Who Was Walter B. Smith?

This week’s City Council agenda includes the following motion by Councilor Marty Lorrey: Req. City Mgr. work with proper department and organization to rename area of former Warren Street parking lot for Walter B. Smith who had lot named after him before replacement by parking garage and hotel.

So, what’s the story?

chimney

When the 110-foot brick chimney began to topple, Frank Robillard and Daniel Fanick were able to jump out of the way. Their co-worker, Walter Brendan Smith, was not as fortunate.

Crushed beneath tons on bricks, he died instantly. According to Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph D. Sweeney, Smith suffered inter-cranial injuries, a fracture at the base of his skull, a compound fracture of his pelvis, as well as a fractured arm, jaw and thigh.

walterSmith was 23-years-old. He left behind a  2-year-old daughter (Sandra); his wife, who collapsed when told of her husband’s death, was pregnant with their son (Brendan) at the time.

On the morning of Saturday May 5, 1956, Smith, was working for Lowell Building Wrecking Company, demolishing the vacant Gilet Carbonizing Company mills on Warren Street.

The mill complex was built by Belgian immigrant James Gilet, who brought the Flemish and Belgian methods of textile weaving to Lowell. The company went out of business on June 1, 1954.

The city awarded the $29,000 demolition contract to Lowell Building Wrecking to make way for a 600-space parking lot.

On October 22, 1957, the City Council voted unanimously to name the new parking lot in honor of Smith. The motion was made by Councilor John Dukeshire. Councilor Raymond Lord had made a motion requesting the lot be named for Gilet, but upon hearing Smith’s family wanted the lot named for him, Lord withdrew his motion.

Of course, as simple as this vote was, it did not come without politics.

Councilor Samuel Sampson took the opportunity to accuse City Manager Frank Barrett of being responsible for Smith’s death because he awarded the demolition contract to an inexperienced contractor who offered the cheapest price.

According to the October 23, 1957 Sun: “Sampson charged that negligence was the cause of the accident and that the man’s death was a condemnation of the city government.”

The Walter B. Smith Parking Lot was lost when the then-Hilton Hotel and the Lower Locks garage were built in the early 1980’s.

Lorrey, who grew up with the Smith kids, said he ran into Sandra at the April 27 fundraiser for local Boston Marathon bombing victims at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center. She mentioned the hotel stands where her dad’s parking lot once stood.

Lorrey decided it was not right for the city to forget the sacrifice made by Walter Brendan Smith . . . and so, a motion was born . . .

The City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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3 thoughts on “Who Was Walter B. Smith?

  1. I would like to thank Councilor Marty Lorrey for initiating this motion on behalf of my Dad and our family. He died at a young age…but having this parking lot renamed after him…will help us to remember he isn’t forgotten by the City of Lowell for the work he was doing.
    Thank you
    Mrs Sandra Lee Smith Houle

  2. (Dr.Joseph D. Sweeney was the Medical Examiner – Joseph J. Sweeney was a Lowell City Councillor, the acting Mayor in the early 1940s and a State Rep)

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