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The Republican, by Pamela H. Metaxas

Uniroyal Site Demolition Starts

January 08, 2010

CHICOPEE – On the day contractors began demolishing the first of the former Uniroyal buildings to make way for new development, 30-year employee Patrick E. Welch said “it breaks my heart to see it like that.”

On Thursday, city officials gathered at Oak and West Main streets to watch the formal start of the demolition of six buildings by McConnell Enterprises, Inc., of Braintree.

Operating a huge excavator with grappling hooks, company owner and founder Crosby M. Martin, who said his company specializes in this type of “mechanical demolition” throughout the New England states, maneuvered the machine again and again against the corner of one of the six decaying, vacant buildings, pulling and tugging at the aging brick facade.

As the building began collapsing onto itself and crashed to the ground, bricks and debris went flying as water was sprayed onto keep the dust down.

“We are very careful about recycling what we can,” said Martin.

Welch, a former 14-year member of the Board of Aldermen and acting mayor for five months, worked at the tire factory for 30 years.

“I dream of that place three or four times a week,” Welch said, speaking from his second home in St. Petersburg, Fla. “I walked in there in June 1951 when I was a sophomore in high school looking for a part-time job and I never left.”

Welch said he started as a mail boy and worked his way up to personnel. “We sure tried to save it, but it closed and my heart broke. At the time, there were 1,600 people working there,” he said, “While I was working there, I met a young lady and 48 years later, we are still married,” he said of his wife, Priscilla.

Ernest S. Mendrala, a former Board of Aldermen member for eight years, said he worked there for 11 years as a supervisor, tuber operator, engineer and “just about everything.”

“When they closed, I was about the last to leave. I don’t know why they closed. It was a very good income for the City of Chicopee,” said Mendrala who like Welch said he has rich memories of his employment there.

Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette, whose administration is the first to tackle the maze of buildings that were the former Uniroyal and Facemate industrial complexes following a protracted battle in two courts, said at the scene, “This is just the start. The steel will be recycled to Pittsburgh Steel and the granite will be recycled. We have had some special requests from relatives of people who used to work here for bricks or items and we will try to accommodate them, but now it’s a demolition site.”

Bissonnette said the city received a $100,000 Brownsfield grant from Mass Development Finance Agency that will pave the way for a $2 million development grant. Officials are hopeful the development will include retail and commercial space as well as a new senior center. The demolition is being financed by $700,000 in Community Development Block grants.

City historian Stephen Jendrysik, chairman of the Historical Commission, and president of the Edward Bellamy Association, said in its heyday the former Fisk Tire Company, which become the U.S. Rubber Co. or Uniroyal, was a boom to the city and had as many as 3,000 employees in 1920.

It was a bicycle factory in the beginning and then made tires.

“It was the biggest operation in Western Mass. at the time. The wages were good and it was a good place to work. The Fisk Company was started at the turn of the century by the Fisk family and they bought the building from Spaulding and Pepper who made rubber by the river. It was then connected to the auto industry and made tires for automobiles and tractors,” said Jendrysik.

Fisk made a tire called “Red Top” which was the largest selling replacement tire, and tires were sold to major car manufacturers. “You could always smell the rubber in there,” said Jendrysik.

Jendrysik said the company also obtained a huge military contract during World War II which proved a boon to the area and city.

© Copyright 2010 The Republican.