Thursday, March 8, 2012

"C'mon and take your best shot
Let me see what you got
Bring on your wrecking ball"
-Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen's new release, "Wrecking Ball" (Columbia Records) has been hailed in many circles as one of the better new releases of 2012. The song "Wrecking Ball" is about the demolition of Giants_Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, or as one might say, "somewhere in the swamps Jersey".
As with most of the gentrification of these United States, the City of Elgin is no stranger to the destruction of the wrecking ball. Take a look at any older picture of downtown Elgin and you will see the landscape of this urban city dramatically different than what you see today.

The most significant building in Elgin to suffer the wrath of the wrecking ball was the Elgin National Watch Factory. The Elgin National Watch Factory (on National Street) was in operation from 1867 to the early 1960's. It was the premier watch manufacturer in the world. Over 1 million watches were produced at the factory. Over half of the pocket watches produced in the United States were manufactured at the Watch Factory. To tie some music into this, the Robert_Johnson recording "Walkin Blues" mentions an Elgin Watch, "She's got Elgin movements from her head down to her toes." We can count foreign competition, like the themes of some Springsteen songs, as the main culprit for the Watch Factory's demise.

The photo above is an actual Elgin pocket watch (placed on the Springsteen album cover "Wrecking Ball") from around 1948. It is a "Railroad" watch. Railroad watches had to be calibrated to such precise times that trains and their conductors could run their train schedules around these watches.
Here is the Elgin Watch Factory in it's hey day. Today, if you are familiar with the Elgin Grand Victoria Casino, the GVC is just to the left of this picture on Grove St.

The wrecking ball came to the watch factory beginning in the summer of 1966. These photos here are from the E.C. Alft's book, "Old Elgin: A Pictorial History". The Watch Factory clock tower had a face and hands that rivaled the size of London's "Big Ben". Its almost criminal the powers that be of Elgin didn't at least have the foresight to at least preserve the Tower. They did not.

"All of our victories and glories have turned to parking lots" -Bruce Springsteen "Wrecking Ball"

The Watch Factory land, more or less, stood vacant until a shopping center was built in the mid-1980's. Much of the soil under the factory had to be eradicated because of radium. In fact, the layout of the parking lot is in such a way to encapsulate whatever radium that may have remained. Today a Butera Grocery store and several other strip mall type stores occupy the Watch Factory grounds.

To see a fantastic exhibit on the Elgin Watch Factory visit the Elgin Historical Society at 360 Park St. in Elgin. In it is an actual hour hand from the Tower.

Find Bruce Springsteen's new record "Wrecking Ball" at Rediscover Records. Here is Springsteen performing "Wrecking Ball"