HAVERHILL — The heroes and characters of comics such as Superman and Dick Tracy, Garfield, Charlie Brown and of course Haverhill's own Archie Andrews and his gang could be just what the city has been looking for.
Various ideas have been floated around for reusing the vacant downtown Woolworth building, including as a book store, a cultural and performing arts center, which seems to be a favorite idea among potential buyers, and even tearing it down and creating a riverfront park.
But Josh Hrehovcik of Bradford said it would perfect for a comics hall of fame, as well as a performing arts center.
After all, he said, Haverhill was the inspiration for Riverdale in the "Archie'' comics series created by Bob Montana, who attended Haverhill High School in the late 1930s. Hrehovcik's family ties to Haverhill date back to the late 1930s, when Montana began basing his Archie's gang characters on real people who attended Haverhill High School at that time.
"Having something as unique as a comics hall of fame in Haverhill would attract comics fans from all over the world," said Hrehovcik, (pronounced "hero'-check). "It could put Haverhill on the map as a world-class tourist destination, like the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland."
The building, considered by many to be Haverhill's leading eyesore, has sat vacant at the corner of Merrimack and Main streets since F.W. Woolworth Co. closed it in the 1960s. The Greater Haverhill Foundation bought the building in 2005 for $1.4 million.
Hrehovcik said he's shown his father's drawing to people throughout the community, including James Jajuga, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce — which has been helping to market the property. Jajuga says he likes Hrehovcik's idea.
"It would be a heck of a draw and an eye catching attraction for that corner," Jajuga said.
He said potential buyers have expressed interest in turning the Woolworth building into a performing arts center, and that Hrehovciki's idea isn't that far off base.
"The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield is a big attraction, as is the Children's Museum in Exeter," Jajuga said. "People are looking for places to take their children and I think this would strike a chord. It's kind of unique."
Hrehovcik says his wife, Christine Kelley, came up with the idea when they were driving through the downtown earlier this year.
Since 2008, Hrehovcik and his father Steve Hrehovcik of Kennebunk, Maine, have been producing a travel comedy series called "Intrepid Travels with Bruce McToose," which first aired on a public broadcasting station in Maine.
It was his dad who drew a rendition of what a comics hall of fame might look like.
"My wife and I were so impressed with the drawing that we started showing it around town to friends," Josh Hrehovcik said.
They brought it to Team Haverhill's Possible Dreams conference in February, where it was met with enthusiasm. Team Haverhill is a volunteer community group that works to make Haverhill a better place to live, work, play and learn.
"I think it's great that people like Josh are proposing very interesting and potentially viable ideas for the use of the Woolworth building," said Erik Karlstad, a member of Team Haverhill. "Speaking as an individual, the Woolworth building as it is now is an unfortunate symbol of the past."
Hrehovcik said the challenges he faces in getting the deteriorated Woolworth building converted to a hall of fame are "more numerous that I'd care to think about," but he isn't giving up.
"As Wayne Gretzky once said, '100 percent of the shots you don't take, you don't make,'" he said of the pro hockey great. "I think this is worth a shot."
Hrehovcik's family has ties to Haverhill dating back to 1939, when his grandparents Cosmo and Alice Dispenza moved to the city from Pennsylvania along with their children Carol and Louis.
"My grandfather was a machinist and came here to work at one of the many shoe factories that existed at that time," he said.
"I visited my grandparents every weekend from 1970 until I got married and moved here from Maine in 1996," Hrehovcik said. "I've seen Haverhill through many different eras, and I do remember when the downtown was a vibrant, diverse and happening place."
He recalls the bustle of shoppers coming and going from downtown shops such as Mitchell's and W.T. Grants.
"I still hear stories from my family about shopping in downtown Haverhill for record albums, clothes, shoes, and sitting at the soda fountain at Woolworths."
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.