John Massengale sent to the Pro-Urb listserv a 45-minute documentary, “Woolworth’s: Remembering Haverhill’s Shopping District,” produced just last year by Historic New England. He said it was more than you might want to know about the northern Massachusetts shoe-manufacturing town on the Merrimack River. But I watched the whole thing and a more delightful film of that sort I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Throughout, a collection of elderly memoirists recount their time downtown. Again and again they reiterate the importance of proximity and walking (“Nobody had a car!”) to Haverhill’s vitality. They say the funniest things (intended and unintended).
To look at the lunch counter at the Woolworth and to marvel that it ran the length of the store – then to imagine how many times the store (which had “everything”) would fit into a typical Walmart today. So sad. And toward the end, as John points out, they start discussing Haverhill’s decline and the folly of the urban renewal that was supposed to turn it around. Here are some remarks from John:
This is longer and has more information about Haverhill, Mass., than most people will want, but around 33 minutes they start to talk about sprawl, the downtown dying, and then urban renewal and urban removal. Including why Haverhill thought it was best to tear things down. [John quotes:]
“The way the federal government was running the urban removal program was all or nothing.”
“We’ll give you hundreds of thousands of dollars, all you need to do is tear everything down”
“I call it ‘1960’s ugly.’”
Around 42 minutes they show new buildings, which are only slightly better than 1960s ugly. They would benefit from a bunch of John Andersons.