Operating a community newspaper for ten years has provided me with a unique opportunity to meet and interview some of the areas interesting and colorful individuals. Sometimes it’s a high ranking public official, but more times than not it’s the little guy toiling away from the limelight that snares my attention.
I’m particularly drawn to quiet people doing important things. They just go about their business without trying to draw any attention to themselves. I meet a lot of small business owners in the course of selling advertising space in the Observer, and when I’m dropping off papers once a month to the hundreds of distribution spots we have around greater Waterbury.
The converstaions are often pity parties as we commiserate about the difficulties of running a small business, or finding help that you can trust to do the job. Over the years I have learned a lot about the art of business from these talks, and I’ve made a few good friends along the way.
In April, one died of a heart attack.
Harry Rowe was the owner of The Big Dipper ice cream shop in Prospect and was just about the nicest man you’d ever want to meet. Every time I walked into his shop to talk about advertising he always took the time to pull up a chair and share his knowledge of owning and operating a business.
But the converstaions wouldn’t stop there.
Harry loved to talk about history and travel and dreamed of heading into the southwest to look for hidden gold. His eyes would sparkle with excitement and he’d laugh and say “I can’t wait to go.”
Harry loved to talk about the tangled web of politics and corruption, which in this area, gave Harry plenty to talk about. We also spent a lot of time these past few years talking about Harry’s new hot tub, and how he loved to soak his aching back at the end of the day.
History and politics were passions, but Harry was equally interested in my personal life and often doled out unsolictied advice about marriage and romance. His advice wasn’t meddlesome, he really cared.
Harry, with his wife Barbara, ran one of the really successful small businesses in the region. Everybody loves ice cream and Harry’s ice cream made people smile. And it wasn’t just good ice cream, Harry made the best ice cream in the state of Connecticut. His ice cream was always winning local and national recognition.
But Harry was more than ice cream. He was an exceedingly generous man who donated ice cream to charities, gave free cones to mop haired kids and built a business that in many ways acts as the gathering place in Prospect – a sort of modern day Green. Harry would bring his ice cram truck to school functions and he was truely a pillar in the Prospect community.
Harry Rowe’s death is a huge loss to his family, but there is a hole in greater Waterbury with his passing. They don’t make them like Harry Rowe very often. His was a life of community and laughter. He will be missed.
Another community minded individual passed away shortly after Harry, and his efforts here in Waterbury will reverberate for generations to come. That man was Domenic Temporale.
Dom single handidly kept the Palace Theatre alive during the 1970s and 1980s when the magnificent and decaying structure was targeted for demolition. Dom bought the Palace Theatre for $175,000 in 1970. He invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money in theatre renovations and dreamed of eventually fully restoring the theatre to its past grandeur.
While working on his plans Temporale continued to bring in big name acts to perform in downtown Waterbury, but also showed movies and staged rock concerts. In the 1970s Bob Dylan, Bruce Sprinsteen and Kiss all played the Palace.
Attempts to extinguish a fire in an adjacent building in 1987 caused massive water damage to the Palace and the theatre has been closed for the past 17 years.
Several attempts to purchase the theatre from Dom were rebuffed because the buyer didn’t intend to restore the theatre for community use. It was never about Dom, or money, it was always about the theatre. An attempt in 1994 to lease the theatre to the city was shot down in a highly contentious referendum and in the process Dom Temporale was vilified by some loudmouths who attempted to paint him as a money grubbing crook.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Dom Temporale was a quiet man of passion and conviction. He saw the Palace coming back to life. He knew it would help downtown Waterbury recapture its luster and could be the beating heart the city so desparately needed. His every move was geared towards restoring the Palace Theatre.
When the state proposed to invest $200 million on East Main Street revitalization, Dom and his sons attempted to negotiate a fair selling price for the Palace Theatre. They asked for $2 million and the Naugatuck Valley Development Corporation took the theatre by eminant domain and paid Dom $1 million. After 30 years of stewardship, Dom and his family felt stabbed in the back.
The state has now invested $30 million in renovating the Palace which is scheduled to open this coming autumn. And when the curtain rises again on the Palace Theatre stage, greater Waterbury should pause and thank the dogged efforts of Domenic Temporale. The Palace was his labor of love, and from his commitment and devotion has risen a $200 million downtown renovation project. The Palace is the centerpiece of the project and without Domenic Tempoale’s sense of community, none of it would have happened.