It’s not heritage just because it’s old

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Call me a downer, but I have not heard a single convincing argument for the preservation of the bricks and mortar of the Bannerman Park Bandstand.     

Those in favour of keeping the thing intact have relied, chiefly, on their memories of childhood play around it, while the really ambitious ones have insisted that the bandstand is a viable performance venue with real historic significance.    

But has anyone actually explained that historic significance?

Nope.

Not one of the proponents has described how the bandstand was key to an historic event, period or life, nor have they demonstrated the historic qualities of it as a built structure.  

In fact, if the cornerstone reading “1940” wasn’t there, I doubt anyone could tell if the thing was built in 1940, or 1960, or 1980 or 10 years ago.

It’s not heritage — it’s just old. There’s a difference.

Hardly a treasure

As for the notion that the bandstand is an “acoustic treasure” (letter to the editor “Losing the bandstand,” Sept. 7), I can only borrow the words of John McEnroe: “You cannot be serious.”

You’re saying that a structure that is routinely ignored by the park’s annual music festival is good for performance? I doubt that it was that useful even for brass bands, let alone the kind of

guitar-and-amplifier fare typical of the Folk Festival.

The weakness of these arguments is, I suspect, one reason why bandstand crusaders (now including the mayor) have been forced to offer up childhood nostalgia as proof of the thing’s worth.

After all, childhood memories are unassailable, and “everyone has one,” right?

Wrong.

I’m willing to bet that, amongst those of us who weren’t blessed enough to grow up downtown, quite a few folks are pretty much indifferent to the bandstand’s charms.

Not that that’s difficult: the structure itself is hardly the most inviting, elevated off the ground and ringed around with a parapet wall that shields the interior from view.

Indeed, I’ve always thought that, far from engaging the park around it, the bandstand actively turns its back on the park.

It’s a great space for copping a feel or rolling a joint without anyone seeing, but that’s about it.  

A failure as a park centrepiece

And yet, this wholly unremarkable structure is being touted as “the heart of the park.”

Might I propose that it’s not the structure itself that is the heart of the park, but the role it is trying — and in my opinion, failing, to fill: that of a community gathering point.

Far from being erased, this role will be preserved and enhanced by putting a new structure, more accessible from grade and more open to views, in the existing bandstand’s place.

Clinging to the bricks and mortar of the thing is pure fetishism at best.

Politically valuable

I suspect that, deep down, St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe knows this, but his career instincts are telling him that there’s no political mileage to be got from tearing any old thing down.

If only he’d been around when they were replacing the old Bannerman Park playground!

Why, there was this awesome orange slide there that I have awfully fond memories of … etc., etc.  

 B.A. Norman writes from St. John’s.

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Recent comments

  • t
    November 21, 2012 - 09:52

    It's a pretty black and white decision for me. It costs less to keep the bandstand than to tear it down and build a new one. This is taxpayer's money, and I see no need to overspend unnecessarily.

    • Happily Retired
      November 21, 2012 - 14:16

      T, Actually that's not how Council sees it. Apparently, it will cost more to leave the bandstand there because they will now have to build around it, and then re-furbish it. Danny Breen said "we will find the money." I just hope it doesn't mean increased taxes.

  • david
    November 21, 2012 - 08:27

    Be careful there.....if one starts qualifying what makes something historically worthy or special other than longevity or age, there isn't too much in or about Newfoundland that actually makes the cut....not much at all.

  • Max Roe
    November 21, 2012 - 07:27

    The first two posters echo my opinion. To "Happily Retied": Brace yourself. It will go down like this: Council: Assessments have increased by 50%, but we will reduce the mill rate so that taxes only increase by 40%. Que the taxpayer outcry. Council responds: OK. We have reviewed the numbers and only need to increase taxes by 35%. Cue the public sigh of relief that taxes are ONLY increasing by 35%. Enjoy the new hangout...I mean bandstand.

  • Turry from town
    November 20, 2012 - 15:20

    I've lived in St.John's all my life.Been to Bannerman park a good few times and never even saw the bandstand let alone been in it.Now council wants to build a new one,install a skating trail throughout the park,at a couple of million dollars??? There are places in this city that do not even have sidewalks.I agree with happily retired,my taxes better not increase to pay for this project,that is way down on the priority list.Maybe council should seek funding from the private sector and name the bandstand and skating trail with the name of choice by the financial backers.

  • Happily Retired
    November 20, 2012 - 09:28

    Thank you for your well-written, logical response to this issue. If only Council could think as well. I watched the debate last night and nearly got sick watching Doc O'Keefe, Danny Breen and Frank Galgay beg for votes. Their decision had nothing to do with the strategic planning or fiscal responsibility which you should expect from a Council. It was all about a vulgar attampt to get votes. You clowns may want to go on a spending spree, but my taxes had better not increase.