Archive for August 13, 2010

My Letter to the Editor in Hometown Newspaper

The following was printed in my hometown newspaper yesterday.  The Wayne (Palace) Hotel is on the endangered species list as old, brick buildings go.  However, it IS on the national registry of historic buildings. But just the same, there are people in my hometown community who want to dismantle it.  Sad really.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, are several pens more powerful than a wrecking ball? We shall see. I have visited and lived in many countries that were war torn.  Much sadness over the destruction from WWII and yet from the rubble the Eastern European people have picked up the pieces and rebuilt.  When I was in Warsaw, Poland in 1976 I was amazed that the Nazi Germans had bombed that city to smithereens.  Yet these people, proud of their city, rebuilt from memory or from old photographs the way it used to look before WWII.

I recall what the late University of Minnesota Regent Stan Sahlstrom told me that his wife, Mil Sahlstrom, who was from the Old Country wept when the sturdy old county Courthouse was taken down and replaced with a modern, existing structure.  The turn of the 20th century building had reminded her of the architecture she had left behind, her old home.  The brick and granite remains were unceremoniously dumped on the banks of our Red Lake River.

This is my hometown and it is always good to come back to see familiar, old structures remain while everyone else seems to be getting older.  As they say “Life is short, art is long.” These brick buildings were built by artisans and skilled craftsmen who took pride in their work, some are a work of art. The old structures that still exist in Crookston such as the Cathedral, Methodist church, the Grand Theater, Carnegie library, Firehall, Wayne/Palace Hotel were meant to last a long, long time.

Back in the early 1900s the biggest fear any Midwest community had which was built up quickly was that of fire.  When strong winds blew through the flat prairie, the wooden businesses and houses in August or September would go up like matchsticks.  Buildings built of brick (which was much more expensive) were meant to endure fire.

However, these brick buildings are not people-proof, from those hardened few who want to use a wrecking ball to a building that has been long neglected, the Wayne Hotel.  Are we living in such a “disposable society” where we put our older people in nursing homes and assisted care living because they have served their usefulness? Must this be an “out of sight and out of mind” syndrome?  Other cultures look aghast at Americans and how we treat our elderly people. Does that really absolve the guilt that should be placed squarely on the few who think that now because mold and rot have gotten inside the Wayne Hotel, it should be torn down?

Seems there is much angst about our origins here in the Red River Valley where there should instead be a pride in who we are as a people in Crookston.  We are not strictly a Norwegian or Swedish community but French, German, Polish, English and many others.  The early settlers in this area had to work out their cultural differences despite their respective language barriers, but English was the language they all assimilated to. We have to come to one mind about what should be done with this old edifice once proudly known as the Palace Hotel. Are there people in this “Save the Wayne” hotel debate who are really so confused that we might as well have a bomber come through our community to level all of our old buildings just because they stink due to mismanagement?

When I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for seven years this past decade I witnessed many buildings and churches being reconstructed that were a shell of what they used to be before WWII. The Ukrainians did not have the money to do it, but so many other beautiful buildings had been destroyed by the Soviets that this was a way of preserving what was left.  Why can’t we have a similar community spirit in this town to save what the earlier settlers had worked so hard to preserve?

I went to a similar sized community last week and sat in the auditorium of their Lincoln high school, built in the same era as our Central high school.  It brought back a flood of good memories (since our old one was destroyed).  I saw that their downtown Ben Franklin and Penny’s stores were closed. That saddened me.  So their de-populating is happening just the same as in our fair city which also grieves me.  Tearing down old buildings will not bring more people into the community but will show a gaping hole in the middle of downtown.  Might as well have two front teeth missing on the face of our city, if the Wayne Hotel is destroyed. That’s what it will look like once the wrecking ball has its way, if it really is more powerful than many pens.

Where is this town’s public outcry?  If the voiceless of the older people do not speak up or write their thoughts, we will have a community that has no spirit, no pride in its origins, nothing from the legacy that was left to us from our forefathers.

This whole debate deeply grieves me, it should never have come to this since the Wayne Hotel is on the national registry of historic buildings.

Who will write next in defense of this brick building that was meant to stay in the heart of our town?

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