Though I don’t own up to it in “The Life and Death of the Skinner Coffee House” (because it wasn’t pertinent), I was one of the grad students working with Joseph Krupczynski on the project in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The pictures and video here are part of the presentation we gave to the mayor in December 2005. Seeing them again after two-and-a-half years is both nostalgic and a little heartbreaking.
My story in Yankee magazine doesn’t give full credit to the amount of time and energy we all put into this. Every member of that team lived with the Skinner Coffee House for three long months. We knew it was a long shot, but we always believed we would pull it out somehow. To see it actually come down was devastating. But I suppose that is the moral of the story. Vision and passion only take you so far. At some point you have to find your angels and your two million dollars, or all you are left with is an impressive stack of unfulfilled plans and the lingering echo of the very best of intentions.
The material here will give you an idea of what we envisioned. If possible, we wanted the building to remain a community center. That is what it was best suited for and what the neighborhood needed. Most of the structural changes we suggested (including the windowed exterior hallway) were to bring the building up to date with fire and accessibility codes. The theater seen at the end of the video walk-through was already there, though naturally we would have spruced it up a bit. We envisioned it as a place to tie the neighborhood together, with concerts, meetings, plays, etc.
As sad as I am that the building came down, the spirit of the Skinner Coffee House lives on. Joseph still fights against historic and cultural decay, the mayor still fights the tide of poverty, and me, well, I’m still writing. Though finishing second place in a demolition dispute is a pretty useless distinction, getting to tell this story in Yankee is one hell of a consolation prize.
If in reading this you’ve been at all inspired to take a closer look at the threatened historic gems around you or the blighted urban centers scattered around our region, then I believe the Skinner Coffee House will truly rest in peace knowing that its legacy marches on.