— It was only 15 years ago that Pittsfields ship finally sank.
I can remember back to 1955 when the Allendale Shopping Center first opened. The $1.5 million complex was Pittsfield’s first big shopping alternative to North Street.
The center offered a large parking lot, a two-story Sears, Roebuck & Co., Grand Union Market, Neisner’s Five and Dime, Liggett’s Drugstore and more. Thirty-five years after the center’s inception, Allendale’s parking lot became the home of a ship; actually a ship sculpture.
Named the Sea Bee, the sculpture was 31 feet high and gave the impression that more than half of it was sinking underground. The artist, himself, always saw it as rising, a sign of hopefulness.
It was not without controversy. Many asked, “why would someone put a junky ship in a parking lot so far from the ocean?”
That someone was a man named David Bermant, president of National Shopping Centers, which owned the Allendale complex. He had commissioned Dustin Schuler, a California sculptor, to create Sea Bee.
Bermant was enthralled with Schuler’s unique artistic approach to recycling items into modern art sculptures. In one of his other shopping centers in Berwyn, Ill., Bermant commissioned Schuler to create “Spindle,” a 50-foot high spike with eight automobiles impaled on it, including Bermant’s own BMW.
Schuler fashioned Sea Bee from the hull of a 40-year-old fueler used in a Boston fishing fleet.
After Bermant’s death in 2000, Allendale Shopping Center was sold to Lamar Cos. for $5.6 million. The new owners decided that they did not want to maintain the sculpture and had a better use for the six parking spaces occupied by Sea Bee.
Having grown accustomed to this parking lot behemoth over its 12-year span, many community members were sad to hear it would be razed. The new owners tried to sell it, but since they got no takers, they gave it back to Dustin Schuler.
In September 2002, Schuler and a local company took a cutting torch to Sea Bee and made a more intimate, smaller, 8-foot version. The artist had it shipped to the campus of Cal State University in Fullerton, Calif., at a cost of $15,000.
It is now on display behind the school’s library and has been visited by many from the Berkshires who remembered it well.
Before its departure locals paid tribute to Sea Bee by constructing a Halloween Parade float from the bow, and then accompanied it in the parade all decked out in pirate garb.
The owner of the steel yard where the original sculpture had been welded, took videos of the float. A small piece of the hull is mounted on the wall of the local company that helped dismantle it….