O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
“This article is being written too late.” Here is the first sentence of an article in the New York Times from December 22, 1968. Ada Louise Huxtable, the paper’s architecture critic, was describing the destruction of the Amoskeag Mills in an article titled “Lessons in Urbicide.” Before Manchester came to its senses, half the Millyard had been torn down. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Manchester Heritage Commission was formed to recognize and protect the architectural legacy of the city.
Last night, the voting members of the Heritage Commission unanimously approved the design of SNHU’s Langer Place garage, a huge building that will be the first thing that visitors see when they get off the highway at Exit 6. The uninterrupted vista of the historic millyard will be marred by a bland metal box adorned with a giant SNHU sign. Welcome to “SNHUville.”
We had the opportunity to create something unique that would pay respect to Manchester’s legendary industrial past. When the garage design was first announced, John Clayton, the president of the Millyard Museum and Manchester Historic Association, proposed that the facade be adorned with an image of a large-scale American Flag inspired by an iconic 1914 photo of a giant flag hung on the side of a Millyard building. This was the design that prompted the Heritage Commission to approve the design.
Over the course of several meetings, the developer responded that the Flag image was “too big” and proposed five alternative image designs — incorporating birch and other trees. None had any relevance or respect for the history of the city and were rejected. Last night, a final design, stripped of any ornamentation, was proposed. Inexplicably, the Heritage Commission approved it.
So, residents of Manchester, for the next 20 to 50 years we will be looking from the highway at a parking garage similar to the one you see at our local airport. It says nothing about Manchester. It looks like it belongs in a suburban shopping mall in Fort Lauderdale, where the developer lives.
In closing her article, Huxtable said “What is being produced is a kind of urban Pablum. We are making a dull porridge of parking lots and cheap commercialism….” Her last thoughts: “This is the certain way to the blight of the future. In Manchester, nobody really cares. And that is the most tragic indictment of all.” Sadly, words written in 1968 could have been written last night.
Bill Stelling is co-owner of Kelley Stelling Contemporary, an art gallery in Manchester. Bill also sits on the NH State Council for the Arts and the Manchester Cultural Coalition, is vice-chair of the Currier Museum Advisory Council and and is a board member of the American Furniture Masters Institute. He is a long-time resident of Manchester and an alternate member of the Manchester Heritage Commission.