|Out with the Old and in with the New|
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Demolition of several properties, a factory in East Village and three commercial buildings in the downtown, is changing Webster's landscape.
The Cranston Print Works Co.'s Webster Division Plant has disappeared under the press of heavy equipment. The factory, with its early history dating from the War of 1812 to the S. Slater & Sons Co., is being redeveloped for retail purposes.
There aren't many former Cranston workers, if any, who remember CPW's early years in Webster, 1936 to World War II, before some modest changes were made in the facility, judging from reports. Company records might offer a better image.
The yard goods printer tried to keep its Webster plant current, but they had an old building to begin with. They spent substantial sums for pretreatment facilities, and to moderate the strength of chemicals used in production. They also built an addition to house screenprinting equipment.
In the end, they were trying to keep current in a world market dominated by low-paying overseas competitors. Some of them learned the fine points of cloth printing by arranging tour visits to Cranston-Webster.
To look at the other tear-downs, the Kindler Block on the corner to Frederick Street, the Vito Building next door and a one-time garage behind them, demolition will make way for a new police station. Selectmen see this as an opportunity to stimulate downtown redevelopment.
The Kindler and Vito buildings generally housed a viable mix of professional, retail and service outlets before the properties lost the manna to downtown success: on-street parking.
The oldest building in the cluster is probably the garage from which the late Mike Stefaniak sold Chandler Motor Cars around 1920. The facility was subsequently converted into a newspaper composing shop and press room for the Webster Times, proving adequate but never ideal. The newspaper, first a daily and then a weekly, had its offices in the adjacent Vito Building, with a stairwell and ramp between them. Owners of the downtown complex subsequently tried to increase revenue by converting the garage/print shop for housing. Its rental time seemed relatively short-lived.
The Worcester Telegram, The Evening Gazette and the Sunday Telegram had another Vito storefront. It was mostly a Webster-Dudley circulation office, with a couple of desks for reporters.
Then, Webster selectmen learned of a joint federal- and state-funded program to improve highway safety. They inquired, gaining an introduction into Topics in 1970.
Webster wanted to divert traffic from Main Street at the time. The idea was to build an alternate street, with ingress and egress on Lower Main Street and South Main Street only.
¡§It would appear that at long last the town might have a means of funding a parallel Main Street,¡¨ Selectmen Paul E. Perkins, William J. Markiewicz and Leo P. Brophy said in a subsequent report.
It turned out differently. Topics improved highway safety by installing traffic signals, which changed access patterns at the same time.
It took some time, but town police subsequently added ¡§failing to stop at a red light¡¨ tickets to their enforcement rules.
Safety engineers modified road rules at half a dozen locations. The changes were mostly minor, except in the up-and-out traffic sweeps from Main Street onto Lake Street and onto South Main Street. The price of safety was on-street parking.
Vels Jewelers, a leading jewelry store and gifts outlet; Kerry's, a men's fashion shop; the newspaper offices; a couple of sandwich shops; a paint store; and a yard-goods place watched business rush by.
Second-floor offices faced the same fate. Storefronts were vacated on a staggered basis, and the offices were likewise left empty as leases expired. It had a revolving-door tendency.
It was the beginning of a downhill slide that made the buildings second-rate, a painful memory to many, and an enforcement problem for police and health authorities. The buildings were finally declared ¡§unfit for human habitation.¡¨
Put one of those red, white and blue stovetop hats on some people, and discomfort registers.
But Professor Bill Steglitz of East Thompson looked happy as all get-out in his Fourth of July salute. His wife, Cecelia, got it for him. She looked really nice in it, too
Telegram & Gazette
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