Hello fellow Berlinites. Continuing with my history of Berlin 38 years ago, a headline in the local paper from February 1979 stated that “Revitalization was the key to Berlin’s future.” There was even an architect’s view of Main Street and Bickford Lane showing the revitalized improvements. This all changed though, as a huge fire in the 1990s had its own revitalization plan.
One of Berlin’s most comprehensive improvement plans was presented to the city by the community development department. This plan, which was known as the Downtown Improvement Program, was shown to the City Council on Monday night, Feb. 12, 1979. It was a 60-page report that was given to each council member having had details in word and a drawing about a five-year program that would renew Berlin’s downtown area. The overall goal was to return this city to its former prominence as the retail and service center of the North Country.
This design was divided into four major sections. The report began with the initial identification of Berlin’s problems, progressed to a discussion of the solution and then a final implementation strategy.
Here were the final goals of this program 38 years ago: 1. To provide an attractive retail shopping alternative to area malls and shopping centers. 2. To attract new activities to occupy vacant and underused space. 3. To reestablish this area as a center for downtown residents, visiting shoppers and pedestrians. 4. To unify the architectural appearance of buildings through structural and visual betterment. 5. To stress pedestrian accessibility to stores and related downtown activity areas. 6. To improve traffic flow and develop parking facilities. 7. To create and maintain community-wide involvement and financial support in the revitalization effort.
There were a lot more improvements that were suggested, starting with an imaginary drive up Glen Avenue and onto Main Street, to include a 60-room hotel and more. I guess that some things just didn’t evolve.
Two Boston area ice climbers, David Shoemaker and Paul Flanagan, lost their lives while climbing in Huntington Ravine some time on Friday, Feb. 16, 1979. Rated as very good climbers by the U.S. District Forest Ranger Rick Goodrich, the two men had chosen the severe weather conditions common to Mount Washington as a challenge to their mountaineering skills. They had climbed together for five years, had made numerous ascents in the Mount Washington area and considered the assent of Huntington Ravine as another objective to add to their list of climbing accomplishments. Sadly, it was their last climb. The demise of these two climbers brought the total of Huntington Ravine deaths to 12 from 1959 to 1979.
On Friday, March 2, 1979, at 11:45 a.m., the Granite State division of Converse became a memory after all production operations came to a halt. For the last time, 19 employees who had stayed on to complete packaging of the final shipment of Converse shoes, put on their coats, walked the distance to the time-clock, punched out and left the building.
None of them looked back, as they walked toward the Granite State parking lot. They knew that they would not be returning to work the following Monday, or on any other Monday. They also knew, but did not welcome the reality of that fact at this time.
In April of 1979, a brand new bank was scheduled to be built on Pleasant Street. It was going to be the new home for the Berlin Cooperative Bank. Contract for this new Berlin bank had been signed, sealed and delivered by April 4. Construction of the two-story building was planned to begin right away. This financial institution would replace the old one that stood at 29 Main St., just a short distance before the old Wilson Pharmacy (Office Products), as one came up Main Street. This area is consumed by the Northway Bank today (2017).
Design for the southern half of the 400×200-foot lot, bordered by Cole, York and Pleasant Streets, this brick building would provide the bank’s present staff with an additional 6,000 square feet of space. This modern building, which was designed and eventually built by Richards and Sons Incorporated, offered easy access and President Gerald Martel explained that the construction company had designed two drive-up windows with room for a possible third one in an accessible area.
Also, the plans for the building included a larger area for those who wanted to transact their business inside, ample parking was made available on the northern and southern sides of the structure.
This building was designed in a Colonial Federalist style. Inside, the first floor would provide space for eight teller windows, the bookkeeping department, some offices, a security vault and additional safety deposit boxes.
Upstairs, spacious offices, a lounge area and kitchen circled the balcony overlooking the ground floor, which gave a high-ceiling effect. The two floors were connected by a curving staircase and an elevator. Large doors handsomely designed in glass and wood opened onto Pleasant Street.
The outside grounds of this new bank were to be landscaped with bushes, trees and grass. A skating rink, was also going to be put in place during the winter months. This attractive building would cost $800,000 and be built by late November 1979.
Today (2017), this same building houses Coos County Family Health Services. I do not remember how long it was a bank, but I am sure someone does. So many things change during the course of several years.
During February, City Hall declared Berlin a disaster area in an attempt to enlist state aid in remedying the loss of water to over 85 Berlin properties. The City Council requested state assistance and surplus equipment to be used in thawing out the lines and restoring water supply to these properties. I don’t seem to remember this cold snap, probably because I didn’t lose my water, but those that did probably have a vivid memory of it.
I will continue with a history of Berlin 38 years ago in my next writing.