PT II OF A PLANET EXCLUSIVE: THE BERKSHIRE CAROUSEL — ‘WILL IT GO ‘ROUND IN CIRCLES?’ … PROJECT BEGAN AS A $1 MILLION GIFT, FREE OF CHARGE, BUT A TINY HANDFUL OF CITY ‘LEADERS’ ONLY SAW A THREAT
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
Part Two of a Series
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, OCT. 31, 2012) — On all Hallow’s Eve, THE PLANET continues our investigation into the Berkshire Carousel project. We shall explain the “how” involved in the final disposition of this fabulous civic gem ending up in Lanesboro and not in Pittsfield, but the “why” remains a cause for speculation.
Picking up from yesterday’s post, THE PLANET begins part two explaining why the Town of Lanesboro won the prize. Essentially, the town offered much more to the Carousel board of directors than did the city of Pittsfield, who operated through a handful of key “players.” The Players, for whatever reason, had one objective: Find a way to keep the carousel out of Pittsfield. Yes, it sounds crazy, but that’s what happened.
The Top 10 Reasons by the Carousel Chose Lanesboro
We talked to several public officials, including from the town and city, as well as several more involved as part of the carousel board of directors. From that, we list the Top 10 reasons why Lanesboro made the winning pitch. Lanesboro promised:
10. Assistance in developing an endowment fund. Pittsfield would not agree to this.
9. Adequate space for the carousel to include a party area, educational events, exhibits, a gift shop, food concession area, and art gallery. This would be space in addition to what the carousel itself would physically require. The added elements would give the carousel a much greater opportunity to generate operating income. Pittsfield said no to the additional space, thereby dooming the carousel to financial failure.
8. Opportunity for more than a single destination visit.
7. Interest shown by Lanesboro commercial operations, including the Berkshire Mall, to join with the carousel on collaborative efforts.
6. Adequate and easy parking. Parking for Pittsfield remains an eternal hurdle, from the lack of convenient parking downtown to actually removing parking spaces through the “French curve” design of North Street curbing.
5. Adequate traffic for year-round operation.
4. Safety and security. With shootings, stabbings, beatings, and drugs out of control in Pittsfield and especially the downtown, Pittsfield could not and would not offer an adequate safety guarantee.
2. Understanding and valuing the role of the volunteer community in the operation of the carousel and future carousel projects. Keep in mind that under the direction of Jim Shulman, inexperienced volunteers, not experienced professional wood workers, carved the magnificent horses.
1. Respect for and confidence in the volunteers, the carousel staff, its board, and the founders, who are together creating this magnificent work of art. Pittsfield exuded the opposite of respect for and confidence in this great team.
Again, why to all this? Why did certain Players in Pittsfield have such a problem with volunteers coming together from all walks of life and all regions of the county to get the carousel finished? Why did the Players feel threatened? What did they fear?
Make No Mistake: The Berkshire Carousel Was Intended to be a Gift for Pittsfield
To understand the fate of the carousel, one has to appreciate the nature of the project: From the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Shulman wanted to give back something monumental to the city of Jim’s youth. That’s not surprising for a man who, since he was a lad, has been a nominal fixture in the heart of downtown Pittsfield. Yes, Jim’s father named the family business after his son, and to this say, we have Jim’s House of Shoes.
“The carousel was a million dollar gift to our (yours and mine) hometown,” Shulman told THE PLANET. “It’s main purpose was to engage the lifeblood of the community that you and I knew growing up in what was a real blue-collar town. Pittsfield was a great place in which to grow up, and we did so at a great period of time, living during the optimism following World War II.”
Indeed, Pittsfield was all of that. Back then, of course, most of us were too young to understanding the risk involved in placing the city’s economy in one basket. All we knew was that GE employed more than 12,000 at its peak, and the company seemed generous with its time, talents, and treasure, as can be seen in the Hollywood-quality Halloween parades and floats, community projects, scholarships, public service, and the like. Kids back then thought we had it great, and GE — what our parents called “the shop” — helped make Pittsfield a showcase community. We didn’t know about how GE kept other industries from moving to Pittsfield. We didn’t know about the pollution the company buried in the soil, dumped in the water, and injected into the air. We didn’t know about the company’s subsequent plans to shut the plant down.
THE PLANET can remember, for instance, when we served as a high-school apprentice in the drafting program in Building 28. Much of the work by then — 1968 and 1969 — had been shipped to other parts of the country. We didn’t know anything about Hickory, N.C., except that the name kept popping up on many drawings and work orders. Those were jobs shipped out of Pittsfield, we later learned.
Here is the remainder of today’s installment. We have pieced this together from interviews with a variety of people, and attribute it to one of the great stallions of all time, The Lone Ranger‘s Silver.
SILVER TESTIFIES:Pittsfield not only was a blue-collar town but the center of business and commerce for the County. The city was plumb in the middle of art and culture, midway between North and South Berkshire County, with their respective cogs of Williamstown and Lenox-Stockbridge. The Berkshires were a Mecca for big city folks to come for summer retreats, and Pittsfield was the place to shop when these folks came to experience arts.
Pittsfield never pretended to be an artsy place itself, at least not like Lenox, Stockbridge or Williamstown. We didn’t care, we had GE with 12,000 employees and the best shopping between Springfield and Albany. After all, England Brothers and a handful of Department Stores had all anyone needed.After the City fought having a mall downtown — despite Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski voting twice in favor on behalf of We The People, — and GE began abandoning the city while leaving it polluted with PCBs, our community leaders furthered contributed to the demise by filling hospital beds with NYC addicts. These people were discharged into Pittsfield’s streets. To accommodate then, Pittsfield built and an unnecessarily, oversized jail. It soon filled up with out-of-town criminals whose families moved to the city to be close and also to join the welfare rolls. In the last 30 years, we then saw downtown die, crime and poverty accelerate, and our “leaders” absolutely clueless on what to do. Did they really seek new industry or job sources? The trend continues right to the present time.The City decided to reinvent itself by calling itself a “center for art.” The “leaders” held some successful festivals did wonderful restoration of theaters at enormous taxpayer expense when promises of private money proved to be fake. The “leaders” then gave great tax breaks to encourage new restaurants, art galleries, and a cinema. These were good things, but they were geared not to the many long-time residents but mostly to m to second homeowners, transplants, and tourists.Despite the thrust to make downtown an art district, the economic issues, crime and related problems remained. Local support from long-term residents for the “new arts” has been limited by the costs. Many of these people feel that the city needed to put its energy and money into bringing in technology and potential jobs to improve the economy.Instead of this focus, the previous administration sought state funds to do things like beautify the main street and to seed a city park (for $4 million dollars). The planner, Deanna Ruffer, was praised for doing this, but the efforts have been scattered and piecemeal, with no apparent strategic goal.In the focus on the arts and spending money on such projects, the leadership largely forgot about the blue-collar workers from GE who built the city, the life blood, many of whom still remain here and are increasingly and justifiably cynical and negative about the city’s “new art” directions and its catering to out of towners and the well-to-do.The local folks have not been able to contribute much financially to the theater restorations or able to afford the art galleries, theaters, and restaurants. The feeling has been that the city and its downtown were no longer for them. Shopping for them was now at the big box stores. The theaters and eateries are too expensive to frequent regularly or at all. The downtown of the 50s through 70s was now someone else’s “parade” surrounded by a sea of poverty and crime, and not something ordinary locals could experience or value.
This account by Silver explains precisely the context on how the Berkshire Carousel came to be seen not as a great civic project but one in which a tiny handful of GOBs came to view with fear and suspicion. Those people acted as if they knew best for the city, all the while forgetting — and abandoning — The Little Guy. They were determined to sink the carousel before it had a chance.
TOMORROW, WE CONTINUE WITH PART THREE OF OUR SAGA. THE PROJECT GETS OFF AND RUNNING, BUT WHEN IT GOT SERIOUS, CITY LEADERSHIP BECAME CURIOUSLY HOSTILE. WE BEGIN NAMING NAMES.
WHOSE HORSE THIS IS, WE THINK WE KNOW. HIS HOUSE IS IN LANESBORO, THOUGH. HE WILL CERTAINLY SEE US STOPPING HERE TO DESCRIBE HOW PITTSFIELD FILLED UP WITH A SNOW JOB.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.