John Seven: North Adams better off with one less crumbling relic

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NORTH ADAMS — Having a sense of gallows humor is not required to live in North Adams, but it does help get you through some of the harder moments.

With the dismantling of St. Francis, I've seen a bit of dark speculation of what will take its place — what people sarcastically "hope" takes its place.

Pizza shop. Car parts store. Bank. And, of course, a gas station that doesn't sell gas, just scratch tickets and cigarettes. You get the idea. I'm saddened no one has suggested a new Walmart.

These are jokes born of frustration, of course. We can't be glass-half-full all the time. We are only human, after all, and though millennials sometimes get angry at the notion, making light of dark subjects helps you get through them and fight another day. It disarms the darkness. Making fun of it puts it in its place.

I don't know that anyone in North Adams is very happy with the fate of St. Francis, but I think the hardest part is the inevitability of it. The previous CVS bid was not going to save the church. The Catholic Church has closed down its grand structures all over the country because of a number of factors, all of which have resulted in diminishing congregations.

I have been told that it is common practice for the church to plunder all the charm out of the interior of these buildings when they leave them, so there's not much character for potential purchasers to ponder.

As the buildings sit unsold, the amount of investment required for upkeep keeps increasing. The church isn't going to invest it, and it alienates more potential buyers, other than those who want to tear it down to build a chain store location.

It's already so far from a likely purchase for anyone else. Not only does it require money, but vision. Ask Eric Rudd — he's purchased, saved, and filled two churches in town. He's done his duty for sure.

But empty, rotting buildings have become part of the normal landscape in North Adams. The only things that really differentiates St. Francis are that it is a large, historic structure on main thoroughfare, and a segment of the community has personal memories attached.

But I can go out to walk my dog and pass scores of abandoned single family homes that are crumbling. I have several on my street, three of them right next to my house, and I've heard Mayor Richard Alcombright speak about the critical mass of these houses that need to go, if only we had the money to take care of them.

A lot of these are foreclosed houses that banks own but have no interest in going to the bother of selling. Some are houses that people moved out of but have been unable to sell. Of course. Selling a house in North Adams has never been a sure thing. And so they all sit and decay, creating eyesores and safe havens for various rodents and pests, as well as drug dealing shelters.

And so what gets to me most about St. Francis isn't its passing, but its place as a symbol for the underlying infrastructural cancer that infects North Adams. St. Francis, through no fault of the citizens of North Adams or any of its mayors, was always headed for a slow decay.

That is unfortunate, but we are lucky that it is being handled sooner rather than later. And hopefully this means we won't have to look at another box plopped on the property.

It is the gateway to downtown North Adams, let's hope whatever is next there reflects that. Gallows humor is fun, but you do grow weary of it sometimes.

Contact John Seven at mister.j.seven@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven.


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