on the same property for over a 100 years be destroyed? My perception which I am sure is shared by many others can be defined in one word - sacrilegious.

Renovation of churches into living spaces is something that would be a perfect solution. Retaining most of the original architecture while at the same time utilizing the abandoned building into a place where people can reside is the answer, yet it is an answer that needs to be viewed with respect to the building. Renovations happen globally of former churches and having the artistry to convert a church into a home takes someone who is creative. Perhaps the planning board, the architects, and the developers that are designing the renovations for lower Lafayette Street need some ingenuity added to the ingredients to improve an entrance to downtown which is considered a key entrance. And the key to handling St. Joseph’s Church is to have a new outlook on the building instead of just tearing it down - Yet the souls of the Point residents will not be torn or frayed since we are people with the resilience within us from past generations.

I experience that resilience as the crisp fall air rejuvenates me as I walk to the Deli House Restaurant to pick up lunch for my elderly mother and I. A cozy place owned by Scott for about three years I salivate breathing in the fresh, delicious smells of Scott's mouthwatering ingredients sauteing - strolling towards Pioneer Terrace with food in hand now I recall mom needed some milk so I take a detour up Palmer Street. Passing a small almost hidden store(Tropicana Market) the aroma of freshly fried pastelitos stop me in my tracks enveloping my total senses with temptation. It is within the walls of the store that a mother and a son work tirelessly as a duet always to greet each customer with a smile. It is people like them that I do encounter that make me know that though the Point may be infected by some lost souls, a few punks that think they are gangsta, absent landlords that own propert who only care for money and not their tenants or the property itself, some young people who think they have with nothing to do and are "bored," and even some people who have either spent or currently spend their lives on the "governmental payroll" not familiar with what working hard means or knowing how to give back to themselves and others; though at times it is through no fault of their own since they were not taught any different growing up-it is good people living in the Point area who are not a nobody and are a somebody that matters.

Now, my personal experiences and personal encounters as a lifetime Salem resident typically does show to me that most of the area locals within the Point are residents that are truly the "forgotten people" of today; forgotten at times by our local governmental officials and representatives, forgotten by the local landlords who are among the missing, and at times forgotten by our local law enforcement was well as labeled because of where we live or where we frequent - the people of the Point Neighborhood are people who are a somebody. A somebody who cares about the neighborhood, a somebody who cares about ourselves and our families, a somebody who may be living on the financial edge known today as the "working poor," most importantly we are a community of everybody made up of ethnic familes as diverse as America always was and America is - we are the potpourri of people of the Point Neighborhood resilient and full of strength.

Deli House
48 Congress Street
Salem, MA 01970
(978) 745-5900

Tropicana Market
24 Palmer Street
Salem, MA 01970
(978) 594-8672
Before and After the Great Salem Fire

1 comment:

  1. Posting by Salempoet Tammy Anne Callahan-Callanan

    David Moisan. (2008, August 16). Remembering the old Bridge St. Overpass and Salem Station. Retrieved (2011, February 21). Quote from former Mayor Tony Salvo

    Foster, Margaret. (2010). Threatened: International Style Church. EXCELLENT WRITE-UP BY FELLOW WRITER