Downtown Melrose, close-up and intimate

 ... don't tell me you never heard of the Flax Block!

The SilverStringer phototeam

Photographs by Louise Fennell, Lorry and Don Norris. Copy from Don.

Three of the Stringer phototeam were available on a recent humid Friday afternoon, with enough time to do some down-and-dirty closeups of our Main Street, downtown. The idea, at first, was to shoot up close, then let the reader guess where that truncated scene fits.

Like the leading set above: The subject is universal, at least in America, so most everyone can detect where we were. Where else would three seniors go to start their day? You get a bite of my cinnamon twist if you named the donut shop, of course.

No tough job guessing here: This is the center of town, Main at Foster. Notice the locust trees in the background -- Main Street is lined with them, and it is gorgeous. We are one of very few towns in America that still maintains its downtown commercial and historical viability. We have one 'strip mall' and three old-timey shopping districts in Melrose. It's a good place.

Melrose has three or four gift shops, in which prime attention is given to Victorian 'stuff' and to the many quasi-professional artists that live here. We have a high percentage of Victorian homes here, and the town does well in supporting and encouraging its local art colony.

The finial in the center belongs to the old, old Melrose Theater, which has not been a theater for half a century. The current resident is the Eastern Bank, one of half a dozen that services the financial needs of our 28,000 residents. At the right is the cornerstone of the Melrose Savings Bank, which is now called 'MassBank'.

Fancy footwork is needed to cross any street in New England, for the population disdains regimentation -- like this pedestrian sign. The theory of "Walk-Don't-Walk" becomes moot as street crossers dodge between moving vehicles. It seems this is what we Melrosians were born to do, especially on our Main Street, which once served as the prime route between Boston and the lands to the north.

We do have some pretty fancy wrought-iron lighting along Main Street, celebrating our Victorian heritage. And it is unusual to see a hole where a phone should be, as in the right photo.

We have two Catholic churches in town -- At the left is the pediment of St. Mary's school while at the right is the shorn-off steeple of St. Mary's church, downtown. We also have at least two Congregational churches, two Baptist churches, a nice synagogue, a big Methodist church, and half a dozen other affiliated or philosophical houses of worship. There is a big choice in Melrose.

As of this writing (September, 2004), the financial calamity of most governments in these boom or bust days -- affects our town as well. In fact, Mayor Rob Dolan closed two out of three fire stations, which spelled out loudly how bad things have become. The political signage reflects the fact that no one has much money for printed campaign literature. Today, one buys a sheet of sticky labels, hand-prints a political commentary, and posts them all over town on convenient lampposts.

We have a wig store right downtown, whose windows reflect nicely the traffic scene along Main Street. In spite of worldwide financial plight, the town still plants lots of greenery, while those surviving business entities shell out hard cash for one of Tom Sutherland's carved signs. This one is for Ahern Painting on lower Main Street.

A lady in a car always makes a nice photo, as does that lady with the camera -- her name is Lorry Norris, a retired public health nurse, a grandmother, and now a shooter for the Melrose Mirror. I can't explain how the bark of one of our Locust trees got between the two ladies -- it was late when we put this piece together.

Our group of young photographers (average age is about 70) likes to find patterns, and balanced forms, and unusual scenes that seem to say, "Snap this picture now, for it may not be here tomorrow". And that's why we photographed the white truck in front of the Blues Diner, downtown.

We also shot a picture of the Victorian banner across Main Street (see lower right corner), but the Temple sign does seem more significant. And the four-or-so signs at one Main Street office complex (at one time the Smith Brothers Garage, 60 years ago) shows class.

Louise Fennell, our titular leader, likes to capture greenery with her digital equipment. And the commercial folks downtown oblige her with some lovely plantings, all of which fits nicely with our classy locust-lined Main Street. It's really a lovely place to live, and now, as real estate prices go up, more and more folks are reinvesting in their homes.

A close-up study of deep blue, turquoise, green and brick red, down the alley beside Melrose Drug Center. That middle pix is of a BB shot as houligans drove through town on a shooting spree. There is a Carol Carney watercolor in the window. At the right is a rather neat, coordinated Melrose Laundromat.

So now you know where "The Flax Block" is. It's on the west side of Main Street, about half way between Foster and Grove; it is a piece of history and has been there, in business, for at least a century and a half. This classy little park, with its white birch trees and red-bark ground cover is adjacent to the Eastern Bank, on the east side of lower Main Street.

There must be a prize for the narrowest alley in town. This is most likely the winner; it measured, fingertip to fingertip, about 17 inches. If you're slim, you can take a shortcut to the parking area east of Main Street.

And we wind up our morning walk along lower Main with another montage by Louise, looking for beauty and form in everyday life. The pattern of washing machines at the laundromat, a close-up of a gas pump at the Mobil station, and a pair of shadowed bolts that probably holds the whole world together. Beauty is where we see it.

September 3, 2004

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