We're interested! As an archive for Salem's Urban Renewal period, the Collins Society wants to digitize any slides or photographs from the 1960-1970's. If you would like to donate your images to be scanned, please contact us below!
After the drastic demolition of so much of the downtown and the inability to attract interested developers, few people in Salem believed that anything worthwhile could result from urban renewal.
Restoring of local confidence began with the inauguration of Mayor Sam Zoll, who halted demolition and appointed Timothy Noonan and Bill Tinti to lead the new board of the SRA. A talented team of professionals were soon hired to complete the Heritage Plaza East project: Robert Kerr, planner, John Emerson, architect, and John Collins, landscape architect.
In his description of the resulting design characteristics of the new Heritage Plaza East, John Collins underscored the importance of "Salem's organic street pattern, intensive building restoration, an ambitious pedestrian greenway network and historical landmarks...." These features would constitute the main elements of their plan.
According to Collins, the vehicular system did not require new roads to be built, but rather their plan would utilize existing streets to provide easy access to a centrally located 1000-car garage, beneath which new commercial space (East India Mall) would be available. Complementing this, a public open space system, built primarily on old rights-of-way, would connect the major commercial, institutional, and historically significant buildings. These thoroughfares would be paved with brick trimmed with salvaged cobblestone, and lined heavily with trees "to reinforce the design structure, provide shade and subdue the impact of less fortunate facades."
In her 1975 New York Times article on Salem, renowned architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable praised "the work of the Collins' Dutot Partnership of Philadelphia, who have detailed and landscaped the pedestrian-park carrying out its renewal successfully and sensitively....The city's core of handsomely recycled old buildings complemented by excellent new buildings, united in an inviting network of green pedestrian passages, puts its emphasis on the human dimension and the highest standards of urban design."
John F. Collins' contribution to Salem's history is undeniable. His vision defined the look and feel of the downtown and, most importantly, breathed new life into a dying city. His designs should be celebrated and preserved; his philosophy studied and continued. For without his genius, Salem may never have recovered from the disastrous mistakes of urban renewal.