Ronald Mason | Creature of Kingston
Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, has fallen on hard times. It used to be a great city. As a born Kingstonian, I can attest to its former glory. I was born under the clock at Half-Way Tree when the clock struck 3 a.m. I was born at 1 Molynes Road, now a commercial area.
The current conversation of restoring the city has sparked my interest and multiple memories. There was a time when we had professional cycle racing every Friday night at Town Moore, complete with its characters and gambling. Where was Town Moore, you may ask? Well, the western boundary of Heroes Park, formerly known as Queen Elizabeth Park, formerly Race Course.
The character most noteworthy was the announcer for each race. "Two, two to go, get up in the saddle," he said, encouraging the contesting riders to give their best effort. The spectators joined in the "two, two to go" call. Excitement built. Fortunes made, fortunes lost, race after race.
All the vendors, all the bars from Torrington Bridge to Cross Roads, did well. The public was entertained and the favourite riders were hailed. The Blissetts readily come to mind. They had a bicycle business, so they came prepared. That was life on a Friday night in wonderful Kingston.
The capital city has always been distinguished by its food establishments. Miss Ivy's in Kingston Gardens, Tom's on Tower Street, Kinkaid's catering to the insurance types when all the life insurance companies were downtown. The best southern fried chicken could be had on Church Street, near to Barry Street, served by an Indian waitress dressed in bandanna skirt and headscarf. I also remember Steele's Bakery on North Street, Dairy Farmers for all the ice cream treats, and the upscale restaurant at the pier at the King Street wharf.
Let us fondly recall the cafeteria found upstairs Nathan's Department Store at Barry Street and King Street intersection. The view of the promenade down King Street on a Saturday afternoon was always so spectacular. The young ladies there always looked more beautiful than at any other place, and they were very aware of it.
Churches have dominated the landscape of the capital city. The Jewish synagogue at the corner of Charles and Duke streets has remained an active place of worship for more than 300 years with its floor of sand. Yes, the floor is made of loose sand. Holy Cathedral at North Street, in all its magnificence; the Seventh-day Adventist place of worship on North Street, still operational in the deep inner city; East Queen Street Baptist Church. The male vocal group at East Queen Street Baptist Church always provided an exceptional rendition of 'Jerusalem' for more years than should be normal.
Scotts Kirk always had magnificent musical concerts highlighted by their pipe organ and choir, all year round. Other churches of interest include Coke Methodist at East Parade, right across from St William Grant Park; City Mission on Blount Street; the Moravian Church on Princess Street with its well-tuned pipe organ. I was fortunate to have heard that organ at its very best. I knew the Family of the Nations of Bowry Road whose business it was to repair pipe organs. I accompanied them on many occasions while they repaired and transformed the organ. After repair and testing, a sweeter sound was never heard.
Within a couple of metres from the said church are two very well-known sites, namely, the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. My late mother was trained as a nurse and worked there, so you will understand that it had a special influence in my formative years.
I was on the scene and, though too young to grasp the significance, saw KPH perform miracles at the time of the Kendal rail disaster. At the time, it was reported as the third worst rail disaster in the world. KPH accommodated the crowds, the injured and the distressed who suffered from a lack of information on their loved ones. Remember that the rail excursion was organised by St Anne's Church, located a stone's throw away from KPH. The caring of a city was on full display.
Another neighbourhood occupant was Steele's Bakery, producing the very best sugar buns and coffee strips that spread their aroma and taste far and wide. Does anyone make those coffee strips today?
Growing up in the city attending basic, primary and high schools, I became aware residents and commuters were the recipients of a mellowing influence. Hope Gardens band concerts, swimming in the harbour at Gun Boat Beach; cricket, Champs and football, all at Sabina Park, Rockfort Mineral Bath, Knutsford Park horse racing, the multiple lignum vitae plants and beautiful, tasty fruits found on the Liguanea Plains along with all the green areas in Meadowbrook, Dunrobin and Race Course.
Just think how the loss of these have made the existence of citizens diminished, and now they want to further destroy Kingston by turning Heroes Park into a concrete jungle. Can City Kingston ever be restored to some semblance of its former glory?