May 28, 2018
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Preserve old memories, move forward with new

By Sarah Smiley

When the circus comes to Bangor, a peculiar thing happens. Mothers begin pawning off their children to attend the show with other families. The same thing happens when the Globetrotters come though, or any other event at the Bangor Auditorium.

Why? The Bangor Auditorium, in its current state, is not a happy experience for most people.

When the all-city chorus performed there last year, parents brought towels to sit on. (Otherwise, you have to peel yourself off the stands, they said.)

In my relatively short time here in Bangor, I’ve heard plenty of stories about the auditorium. Some of them might be urban legends (Did Kenny Rogers really pull out an umbrella in the middle of a concert?); others are clearly firsthand experience (“I’ve seen tourney games stopped by refs so they can mop up the leaks.”).

Recently, I posted a call for comments on Facebook. It stated: Tell me, what is YOUR experience with the current auditorium?

The responses were a mix of fond memories, frustration and hope for the future:

  • “All cement and echoes.”
  • “My best high school memories happened in the auditorium.”
  • “The acoustics are terrible so any show I have ever been to has been frustrating.”
  • “I spent a good part of my elementary and high school years going to that auditorium … it was old when I was a kid and it’s older now. I look forward to the replacement.”
  • “I have fond memories of the circus … I have not-so-fond memories of being slightly asthmatic (poor air quality).”
  • “We looked forward to our trip to the auditorium from Caribou during the basketball tourney to spend our hard-earned potato-picking money on cool clothes.”
  • “When there’s a blue tarp on the INSIDE, it’s time to rebuild … I am baffled by those who are opposed [to the new arena], and can only imagine that they aren’t attending events in the existing auditorium.”

It is clear that Bangor has a special place for memories of the current auditorium. This is understandable. I have great memories of the treehouse and swing set in my backyard when I was a kid. But even if I had access to it today, I wouldn’t let my kids play on it. What I want for them is to have the experience I had of climbing into a fort and hiding there all day. To do that, my boys would need a more modern, safer swing set.

Baseball fans also hated to see Tiger Stadium in Detroit replaced, but the facility, built in the early 1900s, could no longer accommodate modern-day baseball teams and fans. After all, hosting a major league baseball game in 1912 was a lot different from today, with the need for broadcasting, cameras, acoustics, more space for fans from distant places, etc.

I want the next generation of Bangor’s children to have fond memories of the circus, tournaments, concerts and more at the Bangor Auditorium. But as the current facility ages, it will be used less and less. Replacing it is not an option. Over time, the aging auditorium will drain the city’s finances even more than it does now. (The city currently spends $400,000-500,000 on the complex.)

A new arena will not cost the city any more money. Plus, it will be the biggest and best convention center north of Boston. Imagine the opportunities! The project will be fully covered by taxes and fees already paid by Hollywood Slots. (Back to my treehouse analogy, that’s like wanting a new swing set for the kids and having a grandparent step up to foot the bill!)

As an outsider with no memories of the current auditorium, I can tell you that the structure dates Bangor and holds it to a past that is no longer economically viable. The Bass Park complex is not a destination, which is why my family has made more trips to Boston and Portland to see major shows and events than we have walked down the street to do the same. When we go to these other cities, we take our dining-out and shopping dollars with us.

The time for a new experience for our children is now. But we don’t have to forget the past. Why not make commemorative pens, tie-tacks, plaques and more out of the wood from the old auditorium? Or sell bricks-tiles at the new facility to honor the old one with heartfelt inscriptions?

Memories do not hold up a building. But they can enrich a new one.

I am reminded of one of my 91-year-old grandmother’s classic sayings: “Love is great, but it don’t pay the rent.”

Vote yes on May 4.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at

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