A crew from St. Laurent & Sons Excavation demolishes an apartment building Monday at the corner of Bartlett and Walnut streets in downtown Lewiston. The building is one of three that sit on property purchased by Community Concepts and planned for redevelopment. Plans were to take two buildings down Monday. The third building at 107 Bartlett St. will be demolished Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A couple of thoughts arose this week as I gazed upon the big machinery ripping down an apartment house on Bartlett Street. 

“Boy,” came the first thought. “How fun would it be to use one of those big rigs to tear into a building like that? I’ll bet that guy has the best pickup lines in the world. Why, I just thought of an exquisite line related to heavy equipment and splintered lumber and I wasn’t even trying!”

The second thought was less puerile. As I watched plaster walls turned to dust and once mighty beams reduced to feckless shards, I thought: “Aw, man. That building is where I had my very first interview with a hooker.” 

Ah, how the memory comes back to me. It was a perfectly ordinary day on the police beat when I was invited in to mingle with a team of prostitutes as they readied themselves for the night’s work. 

I remember the smell of cigarette smoke and lipstick. I remember the shrill laughter of the working girls as they enjoyed my apparent unease. The excavators can bust apart wood, plaster and steel, but it has no power at all over human memory. 

I am not from Lewiston, so I cannot wax nostalgic every time a building comes down. But I have worked here for a quarter of a century and the bulk of that work was done inside the seedy downtown tenements that are now falling in great number to the unrelenting knuckles of the excavator bucket. 

Just down the street from Monday’s carnage is another tenement of great size where a young man strangled his mother to death in a fit of lifelong fury. Across the street at an angle stands the apartment house where that dude eluded the police for hours that one time by hiding on the roof. 

Next door to that one is an another tenement where, years ago, I was allowed to take over the entire first floor for a night in order to surreptitiously observe “gang activity” on the street out front. The “gang activity” consisted mainly of a bunch of guys with dogs smoking blunts and strutting back and forth, but I still felt like one of those cool guys from “The Wire” as I squatted there in the dark. 

Down the street and around the corner is another ambling apartment house where the famous Easter morning murder was committed in 1995. A few buildings down from that one, a tenement where I hung my hat and notebook for a few nights while I was between apartments. I ain’t telling you any of the memories I have of that time. You’ll have to wait for the movie. 

Sometimes when I have friends visiting, I’ll take them on a tour of downtown Lewiston and point out the grim landmarks like some tour guide from hell. 

“… and if you look carefully behind this building here, you can see the spot where they found the head. And over at that building, on the third floor, that’s where they discovered the mummified remains of. … Hey! Why are you running away?” 

But I’ve got it easy, really. My fondest memories of all these buildings are based on an outsider’s view. I have a business relationship with downtown Lewiston much more than a personal one. 

Not so for the legions of people who grew up there at time when downtown Lewiston was a very different place. 

“I grew up on the corner of Knox and Spruce,” says Ken Smotherman, a 62-year-old who now lives miles from downtown. “But I’ve got history in pretty much all of those buildings down there. Whether it was jumping off the third floor into snow banks, running from roof to roof, you name it, we did it.” 

Take a long gander, Ken, my friend, because who knows where that big, spray-painted X will appear to designate the next building full of memories to fall to big machinery and the claws of progress. 

I’ve never had the experience of watching a childhood home ripped asunder. I don’t believe I’d care for it. I imagine there must be memories both sweet and terrible for every plank that falls on the heap as the physical manifestation of your childhood comes tumbling down. 

Progress is a thing that has to happen everywhere — sooner or later. And now it is Lewiston’s turn to transform generations of memories into shopping strips, green space and modern housing. 

I’ve got to wonder: With the original Sun Journal building on Park Street standing right in the way of all that progress, how long before it, too, succumbs to the passionless sweeps of the wrecking ball? And how many ghosts of long-ago journalists will come flapping out of the wreckage, moaning of deadlines and looking for a friendly neighborhood bar in which to fire their muse? 

I don’t know, brothers. I believe it’s possible to both appreciate the inevitability of change and to dread its coming. Sooner or later, all the monuments to our former glories will come crashing down around us and something new and shiny will go up in its place. 

All you can do is stand aside, watching and remembering and trying with all your might to salvage at least one good pickup line from the wreckage. 

I tell you, I got a real doozy out of that demolition on Pine Street.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal columnist and staff writer.

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