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Speculative Demolition

‘Speculative Demolition’ is the calculated action of demolishing buildings in the hopes that a vacant lot will eventually become more valuable than one with a building on it. Many architecturally and historically important buildings have been destroyed, but seldom have they been replaced with anything that is as attractive, or as rooted in the community, as that which was destroyed based solely on financial speculation.

Steiger’s Department Store, 1477-1513 Main Street

Albert Steiger established a small store in 1906 at the corner of Main and Hillman Streets. By 1920, most of the block was under his control. In the mid-20th century, the complex of buildings was clad with the most outstanding Art Deco façade in Western Massachusetts. The Main Street side was marred by an air walk to Baystate West (now Tower Square) in 1972, and the Hillman side, by a ponderous connection to SIS Center (now TD Bank) in the 1980s. Steiger’s closed its doors in the 1990s; the building was acquired by MassMutual and then demolished.

Hampden County Jail (1885), West York Street

The jail was constructed when that area of the South End was still undeveloped. The complex, built in the Romanesque Revival style, consisted of a men’s prison, a women’s prison, and a jailer’s house. It was given to the City once the new County jail was constructed in Ludlow. The City sought redevelopment proposals but razed the complex.

Capital Theater, 1362 Main Street

The Gilmore Opera House occupied the site since the mid-19th century. A Beaux-Arts façade featuring a large arch was added in the early 20th century. The facility became the Capital Theater in 1920. It closed in 1968 and was demolished as part of urban renewal in 1972.

Westinghouse, Page Boulevard

The creation of the Hampden railroad line from Springfield to Athol helped spur industrial development in East Springfield in the early 20th century. A large complex for the Westinghouse Company grew along Page Boulevard. It was demolished for a “big box” retail development which never occurred.

Forbes & Wallace Department Store (1919), 1414 Main Street

Alexander Forbes and Andrew Wallace opened a store on this corner in 1874. Three eight-story Classical Revival structures were erected taking over much of the block. The family-owned business was sold to outsiders who closed the flagship store as well as other locations in 1976. Plans were put forth for its renovation as a retail complex but failed. The Redevelopment eventually bought the building and demolished it in 1982.

Sister of Saint Joseph Convent (c. 1895), Elliot Street

The Gothic Revival structure housed the Sisters of Saint Joseph who taught at Cathedral High School. When the Sisters were moved, efforts were made to convince the Roman Catholic Bishop that the building could be used for elderly congregant living. The structure was instead demolished. The Preservation Trust sued to prevent demolition but the case was lost on a technicality.

Hotel Henking & Banquet Hall (c.1885, 1902), 15-17 Lyman Street

The building operated for some years as a hotel for traveling men. Henry Henking, who worked for the first owner, purchased it on his death and commissioned architect William Becker to create a new Colonial Revival façade in 1899. Henking’s son took over the business and built an adjacent two-story banquet hall. By the 1990s, the two buildings sat vacantly and deteriorated. The new owner then demolished them for parking.

Saint Joseph’s Church (1873-1877), 77 Howard Street

For more than 100 years, the Romanesque Revival style church served the City’s French-Canadian population. It was closed in the early 21st century. The Diocese of Springfield sold the church parking lot and then a year later, the church. The new owner demolished the church for a strip commercial project.

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