Sometimes you find friends in unlikely sources, for me that friend was the long abandoned Manchester Parkade in Manchester, Connecticut.
|The old Manchester Parkade, photo taken by me, circa Autumn 2009|
I was evicted from my apartment in Middletown in 2009, and became homeless after my mom got sick. I was in my freshman year of high school and attended Middletown High. My family decided to place me in state custody and they sent me to live at the dreaded 89 Nutmeg Drive residential home for troubled boys (I was the only white guy there and was made the scapegoat of physical and mental torture from the African-American males that lived there, all of which were previously incarcerated for God knows what).
I always had a passion for dead malls, being a member of the great Ames Fan Club (https://bit.ly/2NYU5ZQ) and I had fond memories of shopping at Bradlees with my mother. In a weird way, going to see and snap photos of what some would call an 'eyesore', helped me and I always knew that if I needed an escape I could always go to the old Parkade, which I called my "Sanctuary". The entire plaza had been vacant for over ten years, but I felt at home there, and seeing the old Bradlees sign staring back at me, healed me in ways I cannot describe. It took me back, to when I was about four years old, getting school supplies with my mom. The sign had shown its age and looked like it had been in a war, however it still filled me with a sense of nostalgia. The Bradlees chain closed in 2001.
|The former Bradlees department store, prior to 1982 it was a King's discount store.|
Photo taken by me, circa Summer 2010, my last trip there.
|The former Stop & Shop grocery store. Summer 2010.|
My earlier photos were taken with old disposable cameras, I would buy them with the allowance I made from doing chores at the group home, I then would rush them to Rite-Aid to transfer them to photo CDs, some of which still survive. I was an inexperienced photographer at the time and my early efforts are amateurish at best.
I just loved this place, it took me away from my hellish existence and transported me back in a time machine to much happier times. The place was full of goodies too, I found working VHS copies of First Kid and Houseguest, both starring one of my favorite comedians, Sinbad, in back of the plaza, its as if they were waiting for me. Everytime I got a chance, I went to my sanctuary to see what else I could find.
|The former Marshalls clothing store, at one time it was a radio station, nightclub and indoor mall.|
|The towering Bradlees sign always greeted me, whenever I saw it, my face would light up.|
I eventually fled the Manchester home, fearing for my safety, and settled in another group home, Sankofa House (part of The Village For Families and Children) in Hartford during the winter months of 2009. I was the oldest there, 15 at the time, everyone else were elementary school aged. It opened my eyes to the the plight children have everyday, especially when they don't have parents. It was an equally hellish time there, save for one girl whom I formed a bond with. The girl, who I will call Cynthia for this article, was on the autism spectrum like me, and she looked up to me as a big brother. I would help her get to sleep at night by reading her stories, getting her glasses of water, tucking her in and telling her that everything was going to be alright. When I left there, she reportedly told a staff member, "Make sure you tell Geno that I love him". There was another girl there, about 12, who I will call Kristina, who was constantly causing mischief. She would be physically restrained by staff, and we would all hear her screaming from in our prison cell-like doors. One time the cops were called and she was placed in handcuffs.
|The strip mall portion of the plaza, it originally contained an Anderson Little clothing store, CVS Pharmacy,|
Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hobbytyme toy store, Card Gallery and the famous Record Breaker record store.
I never forgot the plaza. I went back in the Summer of 2010, this time equipped with a better camera, and better photography skills. I still felt the same feelings, and it was great to spend one final hour at the place I called my sanctuary. I loved walking the grounds that warm day, not knowing it would be my last time.
|Two of the last photos I ever took at the plaza. |
I found out in late 2012 that the town had demolished the site to the ground only two years after I left Hartford, and with that, my sanctuary was gone. I was crushed, and had regrets that I never made another pilgrimage back there. Seeing video of townsfolk rejoicing and celebrating the destruction of these buildings angered me, it still does. What angers me even more is that, as of this writing, the lot is still empty.
In closing, while I never got the chance to see the Parkade during its heyday, it nevertheless made an impression on me and made memories for me that can never be destroyed. Take that Manchester!
MY SANCTUARY, FOREVER
|My 15 year old self in front of the Bradlees.|