News Briefs

The First Churches of Northampton is exploring the sale of its Tiffany window, Rev. Todd Weir confirmed in an interview last week with the Valley Advocate. The church will propose the details of its plan in a letter to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

“We’re still very early in any kind of process,” Rev. Weir told the Advocate. “I’m not sure we’re even going to be able to do it. We’d also want to make sure it would be on public display, not in somebody’s foyer.” While he is not sure if the church can solicit bids at this point, Rev. Weir acknowledges they know there is interest, “but not in the sense we’re engaging.”

The issue was brought to the Advocate’s attention by local architect and historic preservationist Tristram Metcalfe, who says that while it’s important to “have compassion” for the church and their struggling financial situation, the Tiffany window is a central feature of the building and an integral “part of the history of our city.”

The son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the famous jewelry and silver firm Tiffany and Company, Art Noveau designer and decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany lived from 1848 to 1933 and dominated the glassware world of mosaics, lighting and windows from the 1870s through the 1930s. Decades after his death, he is still regarded as one of the most acclaimed artists in American history, and is credited with revolutionizing the medium of stained glass.

“Artists, famous artists, get millions for oil on canvas,” Metcalfe told the Advocate. “The fact that it’s part of the building means that its highest value is in that original building.”

Neither Metcalfe nor Rev. Weir are certain what year the church acquired its Tiffany window. “It’s been there a long time,” says Metcalfe. “Any Tiffany is an old window.”

“There was a fire around 1878, and the window came in with that renovation,” Rev. Weir says. “It was a gift to the church from a family who farmed over by the Oxbow.”

The congregation at First Churches was forced to fix the entire roof of the building when the ceiling fell in in 2007, Rev. Weir said. The church was able to raise $1.5 million, but the cost of fixing the damage to the building was $2.3 million. There is still a “substantial mortgage left over from that campaign,” says Rev. Weir. That, he said, is the reason the church has considered selling its Tiffany window: “We’re trying to get out from under that debt, otherwise I can’t imagine why we would do it.”

But it’s not as simple as a church in financial distress potentially selling off an artistic asset. Because the renovations were partially paid for by $250,000 in public money when the church received a CPA (Community Preservation Act) designation, the issue is complicated.

“The whole building has this designation, so nothing can be changed, removed, or altered,” says Metcalfe, adding that windows are critical to a building’s integrity. “Window scam artists will rip windows out and suggest putting in this vinyl crap because its cheaper, but it falls apart,” Metcalfe continued, adding that in his 30-plus years practicing in Northampton, he has “seen many buildings destroyed with bogus lies.”

“There needs to be a new formula for churches to survive,” says Metcalfe. “The architecture must survive.”

“We’re a progressive peace and justice church who are supportive of the homeless and the needs of the community,” said Rev. Weir, noting that each month the space is used by 30 different groups, including 12-step programs, Scottish dancers and various advocacy organizations. They consider the church a community space, like the New England meeting houses of old.

“While we like having a beautiful sanctuary,” Rev. Weir continued, “we’re not a museum.”•


Anthony Arillotta Sentenced in Bruno Shooting

It could have been Dodge City, not Springfield, when mafioso Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno was gunned down in the parking lot at the Mt. Carmel Social Club in the South End late in 2003. The redoubtable gangster who engaged in loansharking and other illegitimate activities in the Springfield and Hartford area was actually blown away by Frankie Roche, who was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison for the killing, but the shooting was organized by Anthony Arillotta, according to federal prosecutors in New York. New York is the locus of the proceedings because Bruno, Arillotta and the others involved were members of the New York Genovese crime family.

Last week Arillotta was sentenced to 99 months in federal prison for his role in Bruno’s murder, the murder of another Springfield organized crime figure, Gary Westerman, and the attempted murder of a New York union boss, Frank Dadabo. The sentence was extremely short given prosecutors’ statements that Arillotta “spent his entire adult life until his arrest in February 2010 committing a vast assortment of crimes, many of them violent. He will be the first to explain that he was a menace to the city of Springfield, and that he used violence, intimidation and his association with Organized Crime to terrorize the city and line his own pockets with money from his various criminal activities.” Arillotta pleaded guilty to loansharking, extortion, illegal gambling, narcotics trafficking and possession of illegal weapons such as machine guns, as well as arranging the Bruno shooting.

But according to federal investigators, Arillotta’s cooperation with investigations of other murders and of the operations run by organized crime in the Springfield area had enabled cold cases to be solved and given law enforcement a wealth of indispensable information.

Court documents provide salient though fragmentary information about the influence of organized crime on Springfield. At one point early in the millennium, according to court documents, “Arillotta and others began to extort (or increase their take from) numerous bars and restaurants, including most prominently the Mardi Gras strip club, owned by James Santaniello.”

Late in August, 2003, prosecutors say, “Arillotta and his crew were involved in a violent altercation—including several gun shots—outside the Civic Pub in Springfield, Massachusetts. Two nights after that altercation, Arillotta’s house was shot 20 times while his wife and children were home.” It was in November of that year that Arillotta, acting on orders from Genovese bosses in New York who believed Bruno had given information about their activities to the FBI, assigned Roche to kill Bruno.

The following year, prosecutors allege, Arillotta “continued to deal marijuana, engage in loansharking and extortion activities, and operate an illegal sports betting business.” Under orders from New York, they charge, “Arillotta increased the extortions of individuals in the vending machine business in Springfield, including James Santaniello and Carlo and Genaro Sarno. Arillotta began receiving (by implicit threat of force) $12,000 per month from Santaniello, and $1,000 per month from the Sarnos in extortion payments.”

Arillotta was in prison from 2005 to 2008 for loansharking and running an illegal gambling business, and was arrested again in 2010 on charges related to the offenses for which he has now been sentenced. He quickly offered to cooperate and is now in the Witness Security Program.

The day before the sentencing, Victor Bruno, son of Al Bruno and administrator of his father’s estate, filed a wrongful death suit in Hampden Superior Court for “$25,000+” against Arillotta for his role in his father’s murder. Bruno, who called Arillotta “an ineffective and sloppy boss,” asked the court to send him to prison for life.•


Project H on Film


In 2008, “designer activist” Emily Pilloton founded Project H, a nonprofit that teaches design and building to young people in order to help them develop skills and bring positive change to their communities. The 2013 documentary If You Build It chronicles a project in a poor rural area in North Carolina as seen through the eyes of a group of high schoolers participating in a Project H program. 

If You Build It will be screened at the Amherst Cinema, on Tuesday, March 18 at 7 p.m., as part of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment’s Environmental Film and Speakers Series. The event will include a discussion led by Chris Riddle, formerly of Amherst’s Kuhn Riddle Architects and an expert on sustainable design. Tickets are $8.75.

The film and speaker series continues on Tuesday, March 25, at the Hitchcock Center with a 7 p.m. screening of Play Again, which follows a group of American teenagers after they’re “unplugged” from their various electronic devices and taken on a wilderness adventure. The film will be followed by a discussion led by a Hitchcock environmental educator. Tickets are $5.

The series ends on Wednesday, March 26, at 6:30 p.m. with a free screening of Elemental, a documentary about three environmental activists: an Indian government official “gone rogue” who’s fighting to save the polluted Ganges River, a Canadian woman fighting the Keystone Pipeline project and an Australian inventor fighting to slow global warming through biomimicry. The screening will be held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office on Route 9 in Hadley and will include a discussion led by naturalist Laurie Sanders, former host of NEPR’s popular Field Notes program.

For more information on the series, go to•


Candidates Step Up for Latest Open Statehouse Seat

Last week’s announcement by long-time state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield) that she’ll be resigning her seat to take a job as assistant clerk in the Hampden Superior Court Clerk’s office makes an already busy political year even busier. In Springfield alone, there are hot races to succeed state Rep. Sean Curran, who is leaving the Statehouse after his term ends, and state senator Gale Candaras, who is to instead run for register of the Hampden Probate Court. In addition, candidates are already lining up to succeed Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni, who’s awaiting word on his pending confirmation to a federal judgeship.

Coakley-Rivera, who was first elected to the 10th Hampden seat in November of 1998, lost no time in signaling whom she wants to succeed her: as she announced her plans to leave office she also announced her endorsement of Carlos Gonzalez, head of the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce, a one-time political foe. In the fall of 1998, Coakley and Gonzalez, then an aide to Mayor Mike Albano, engaged in a fierce battle to be the Democratic nominee for the state rep seat that had opened following the death of incumbent Tony Scibelli shortly after the September primary. In the end, the Democratic ward committee chose Coakley-Rivera, whose family—most notably, her late mother, Barbara Rivera, long-time head of the New North Citizens’ Council—has been a formidable political force in Springfield’s North End for decades.

But Gonzalez isn’t the only one to jump into the race. Shortly after Coakley-Rivera’s announcement, Forest Park resident and political Independent Sal Circosta told the Advocate that he, too, plans to run for the seat.

The 28-year-old Circosta, who ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 3 City Council seat last fall, is a member of the Army National Guard, runs education programs at St. John the Evangelist Church in Agawam and works for his father’s roofing business. He’s also a member of the city’s Community Police Hearing Board. He owned a bakery café at the X, where he hosted regular community forums, before closing shop late last year.

If he’s elected, Circosta said, his top priorities would include improving the quality of life in the city—he noted, in particular, conditions in the North End, with its poorly maintained streets and many boarded-up buildings—as well as economic development. The large amount of investment coming to the 10th Hampden—renovations to Union Station and plans to rebuild I-91, not to mention MGM’s proposed casino in the South End—creates major opportunities for the district, and a major responsibility for its state rep to make sure projects are done well and benefit residents, he said. He also spoke of the need to attract and retain more businesses, including “mom-and-pop” operations, and to attract more young professionals to the city’s downtown.

What effect does Circosta think a casino would have on the city? “There’s a sense of unpredictability with it, just because it’s such a unique proposal and a unique city,” he said. “There are going to be naysayers out there, and I understand that. I’m a very cautious person. I want to make sure decisions are made for the best of the people, not for the best of a big company.” That includes making sure businesses or residents who are displaced by the project receive the support they need to relocate, he said.

It also means working to make sure the casino wouldn’t be a “little dome in the city,” but rather part of a larger economic plan whose benefits are felt throughout Springfield. “I think the city needs to be doing her part in making sure that we invest, just like MGM is going to invest, that we don’t become servants to MGM, in a sense,” Circosta said.

Circosta sounds undaunted about facing, in Gonzalez, an opponent who’s already received the blessing of the outgoing legislator. “If it’s not hard, sometimes it’s not worth doing,” he said.

Still, he considers Coakley-Rivera’s move “a slap in the face to democracy” and suggested the incumbent should have stepped back from the race to succeed her and instead let voters lead the way. “I hope the people of Springfield in the 10th District see that. It has politics written all over it. That’s politics as usual in this area,” Circosta said.

“I’m an outsider. I’m not in politics,” he continued. “I work at a church; I work for my dad’s roofing company hauling shingles up roofs in 90-degree weather. I’m not sitting in the air conditioning talking about who owes whom a favor. … This backdoor, old-boy machine network politics is not going to work for me. It’s completely unfair to my constituents.”

At deadline, it had yet to be determined if a special election will be held or if the 10th Hampden seat will remain vacant until the regular election in November.• —MT

Students to Stop and Shop: Label GMO Foods

UMass students organized by MassPIRG delivered 380 petitions from their fellow students to Super Stop and Shop in Hadley March 8. The petitions ask the popular grocery chain to label its house products to show when they contain genetically manipulated components. The students said it’s time for Stop and Shop to join Whole Foods, which agreed to label products with GMO ingredients a year ago.

“Whole Foods took a big step, and it’s time for Stop and Shop to deliver for its customers,” said Sarah Schomp (pictured, second from left), a sophomore at UMass who is GMO campaign coordinator for MassPIRG. “Polls consistently show more than 90 percent of the public supports labeling.”

Earlier that same week, two major grocery chains, Kroger and Safeway, joined Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target in pledging not to carry genetically engineered salmon even if the federal Food and Drug Administration approves it for sale. And the makers of Cheerios and Grape Nuts announced earlier this winter that they were removing GMO elements from those classic cereals.• —SK

Author: Advocate staff

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