Posts Tagged Clark University

Full Monte

Chevrolet Monte CarloThere’s nothing more American than the “personal luxury car.” Just the idea that a person is entitled to not just basic transportation, but luxurious accommodations, of their own speaks to the abundance of resources available to American consumers.

It’s also a lot of marketing hype: these cars were almost always titanic coupes with remarkably little interior space. They’re put to shame by today’s top choice for solo luxury driving: the prestige-badged German sedan.

No German luxury sedan has quite the presence of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, though. Although it was basically a modified version of other Chevys, it always had a feel and style all its own.

When it was introduced in 1970, the Monte Carlo was just a Chevelle with a stretched wheelbase. Nonetheless, it was considered a step up from its sibling in prestige, and today it’s much rarer, and thus, more interesting.

Chevrolet Monte CarloWhile the 1970 Monte Carlo pictured here was on its way to becoming a classic, things changed. In just 10 years, oil crises and emissions regulations forced Chevy to streamline and downsize its lineup, yielding the fourth generation Monte Carlo.

This car looks pretty baroque compared to cleanly-designed original, but its styling was in fact significantly toned down from a decade of ‘70s excess.

The car was smaller than before and, with the demise of the Chevelle, took up the mantle of Chevrolet performance. It was dressed up with a NASCAR-inspired front fascia and fastback rear window to cheat wind, becoming the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe.

These two cars have little in common, yet they wear the same badge. Drivers of the 1970 Monte Carlo probably couldn’t have predicted that their car would look so different ten years down the road, or that it would eventually transition to front-wheel drive and disappear.

In the interim, these two cars found new owners: a lucky college freshman who wasn’t alive when his ’70 Monte Carlo was built, and an individual with poor taste in custom wheels. They’ve not only outlived the Monte Carlo name, they’ve outlived the entire concept of personal luxury cars.

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Worcester: You can’t escape

Worcester: Illinois and GrandSometimes, memories of places you’ve been will not go away, even if you want them to. I went to Clark University in the dystopian city of Worcester, Massachusetts, and as a junior I wrote a short article for the school paper about Worcester’s uncanny fame. Four years later, it’s still bizarre.

Like many New England cities, Worcester is a former industrial powerhouse that progress seems to have left behind. A city that once manufactured everything from corsets to railroad cars is now an eyesore, full of abandoned buildings (and people) that wouldn’t look out of place in a zombie apocalypse movie.

The logos of Worcester-based companies may have disappeared from American products, but Worcester itself still clings tenaciously to the popular consciousness. Because of its central location in Massachusetts, Worcester is often used as a reference point for weather reports.

The city alternately known as the “Heart of the Commonwealth” and “Wormtown” is also the birthplace of the birth control pill and the smiley face. The rocket Robert Goddard built in the basement of a Clark academic hall shares the main lobby of the National Air & Space Museum with the Spirit of St. Louis and Apollo capsules.

I thought leaving would allow me to escape Worcester’s grip, but no. Reading a biography of John Adams, I learned that his first job was as a schoolmaster in Worcester. Fair enough, Adams was from nearby Boston, but I expected another book on Thomas Jefferson to be Worcester-free.

Instead, I was surprised to see historian Joseph J. Ellis open his biography of Jefferson, American Sphinx, with a Jefferson impersonator performing at Worcester’s American Antiquarian Society.

Worcester is more interesting than it appears; what other city is a crossroad for rocket scientists and Jefferson impersonators? Most people who go there are eager to get away, but Worcester is so intwined with American culture that I’m beginning to think that’s impossible.

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Want to help save a lunatic asylum?

The Worcester State Hospital Clock Tower looks like it could house a colony of vampires. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Worcester, Massachusetts would be the perfect place to film a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. This city, about an hour from Boston, was a manufacturing powerhouse and is now a poster-child for American urban decay and economic depression. The upside is that it’s full of interesting old buildings. Among the most interesting is Worcester State Hospital.

The remains of what was also called the “Lunatic Hospital” stand on a hill overlooking Lake Quinsigamond. Times have certainly changed since the hospital was built in 1877: it’s surrounded by biomedical research companies and the UMass Medical Center.

Today, only two buildings remain: the Clock Tower, an administrative building that, with its Victorian Gothic style, looks like a mad scientist’s mansion, and the Hooper Turret. A significant portion of the hospital was destroyed in a fire in 1991, the rest was demolished to make way for a new hospital beginning in 2004.

In the interim, Worcester State Hospital became a favorite site for photographers, urban explorers, and even college art students. When I was in college at Clark University, some of my professors talked about taking their classes to the Clock Tower for outdoor drawing sessions. You used to be able to drive right up to it, but the site has been fenced off while demolition and construction work have been going on.

The demolition work denied Worcester State Hospital its “15 minutes of fame.” In 2008, there were plans to film the movie Shutter Island at the hospital, but the ongoing demolition made that impossible and filming was done at Medfield State Hospital.

If the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management has its way, the demolition will continue until none of the original buildings are left. At a recent meeting with preservationists, they announced plans to demolish the Clock Tower and Hooper Turret prior to opening the new hospital in March 2012.

The buildings may be in poor condition, but it would be a shame to see them go. Worcester holds an important place in the history of mental health: Sigmund Freud made his only public appearance in the United States at Clark in 1909, and the American Psychological Association was founded there.

The hospital itself is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States. With that in mind, it would be very fitting to turn the remaining two buildings into a mental health museum. It would give tourists a reason to visit Worcester (the city needs all the help it can get) and, at the very least, a museum could serve as a reminder of how far the treatment of mental illness has come and a warning from history about the potential for abuse in institutions.

Photo by Jon Doe.

Worcester State Hospital is off Route 9 (Belmont Street), just before Lake Quinsigamond and the Worcester/Shrewsbury line. Turn onto Plantation Street; the Beechwood Hotel should be on your left and the UMass Medical Center should be on your right. Take the first possible left. Make a right and look for Clocktower Drive. Go as close as you can get before the fence.

It might be best to leave your car and walk to the site. Some good views can be gotten by walking through the grass between Clocktower Drive and Hospital Drive. I’ve also heard that there are some weak spots in the fence.

If you would like to help save the Clock Tower and Hooper Turret, Preservation Worcester is running a letter-writing campaign. You can find all of the pertinent information at preservationworcester.org or look up “Save Worcester State Hospital” on Facebook.

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