The historic Shaw's Motel was demolished on Monday, December 20th, to make way for 12 new condominiums in downtown Northampton, MA. It's exciting to contemplate how this will change the landscape of our fair city!
Though the Shaw's Motel had become an eyesore along Bridge Street leading into downtown Northampton, MA due to many years of neglect - some Northampton locals in the proceeding article wax nostalgic about the hotel and the era it represented to them - most notably, the great compassion of Josephine Shaw, former owner of the hotel.
PHOTO CREDIT: GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTINGâ€‹
NORTHAMPTON — On Monday Shaw’s Motel went the way of one of many words spray-painted on the dilapidated building’s front side — to “dust.”
Condos will soon replace the iconic former motel, which long served as a sanctuary to the city’s mentally ill under the compassionate reign of Josephine Shaw before it was condemned in 2012.
Charlie Arment Trucking Inc. demolished the former motel and began dismantling a garage behind it on Monday. Work continues Tuesday, said Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck, as the company takes down the large, white multifamily Pomeroy Terrace home adjacent to the property at 87 Bridge St.
Hampden County businessman Matthew Campagnari, who bought the properties in July 2015, said he’ll construct three duplexes on the former motel site and the adjacent lot. For a total of 12 condos, he said he’s also renovating the yellow building at the corner of Pomeroy Terrace and Bridge Street.
As for the famous Shaw’s sign, Campagnari said he certainly won’t throw it away.
“I’ve had many, many, many inquiries,” he said, adding he’ll likely give it away to a worthy cause.
The Monday demolition stopped traffic as passers-by stopped to gawk and take pictures from car windows. Sounds of breaking glass echoed through the city’s Ward 3 as an excavator’s toothed arm reached past the structure, reducing ever more of it to a pile of jagged edges. Dust billowed.
A bird of prey circled overhead as Shaw’s made its last stand. The old motel may have taken years to build, but it only took about 45 minutes to take down.
For Charlie Arment employees, the destruction was business as usual.
“They all fall the same,” supervisor Otis Porter said as he helped guide the excavator.
While many hailed the demolition as a positive move for the city, longtime neighborhood residents reflected on what they call the “end of an era.”
Hasbrouck said the rotting building was erected during the 1800s, and Donald and Josephine Shaw opened it as Shaw’s Motel in 1951.
Jerry Budgar, a Bridge Street resident who grew up in the neighborhood, said the building coming down Tuesday used to be his grandparents’ house.
“Frankly, I have never spent a day on this Earth that that motel wasn’t there,” said Budgar, 70. “It certainly is the end of an era.”
Budgar said Josephine Shaw, who provided low-cost housing to dozens of mentally ill tenants from the 1960s through the ’90s, showed kindness when the state turned a cold shoulder to the city’s institutionalized patients.
The state hospital on Village Hill closed in the early ’90s, but the gradual process of emptying its wards began long before.
“She became mother, confessor and mentor and everything else,” he said, adding she’d stroll around the property, always with tenants in tow. “She looked like mother duck and her goslings.”
He said for many people who had nowhere else to go, the motel was home and Shaw was family.
“She was a great lady — she had a heart the size of Wyoming,” he said. “You don’t have people like that around too much these days.”
Shaw died at 95 in 2013.
Budgar said the motel did what the state failed to do — house and help those in need of nurturing.
“Why did the state just basically open the door, throw them onto the street and leave them there?” he asked. “To me it was almost criminal what happened. They were wandering the street. They didn’t know what to do — they just weren’t prepared for life.”
Neighborhood resident Julianna Tymoczko, 41, said watching the city’s more eccentric personalities from the vantage point of her childhood home on Pomeroy Terrace shaped her understanding of the mentally ill. On Monday she recalled the “suntan man,” a former resident of the Shaw’s who she said would sunbathe shirtless on Main Street in all seasons.
“It certainly colors my whole perspective on mental health care and treatment in this country,” she said of growing up near Shaw’s.
The memories are bittersweet, but Ward 3 City Councilor Jim Nash called new developments at the old Shaw’s property a force for good.
“I think neighbors by and large are happy to see development move forward,” he said. “This is a step forward.”
Hasbrouck said there’s no arguing the motel, whose last tenant left six years ago, was in ghastly condition, but still, watching it come down, he couldn’t help but feel somber.
“I’m always sad to see buildings come down,” he said. “They’d outlived their usefulness, but it’s still sad. Part of what’s sad is to see the memories associated with it go away.”
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.