BANGOR — You’d think that a man who was one of the primary people involved with the design and construction of the Bangor Auditorium would be wistful and maybe even sad as its 57-year run as eastern Maine’s primary civic entertainment venue winds down.
Not Edward Lovejoy, who for 17 months served as building inspector at the construction site off Main and Buck streets where the Bangor Auditorium was being built.
“I worked in here daily while it was being built. I was here every morning,” said the 92-year-old Bangor resident, who served as engineering general manager for Eaton Tarbell and Associates, the company that designed and built the auditorium.
Now, almost 58 years after it opened on Oct. 1, 1955, at a total cost of $1.4 million, Lovejoy says he won’t shed any tears when the auditorium — which he includes among his top five projects ever — is demolished and becomes a parking lot for the new Cross Insurance Center scheduled to open on Labor Day weekend this year.
“I’ve seen too many buildings come down and new ones going up. I won’t mind seeing this one go,” said the former tax assessor for the city of Bangor. “The new one seems very nice. It certainly shows what’s been happening in the industry the last 40 or 50 years.”
Like many of the high school tournament basketball fans who jammed the old, narrow wooden seats and bleachers, Lovejoy is most excited about the creature comforts — particularly seats — offered by the new arena.
“I haven’t seen a lot of it, but the fact they’re going to have padded seats is a plus, I think,” he said with a smile.
The widowed husband of Margaret Bragg Lovejoy and father of two said he doesn’t get to the auditorium very often. As far as the new arena, he said his curiosity has been piqued.
“I haven’t been looking forward to it one way or the other, but I’ll be curious what it looks like.” said Lovejoy, a World War II veteran who saw extensive action as a radioman in The Battle of the Bulge, one of the bloodiest and most crucial battles of the war.
Lovejoy said he hasn’t been invited to attend any opening ceremonies for the new arena, but even if he is, he doubts he would attend. He does think he will attend at least one event there, however.
“Probably, if I live that long,” he said with a chuckle.
While watching a Western Maine high school boys basketball team practice on the auditorium floor Tuesday afternoon, Lovejoy shared a few lesser-known facts and stories about the building and its creation.
“Originally it was supposed to go down where the Bangor Armory is, but the Air Force wouldn’t allow it,” he recalled. “With its seating being over 9,500 [sic] people or something like that, it affected the air flight approach angle, so they had to change the location in a hurry.”
Former Bangor Code Enforcement Officer Dan Wellington said he remembers his father telling him about how the Maine Air National Guard had concerns about the proposed location, near the intersection of Main and Thatcher streets a short distance from the current site.
“You were too close to the glide path, and they also had concerns about it screwing with their radar,” said Wellington.
Lovejoy said Bangor city councilors and Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. executives came together and negotiated with representatives of Bass Park to move the auditorium to its current site.
“There were restrictions on Bass Park because it was only supposed to be used for harness racing and recreation, and they had to get some kind of ruling on that so it complied with the terms of the Bass family will,” Wellington explained. “They may have had to go to the heirs to iron that out.”
Lovejoy also addressed the controversial “V’ design of the auditorium’s inwardly slanted roof.
“A lot of it had to do with saving money on the heating. If they leveled that out, it would have increased the space that would have to be heated, which was quite a bit more,” he said.
Lovejoy said all large projects like arenas and auditoriums experience unexpected glitches and problems, and he expects the new arena will be no different. He’s confident that at least one of the auditorium’s glitches won’t be repeated at the Cross Insurance Center.
“I don’t know about the toilet facilities in the new one, but we put in female urinals in the women’s bathrooms and the women in those days didn’t know what the hell they were,” he said. “They had an awful time with those for awhile.
“I don’t know if they ever changed them or not.”
They did, but not until more than a year later.
Wellington, whose father, Don, worked as a member of the auditorium maintenance crew and also served as maintenance supervisor for its first 30 years, referenced the story his dad told him more than once.
“Eaton Tarbell was a World War II veteran just like Ed. My dad said Eaton came back and was convinced that after seeing Europe firsthand for several years, America was ready to adopt some of its customs and advances, and one of those was female urinals, which were common and accepted over there,” Wellington said. “The problem with that theory is that only half of America went to Europe for WWII and that was the male half.”
Not surprisingly, the female urinals didn’t meet with approval over here.
“About a year after the building opened in 1956, Eaton met with everyone who worked there for a facility review and asked how everything was working,” Wellington recalled. “They went through a whole bunch of things and then Eaton asked about the female urinals.
“My dad chimed up and said, ‘We think they’re great because we don’t have to clean them.’ [Tarbell] asked why and my dad said, ‘There’s no need to clean them until someone uses one of them.’”
They were all replaced within a month.