Every once in a while I stumble on a building and scratch my head. What were these people thinking when they built this place? When resources are scarce or people are under the yoke of oppressive circumstances it’s obvious. They make do. But a law firm in Massachusetts? In this case I think I understand the dynamics at play. This office is near the court house, but in an older part of town that was built before mass motoring. The need for off street parking was a serious consideration. The lawyers themselves almost certainly drive in to town from the suburbs to work. So do the majority of their clients – hence the double decker lot. It may not be pretty, but it gets the job done.
The office itself is harder to figure out. It’s clearly well maintained. The wood trim has recently been upgraded and fresh mulch has been applied to the landscape. But the squat concrete block walls, flat roof, and slit windows make it look like a pumping substation for the municipal sewerage treatment system. Not sure where the entrance is? Just follow the yellow glow and hum of the sodium vapor security lamps. Not everyone cares about grand architecture. This is a functional building where dry legal documents are processed. Divorce. Wills and estates. The odd civil litigation. Perhaps an occasional criminal defense. Money is made here and siphoned off to pay for what must be more gracious domestic accommodations elsewhere. Fair enough.
On the side of a busy arterial in a post war suburb no one would think twice about a building like this. It would blend in effortlessly with the Jiffy Lubes, car washes, and drive thru burger joints. No one ever expects these places to be anything other than momentarily useful for the time it takes to conduct a few prosaic transactions. Beauty and comfort are found elsewhere in the private realm tucked away on quiet cul-de-sacs.
But in this context, next door to the surviving remnants of what this town used to produce in the way of homes and professional establishments, the bar is set a bit higher. Even the carriage houses built for animals and servants are elegant.
One block away from Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski on Main Street are buildings that look as though they were transported from a magnificent boulevard in Paris. This is what the public realm was like a century ago, even in a modest second or third tier provincial town. Why not conduct law from office suites in one of these buildings today? They’re each more empty than full.
But that’s part of the problem isn’t it? “For Rent” signs and amateur art projects attempt to occupy space that was once the home of the finest shops in town. No more. The emptiness is sad. It might even be sadder than the suburban commercial strips since they never aspired to Paris.
Here and there are the impact craters where economic and cultural bombs vaporized entire blocks. The old buildings were more expensive to maintain than they were worth. The land was more valuable for surface parking. The handicapped accessible spaces amid the rubble are a thoughtful touch.
Here’s the old court house. It looks like a Greek Temple. It was built by people who believed that their town was worthy of such a proud and dignified space. It was built to last at a time when the country was significantly poorer than it is today.
The building is mothballed. No one from Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski will ever walk these halls. There are new facilities elsewhere now, no doubt built to modern standards that express contemporary needs.
Here’s a new public building. Here’s where the town put its collective wealth. These are the structures that future generations will inherit from us. Parking. Lots and lots of parking. Each of these parking spots costs $50,000 on average. There are hundreds. The good people of Worcester, Massachusetts wouldn’t dream of skimping on the really important stuff.