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URBAN RENEWAL, REVISITED

'A little community': Auburn's Five Points neighborhood forever changed by Arterial

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The area around Lewis Street, Franklin Street and Grant Avenue is still called the Five Points neighborhood, but it's only a symbolic moniker, one that hasn't been accurate since the mid-1970s.

Those three streets once came together to form a central spot surrounded by shops, restaurants and services with a fountain at its hub. The Arterial cut through it with a curved median, severing Lewis Street and changing the way Franklin Street and Grant Avenue flowed to the east.

When the Arterial was being planned, Five Points featured establishments such as Eddie's Fish Fry, Maxwell's Food Store, Lamb's Bakery, Lewis Drugs, Balian's Carpets, Preston's Flowers, Sunbrite Cleaners, National Furniture and other local businesses.

"It was a little community," said Mike O'Hora, whose father, Eddie, was the owner of Eddie's. "We had everything that the city would need in that little area. We had bakeries, we had meat markets, grocery stores, restaurants, laundry, shoe repair. So if you lived within walking distance you could get everything you needed on a daily basis."

Eddie's was a focal point of Five Points. The restaurant became a meeting place where Auburnians young and old could hang out. It was especially popular after Auburn High School football games.

"The kids would come after games and on Sundays would put their collection money in the pinball games," O'Hora said. "The proximity to Holy Family and St. Alphonsus and, of course, the Catholics on Friday had to eat fish. We had lines out the door."

That closeness was part of a community that helped the Five Points merchants thrive.

"It had a tremendous impact. Five Points itself was a shopping district, so everybody drew from everybody else," said Maxwell's owner Scott Maxwell. "People would park and walk everywhere else. When the road went through it took everything out. When it was done, it cannibalized the business district. It changed the traffic pattern."

Maxwell said the city was more concerned with taking advantage of using the state's money for infrastructure than the impact it would have on local businesses.

"It's not that the city doesn't need progress but the city officials sold us down the river to put the Arterial in. The main thing in the city's mind had to do with sewer separation and the state would pay for anything the Arterial impacted or crossed. And the city officials sold us down the river, they didn't help us do anything."

At one point, the state wanted the north part of Lewis Street to become a dead end which would have called for the demolition of Eddie's. The owners of Eddie's and Maxwell's protested and eventually the DOT changed its plans. North Lewis Street exits onto the Arterial.

"We filed a lawsuit," O'Hora said. "We were granted a stop-work order until we could meet and work out a remedy."

"We had to fight to get a driveway off the Arterial," Maxwell said. "They were going to shut us off completely on the Arterial. There were so many changes in this road that even today, it's still built wrong."

Maxwell said the Grant Avenue merchants group, which included Five Points, met with engineers from the state Department of Transportation about their concerns how the Arterial was going to impact their businesses.

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"One time, they said, we have no concern with the businesses on that road. All their concern was traffic and they showed it with the way they designed things and the way they cooperated with the businesses."

In the area around Five Points, houses on Fulton and Franklin streets were demolished to make way for the divided highway. That changed the neighborhood, and over time, Auburn also changed as fewer people could afford to own homes.

"They were all family-owned homes and families lived in them, not all these rental units you have now," Maxwell said. "Some of it has to do with the road and some of it has to do with the economy, too. Older families have moved out. People bought them up and loaded them with rental."

Maxwell said some people left over the increased traffic and the noise.

"The speed limit might say 30 but I'd be hard pressed to find too many cars doing 30."

Maxwell's is still in business today but Eddie's is a memory as a devastating fire destroyed the building in January 1973 before the Arterial was done, leaving Balian's and Maxwell's as the last businesses on the north side of the new road. When it was completed, Five Points wasn't the same neighborhood and to Maxwell, owner of its longest-standing business, it has never recovered.

"When you lose that traffic pattern that impacts your business and with the road, all of a sudden you're on a one-way street," Maxwell said. "Traffic could go up and turn around but that's inconvenient and inconvenience hurts you."

Others have shared that observation.

"The Arterial did a lot of damage financially to Maxwell's (Food Store) as you only have one way to get there," said native Auburian Ormie King, who later opened Legends restaurant at the site of the old Lewis Drugs in the late 1980s. "I firmly believe that very little of that traffic is stopping to shop in Auburn."

O'Hora told a story that shows an outsider's view of the Arterial's impact. He decided to replace Eddie's with an Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips franchise in the mid 1970s before the new road was finished. The company's namesake came to Auburn for the opening.

"He wanted to see the city, and I asked him, 'What do you think of our city,'" O'Hora said. "He said, 'It would be alright if they had left it alone.' There were many houses being torn down because of the Arterial. He said in England, 'We don't allow that, we give you money to keep your houses in good shape. All you're going to have is rubble.'"

Four decades after its completion, the Arterial's impact is still felt on Five Points.

"The whole atmosphere of the city has changed because of the Arterial," Maxwell said.

"It's never going to be the same," O'Hora said.

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