Town Hall, Town Common, Town Mistake?

Did Northborough make an unfortunate mistake in building the Town Commons building in the late 1980s?

On Sept. 18, 1985, the old Northborough Town Hall was destroyed by fire. Tony Kwan, the developer who had been refurbishing the building, had a contract to control the property for a 40-year period. He wished to build a replica of the bulding. It would of course be a replica only externally; no one would have attempted to recreate the interior of a building erected in 1867.

Some people were opposed. The selectmen, however, voted 4-1 to allow Kwan to proceed. The disagreeing selectman, Simeon Fouracre, recommended an article on a warrant for a special town meeting in January 1986 that would call for the creation of a study committee. Fouracre himself recommended a park on the site, but he had agreed to let the townspeople decide the matter. The voters decided to support the selectmen's decision and turned down the idea of the committee and the reconsideration.

Today it is difficult to determine whether the voters were more interested in having the replica or in avoiding a difficult contract dispute with Kwan, for the town counsel had ruled that Kwan possessed the right to rebuild. The Historical Commission had favored Kwan's idea. Fouracre saw it differently: "He cannot build the Old Town Hall back. It and its history are gone. He has proposed a building with a camouflage front of the Old Town Hall."

Several years after the fire dozens of citizens, responding to a query by the Historical Society, called the fire the worst thing that had ever happened in Northborough. They remembered decades of civil, educational, and social events in the building. Some even recalled the films that played there in the silent movie era.

Fouracre proved prescient. No citizens fell in love with the new building. And with few exceptions merchants, for different reasons, didn't either. After the building remained empty for several years, an advertising agency leased the second floor but did not remain long. Tom's Eating and Drinking Place flourished for a while on the first floor. Just recently Boost Fitness, which had occupied the top two floors, moved out. Perhaps we are in for another long stretch of a large and nearly empty building in the town's center.

At the time of the fire Northborough was facing a traffic crisis, and the junctions of Main, Church and Pierece were at its center. It appears that no one even brought up the possibility of using the empty space to contrive a direct connection between Church and South Streets. One group was thinking merely of traffic, another merely of a building site. Such an innnovation would have required the shaving of two properties, the old pharmacy lot and the house at the corner across Pierce Street. Now, with a new pharmacy in place and a bank about to go in at the latter location, such a change is impossible — but would it have been impossible then?

Today we still are facing the reconstruction of Main, Church and Pierce Streets, and we will continue to have two cluttered main intersections within a few yards of each other.




This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kirby March 06, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Regarding the intersection at Main and Church St,, I don't understand why the right lane that allows drivers to turn right onto Church isn't a "RIGHT TURN ONLY" lane.There have been a few times, usually during the morning rush hour, that I have sat at a light on South St. trying to enter Main to get into the right lane and I can't, because traffic is so backed up, sometimes right across the intersection.. A couple of times I have been stuck, smack in the middle of the intersection myself, in which case everyone is upset because I have just messed things up.for everyone. If the right lane were right turn only it just wouldn't cause the back up.
Charles Caliri March 08, 2012 at 09:37 PM
So what's with the ugly scaffolding in front of the replica town hall? If it is for safety during the winter then why isn't the owner forced to make a permanent repair? Since the owner was allowed to build a replica it should look like the old twon hall without the scaffolding. Charles Caliri
AG March 10, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I would like to know how this gets by the Town Building Inspector. What is going on here? Could it be some sort of flim flam?
Bob Ellis March 11, 2012 at 11:26 AM
To all of you who are unhappy with the way Northborough does things, please understand that I do not work for the town. I am, like you, an observer. If you wish to contact town officials, by all means do so. Bob E.
Resident Of Northborough March 11, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I Agreed with you Charles... Some of us have contacted the town officials with concerns and it doesn't seem as though they want to listen. EVERYONE COME VOTE @ THE TOWN MEETING & FOR THE MAY ELECTION. Let's fight for what we want and believe in!!!!!!!
William Jeas March 11, 2012 at 03:14 PM
The scaffold erected (without a Town Permit) every single year, around the Old Town Hall, is installed to intercept and absorb the deadly forces of failing slate tile from the roof. Otherwise, persons visiting the building would be guillotined or become seriously injured by the deadly forces of falling roof slate. One only needs to walk around and onto the scaffold to view and witness all the various pieces, various sizes, various weights, and various shapes of slate which has fallen from the roof but shielded and deflected by the "temporary" erected scaffold. So therefore,...What's the reaction of the Town Administrator, Town Building Inspector and Town Health Agent? Answer: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! "WARNING" - Stay CLEAR of this building to avoid being guillotined, or seriously injured.
LKell May 07, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I could not agree with this more! Even if they made it as a Right Turn Only during certain hours, that would make a huge improvement!


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