Oscar Larsson was twenty-one when he modelled for Leon Kroll. Blonde and barrel-chested, the former high school football star posed shirtless, grasping a long pole as the artist sketched. Within a few months, Kroll had immortalized Oscar in a sprawling mural at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. The young Worcester native is depicted receiving an American flag from a WWI soldier ascending to heaven. “The irony of all this is, [the mural] was finished in May 1941, and in December 1941 we went to war,” 98-year-old Oscar told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in 2018. “So the flag was passed to the next generation, and I was part of it. I went into the service myself after that.”
Service, sacrifice, and hope for a better world – these are the cornerstones of a building conceived and constructed during crisis. Nowhere in the Aud are these values more apparent than in the Shrine of the Immortal, the memorial hall where Oscar stands frozen in time above the names of Worcester’s WWI fallen, surrounded by painted figures whose lives also would soon be upended – and perhaps ended – by the Second World War. Created at the height of the Great Depression, in the interlude between two global conflicts, and in the wake of the Spanish influenza, the Shrine of the Immortal is at once a testament to past challenges and an aspiration for a more harmonious future. The stories it contains speak to our own tumultuous era.
The fact that the Aud was built at all is remarkable considering the dire state of Worcester’s economy in 1931-1933. The industrial city was among the hardest hit in Massachusetts by the stock market crash. Factories halted production and unemployed mill workers formed breadlines that snaked through the streets. Yet Worcester leaders pressed ahead with the Aud’s construction. They put people to work on a $2 million civic infrastructure project that anticipated the Works Progress Administration endeavors. In 1933, the completed building was dedicated before a crowd of spectators as “an enduring tribute to those whose sacrifice was sublime, a majestic memorial for the use and benefit of many generations." And use it people did. During the week following the dedication, Worcester residents enjoyed concerts and other events in the auditorium that provided brief, but much-needed respite from the anxieties of the Depression. At a time of acute financial hardship, the City leadership provided jobs to many and a space for cultural expression to all.
The Aud was also intended as a space for healing in the wake of a global conflict and pandemic. Inscribed on the Shrine of the Immortal’s marble walls are the names of 355 young men and women whose lives were cut short during WWI. Many were buried far from home or lost at sea. In lieu of a grave, their bereft loved ones came to the Aud, searched for their names, and sat in reflection upon the stone benches beneath Leon Kroll’s towering murals. Morris Bailey’s family would have remembered a teenage boy who left high school and a comfortable homelife to enlist with an aero squadron; who survived two years of war, making a surprise visit home for Christmas in 1918; who was recalled into service the following year in anticipation of post-armistice violence and died in a training plane crash at age nineteen. Aurelia and Horace Wyman’s sister, Louisa, would have recalled her two siblings – a war nurse and a lieutenant, respectively – who both died of influenza in Europe, where she, herself, was also serving as a nurse. And as a new generation of youth marched off to the battlefields of WWII, those they left behind might have found solace beneath the words of George Washington, carved beside Leon Kroll’s newly completed mural: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty…entrusted to the hands of the people."
Though rooted in remembrance, the Shrine of the Immortal also aspired to a more peaceful and equitable future. At a time when Jim Crow and redlining widened racial divisions, the Great Depression ravaged the lives of low-income people, and New Deal-era muralists painted sanitized images of oppression, Leon Kroll depicted a world in which "people of all classes and races gathered in peace and harmony under the American flag." The people shown are laborers, soldiers, nurses, musicians, mothers. They are Black and white, young and old. Side by side, they devote their energy to building a more prosperous Worcester and their prayers to building a more peaceful world.
Behind its imposing granite columns, the Aud offers guidance for our own troubled generation. It is a tangible lesson on the importance of a communal response to crisis. The building exists thanks to those who labored through financial hardship to create a public gathering space for the benefit of people they did not know. Its stones bear the stories of those who willingly risked their lives in battle and on hospital wards. Its murals envision a more just society. Ultimately, the Aud reminds us that there is work to be done in service of something larger than ourselves, and that the surest way to accomplish it – especially during turbulent times – is by coming together.
For this installment of "This Old Neighborhood," AHF decided to try something different: creating a map of Worcester shortly after this third and final establishment. We drew from a variety of eighteenth and nineteenth-century sources to reconstruct the town as it appeared in 1720. The map includes major roads, defensive garrisons, houses of worship, a burying ground, saw/grist mills, a tavern, and nineteen of the fifty-eight residences reported to have been built by that early point in the town's history. All locations are approximate.
In 1720, Worcester's population is estimated to have numbered two hundred. The town was largely pastoral, yet already saw mills and grist mills - the beginnings of industry - were appearing along the many streams that coursed through the hilly terrain. A web of footpaths criss-crossed the meadows and forests, skirting beaver ponds, many following Nipmuc routes. Some had been widened into roads, which remain important thoroughfares in Worcester today: Main Street, Plantation Street, Pleasant Street, Burncoat Street... The town quickly expanded, growing more populous and prosperous by the year.
How to use the map:
Click the rectangular icon in the map's upper left corner to access the key, description, and sources.
Clicking on the map's individual icons (e.g. houses, horses, etc.) will cause labels and descriptions of each feature to pop up.
To zoom in and out, click the + and - symbols in the bottom left corner.
As the novel coronavirus shuts down stadiums and theaters across the country, one entertainment industry sees opportunity in the cancelled events. Esports, which in 2019 commanded a global audience of more than 433 million, is poised to grow as people seek socially distant forms of entertainment.
The industry's advantage lies in its flexibility. Unlike athletic games and artistic performances, esports competitions can be held entirely online, with gamers facing each other remotely in matches live-streamed to far-flung audiences numbering in the millions. The closure of schools, offices, and traditional entertainment venues in China has already led to a significant spike in esports viewership. According to the Washington Post, the esports organization Gen.G reported an increase of 18.2 percent in Chinese viewership on two of its live-streaming sites for its Player Unknown's Battlegrounds and League of Legends teams. Meanwhile, over the past week the streaming app Twitch saw increases in first-time downloads of 50 percent, 41 percent, and 26 percent in Greece, Italy, and Spain, respectively, and 14 percent in the United States, which is still in the early stages of quarantine. "There is an opportunity to expand their audiences," according to video gaming market analyst Michael Pachter, quoted in the Post. "It won't expand by 50 percent, but it could possibly expand by 20 percent."
The coronavirus has, of course, presented challenges to the esports industry. In recent years, esports leagues have held live tournaments in both designated and makeshift venues, which can attract audiences in the tens of thousands. The social aspect of these often multi-day events is often as important as the competition itself. Spectators alternate between watching the professional games, playing each other, and patronizing esports vendors. Numerous tournaments have been cancelled as venues shut down over public health concerns.
Nevertheless, the opportunities for virtual gaming and live-streaming promise to introduce new viewers to esports, expanding the industry's reach. A rise in the popularity of esports presents opportunities not only to gaming professionals, but to adjacent industries. Development projects like the Aud will be well-positioned to take advantage of the growth of esports once the economy - and daily life - returns to normal.
"A Map of New England," originally published in William Hubbard's "Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians," 1677. Massachusetts Historical Society. Oriented with the West at top, the map uses numbers to represent communities attacked by Native fighters - the number 17 (slightly left of center) denotes Quinsigamond Plantation.
The city of Worcester got off to a rocky start. Quinsigamond Plantation, as it was called in 1675, was located in New England’s western frontier. Like other nearby colonial outposts, it had sprung up along the Boston Post Road to satisfy land-hungry colonists and expand Massachusetts territory, often at the expense of indigenous populations. The village had been purchased for a pittance from the local Nipmuc in 1674. Lots ranging in size from 25 to 100 acres had been laid out on “Indian broken up lands,” the settlers’ term for former Native agricultural areas. A two-story, wooden garrison house – the “old Indian Fort” – guarded the plantation and the approximately thirty Englishmen who called it home.
Relations between the Quinsigamond Plantation settlers and the Nipmuc were initially calm, though colonial authorities tried to exert political influence over their Native neighbors. In September 1674, the Reverend John Eliot and Daniel Gookin visited the nearby village Pakachoag, where they were “kindly entertained” by sagamores Horowanninit (known to the English as Sagamore John) and Woosanakochu. Eliot and a Christianized Nipmuc minister, James Speen, preached and led a prayer service. A resident council then approved the two sagamores “to be rulers of this people and co-ordinate in power, clothed with the authority of the English government” and accepted Speen as their minister. It is unclear whether the villagers did so because they sought the colonial government’s protection or simply to humor their visitors. Whatever the case, the outbreak of King Philip’s War disrupted all efforts to forge tighter bonds between European authorities, Quinsigamond Plantation, and the Nipmuc.
Largely forgotten in public memory today, King Philip’s War was the bloodiest conflict in American history. What began as a Native rebellion against English colonization morphed into a war of extermination whereby the Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuc, and Naragansett joined forces to oust the colonists from the region, and the English, with the help of Mahican, Pequot, and Praying Indian allies, fought back with equal or greater brutality. Between the war’s outbreak in June 1675 and its end in August 1676, up to forty percent of New England’s indigenous population had been killed, died in captivity, or sold into slavery. Five percent of colonists had perished and 67 English towns were destroyed, mostly on the frontier. Quinsigamond Plantation was among them.
Hostilities erupted in the vicinity of Quinsigamond in June 1675, when the rebellion’s leader, the Wompanoag grand sachem Metacomet (also known as King Philip), forged an alliance with Horowanninit and the Nipmuc, and destroyed the colonial town of Quaboag (Brookfield). A month later, the constable of Pakachoag, Matoonas, attacked Mendon to avenge the execution of his son by the English in 1671. The region descended into violence. Companies of English soldiers indiscriminately ravaged the villages and crops of both enemy tribes and Praying Indians, and interned captive men, women, and children on the notorious Deer Island and Long Island in Boston Harbor. Meanwhile, Native fighters razed English settlements, among them Grafton and Marlborough. Tiny Quinsigamond Plantation was soon abandoned, and many of its initial settlers, including Ephraim Curtis, joined colonial forces against the rebelling tribes. The empty village was used occasionally as a military outpost until a band of Nipmuc burned it to the ground on December 2, 1675. Upon hearing the news, the fiery Puritan minister Increase Mather interpreted it as a sign of divine wrath.
The violence raged through the winter and spring, when it became clear that the English were prevailing. Surviving Natives who were not enslaved or imprisoned gradually retreated from their ancestral homelands. Sensing defeat, Horowanninit of Pakachoag village and 180 followers abandoned their allegiance with Metacomet in July 1676 and entreated the colonial government in Boston for peace. As a sign of goodwill, they captured Matoonas, executed him on Boston Common, and impaled his head nearby, as his son’s had been five years earlier. Their gesture did little to gain the colonists’ trust: of the original 180 men, eleven were executed, thirty sold into slavery, and the rest imprisoned on Deer Island (which they soon escaped). When the war ended in August with Metacomet’s death, Horowanninit and his remaining followers returned to Pakachoag to find the region depopulated. Fewer than one thousand Nipmuc now inhabited what had once been a center of tribal life.
English settlers, too, returned to the area. Quinsigamond Plantation was rebuilt between 1678 and 1686 and renamed Worcester. Houses, mills, a church, a school, and a fort sprang up to replace the ones that had burned during the war, and colonial authorities allotted land to the settlers who moved in. However, the town’s renaissance was short-lived. Native unrest resurfaced in the 1690s, and the beginning of Queen Anne’s war in 1702 sounded the death-knell for the reestablished village. Horowanninit led his fellow Nipmuc in raids against Worcester, causing its residents to flee a second time.
In 1713, the English made a third attempt to settle the area. This time, they succeeded. The town of Worcester grew into a thriving city whose diversity belied its bloody beginnings. And although colonial warfare devasted the Nipmuc, they were not exterminated. To this day, members of the Nipmuc Nation call Worcester and the surrounding region home.
Approaching the Worcester Memorial Auditorium from the east this week, you'll be greeted by an unfamiliar sight - a dark blue signpost welcoming you to the "Salisbury District" in capital letters. This wayfinding sign is among the first to be installed throughout the city as part of what MassLive News describes as a months-long process "to add public art and a sense of identity to some of Worcester's neighborhoods and popular locations." Artwork will eventually be incorporated to the base of the signs. In addition to the marker in Lincoln Square, the City so far has installed three others on Shrewsbury Street, Washington Square, and MLK Jr. Boulevard. The total number of wayfinders has yet to be disclosed.
The wayfinder in Lincoln Square will help to establish the future renovated Aud as the gateway between Worcester's downtown and the cultural and educational attractions immediately to the north. The marker publicly identifies a blighted corner of the city as the southeastern edge of the Salisbury Cultural District. The area includes many institutions that already invigorate both the neighborhood and the city as a whole, and which the Aud project is intended to complement. The next time you visit Worcester, make sure to stop by any of the Salisbury Cultural District's sites:
Following months of negotiations, the Architectural Heritage Foundation and the City of Worcester have executed a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Entering into this cooperative site control arrangement marks the completion of the first stage of last June's purchase agreement between AHF and the City. The LDA will allow AHF to advance the project to the predevelopment phase, which will entail designing modest and historically appropriate interventions to make the building handicapped accessible by contemporary standards. Our immediate next steps are to enter into consultation with Worcester's historical community, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and the National Park Service. We are grateful to the City of Worcester for its support and look forward to continuing to work together to preserve and revitalize the Aud for communities in the city and beyond.
Jason Baker is a fan of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium - so much so that he has made two trips to document the building. On December 4, the local photographer and his colleague, Zach Menard, spent an hour exploring the Aud for the second time, capturing striking images of its chambers and corridors. He specializes in historic buildings, particularly those that are vacant or deteriorating. His goal is to create a visual record of structures at risk of demolition and to inspire viewers to learn more about the sites. "I feel like I'm keeping memories alive," Baker said in a recent Boston Globe article.
In addition to the Aud, Baker has photographed another AHF adaptive reuse project, the Charles River Speedway in Boston. AHF is grateful for his efforts to draw attention to these and other historic buildings across New England.
That esports is upending the entertainment world and appearing in college curricula is established. But high school?
The Washington Post reports that high schools in nine states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, have officially added esports to their athletics programs. Students train together and compete against teams across the country as they would in conventional athletics - but because esports is web-based, no travel is necessary. Participation opens the possibility of earning a college esports scholarship, but also teaches strategic thinking, teamwork, and sportsmanship, and enables students from across the social spectrum to get to know each other.
As the world of high-tech entertainment grows, one thing seems certain: esports will play an increasingly important role in the coming years. And the Aud can be a resource for those who want in.
Read the full article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/coming-to-a-high-school-near-you-the-brave-new-world-of-esports/2019/07/22/331919d2-aca3-11e9-bc5c-e73b603e7f38_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1046ad1cf8d3
"Nothing but a Win for the City:" Worcester City Council Economic Development Committee Endorses Aud Proposal
The Worcester City Council Economic Development Committee has endorsed the Architectural Heritage Foundation's redevelopment plans for the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. The Committee's support facilitates the execution of a Land Disposition Agreement between AHF and the City later this month, paving the way for the building's eventual sale to AHF or its subsidiary two years from now.
Following a presentation yesterday evening by AHF's development team, Councilor and committee chair Candy Mero-Carlson expressed enthusiasm for reactivating the Aud as an educational, cultural, and entrepreneurial center for digital technology. "This is a pretty exciting night for the city of Worcester," she remarked. "This building has been looked at, re-looked and re-looked at again. We wanted to do everything we could to save it. Working with the colleges on this, this is nothing but a win for the city. I'm very happy to move this forward."
Councilor-at-Large Gary Rosen posed several questions about district parking needs and potential, unanticipated hurdles to the project before commenting, "This building, its contents, its history are all in wonderful hands. This is exciting and it's a great project. I support it one hundred percent."
Alan Ritacco, Dean of Becker College's School of Design and Technology, attended the meeting and offered insight into the redeveloped Aud's future impact on the city: "There isn't another building like this in New England. This will be a first and put Worcester on the map."
For more information on AHF's plans for the Aud, visit the Vision page.
Read the Worcester Telegram and Gazette's article on the presentation here:
The Worcester Business Journal recently highlighted AHF's pending purchase agreement for the Worcester Memorial Auditorium in an article on recent investment in Lincoln Square. The Aud is one of three historic buildings in the square that are slated for redevelopment by Boston-based companies and organizations. The other two include the former Worcester County Courthouse - currently under construction to become a $58-million apartment project - and the old Lincoln Square Boys Club, potential educational, office, medical, or biotech space. The Journal describes the Aud as "arguably the most historic out of the three," and AHF's project as "the most ambitious."
Read the full article here: https://www.wbjournal.com/article/at-least-170-million-worth-of-redevelopment-projects-could-transform-lincoln-square?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Three+Lincoln+Square+projects+%7C+Worcester+s+biotech+cluster&utm_campaign=Daily+061119
Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is working to preserve and redevelop the Worcester Memorial Auditorium as a cutting-edge center for digital innovation.