Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 18, 2012

Dalton column: Bandstand's ups and downs

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — The Bandstand in the Park has had ups and downs, but this is the norm for most structures humans build, for, unlike us, the structures we make often have long-lasting rejuvenations.

Like the bandstand, Andover’s Old Town Hall and Town Office Building are good examples. The former was once believed to be so ugly and run-down that most townspeople wanted to tear it down, and the inability of the town to agree on a place to build a municipal building was the only thing that saved it. However, by the 1980s the Town Hall became precious to us, as our tastes changed, and we voted to rehabilitate it. The Town Office Building began as Punchard High School in 1917, but four decades later it was abandoned when the high school moved to Shawsheen Road. The old Punchard Building began filling up with the overflow from the Town Hall, but it became shabby inside until the late 1980s, when the town fixed it up and it became the “Andover Town Offices.”

Back in 1913, nine years after the Park was created, Town Meeting voted $1,000 for a bandstand at the new park; however, $500 was to be used for entertainment, so the other $500 was for the bandstand’s construction. Most of the outside was built of the same kind of fieldstone that makes up the stone bridge a few yards away, and the bottom half of the bandstand is a tool shed.

The bridge was built in 1906, and it spanned Roger’s Brook. A small pond was created a few yards south of the bridge, northeast of where the bandstand would be built, but the pond didn’t last long because it smelled and often overflowed like Roger’s Brook. In the 1960s, Roger’s Brook was encased in cement and grassed over.

Bandstands came to us from Europe, primarily England and Germany, and they were associated with the Victorian era’s brass band movement. Andover missed a beat, as most bandstands were built before ours and are larger and more ornate. Our bandstand, although pleasant, lacks the splash of Victorian era bandstands.

According to Eleanor Motley Richardson (“Andover A Century of Change 1995-1996,” Andover Historical Society, 1995), the Andover Brass Band existed from 1878 to 1941 and played Sunday afternoons from the bandstand’s beginnings until the brass band disbanded for its members to serve in World War II. Prior to the war, during the Great Depression, little money was spent on improving anything, including the bandstand. With the bandstand’s lack of use during the war, not a penny was spent on it.

By the time my friends and I were climbing all over it in the late 1940s and early 1950s it was in despicable condition. The stairs were gone, the fieldstone supporting the stairs had been sledgehammered away by vandals, paint was peeling, and it smelled like mold and urine where the band once played. But, putting the breeze in our faces to keep the smell behind us, we’d sit on the stone rim surrounding the band platform and talk about whether Ted Williams was better than Joe DiMaggio or whether Superman was stronger than Captain Marvel. The bandstand seemed ancient and even the vandalism seemed old.

The bandstand remained run down for several more years. Things got worse in the 1960s and 70s. In those days, Whittier Street continued through to Bartlett Street [editor’s note: Bill Dalton has made a case that this is the proper spelling for the street] and the kind of people who vandalized the bandstand parked their cars nearby and got together to drink, buy drugs, horse around, and be loud and obnoxious. It culminated when one of them was dragged to death beneath a car.

In the ‘80s, when the town voted to upgrade Old Town Hall and the Town Office Building it also voted to improve the Park and restore the bandstand. It was all part of a grand project led by Town Manager Ken Mahony, and the bandstand has been maintained and used ever since. It’s nice to see it looking so good.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman, and his email address in BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com