March 24, 2018
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An unfortunate casino-Paul Bunyan-civic center sandwich in Bangor

By Fritz Spencer, Special to the BDN

Man and gravity fight a precarious duel as heavy slabs of granite are raised under a blazing sun. Finally the last stone is set in place.

Great efforts require a great purpose and an effort which directs the labor of a thousand men requires a sacred purpose. In any society, the large and awe-inspiring buildings reveal who wields the ultimate power. Thus the new Civic Center on Main Street is the final, authoritative statement on which values rule Bangor.

The new Civic Center spreads out over Bass Park to the very doorstep of Hollywood Casino. One easily can conjecture that its purpose is to draw the public to the casino.

That the Civic Center is being built with money from the casino makes this conjecture a certainty. We may conclude our city fathers listen to the sound of gold and silver rather than their conscience.

It was not always so. The first Bangor Auditorium had bare beams and rafters and looked like a barn. On the outside, the auditorium was balanced and well-proportioned, a fine building built for a purpose of the highest order.

William Chapman dreamed of a music festival starring Lillian Nordica from Farmington. Nordica was the leading soprano of her day and she was to be accompanied by 800 singers from the more than 2,000 choral groups in the state.

Joseph Bass leased the land — then called Maplewood — to the city and specified in his will that Bass Park “would be used for public park purposes, including, if the city sees fit, semi-public purposes such as circuses or fairs.”

Now Maplewood is gone, Bass Park has dwindled to postage-stamp size, and the stone marker commemorating the work of Chapman and Bass has been removed. In its place stands a sprawling urban complex whose color matches the casino but no other building in the city and whose architectural style resembles a chain drugstore.

Nor is the new Civic Center in any sense the center of the city. The true center of Bangor lies somewhere on the long corridor between the Lady Victory statue and the statue of Hannibal Hamlin on Norumbega Parkway.

This is the center of our city, with its reminders of our history, our common purpose and our long struggle for existence. The Civic Center and the casino are on the fringes of Bangor, both in a geographical and ethical sense.

The unnatural scale of the Civic Center and casino dominates the skyline, overwhelming the distant church spires, just as avarice now dominates and overwhelms nobler civic aspirations.

And that is the meaning of the lopsided, asymmetrical architecture. Postmodern architecture reflects the disorder in the heart of modern man, his inability to balance irrational desires and fears with reason and sound judgment. Hence postmodern architecture is preferred by those who exploit man’s impulses and unreasonable desires.

The architecture of the older part of the city expresses order, harmony and beauty. Each ornament whether a trailing vine, an unfolding leaf or sheaf of wheat proclaims joy in life, growth and Creation.

This loss of order happened gradually. The lovely older buildings gave way to the bare but symmetrical buildings of the modern era, which in turn gave way to the asymmetrical hodgepodge of styles which is postmodern architecture.

Nor is this loss of order limited to architecture. The heavenly sounds which rang out in the first Bangor Auditorium have long since been replaced with the subterranean clang and clamor of modern music.

A smiling Paul Bunyan, who looms large in the imagination of every boy and girl from Bangor, now stands watch on a lawn which was once a park, which was once a maple grove. He reminds us of a bygone age when men prided themselves on honest labor, and regarded the land as their greatest treasure.

When the new Civic Center is completed, many a visitor will cast a cynical glance at Paul Bunyan and ask why a woodsman in mackinaw and boots is standing across the street from a casino. Why indeed?

He would be happier, I think, in the real Maine.

Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.

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