PORTLAND – Seven historically significant properties in the Portland area are in “peril” because they are for sale without significant preservation restrictions or due to neglect, Greater Portland Landmarks said Thursday.
The organization listed five buildings: The Portland Company complex on Fore Street, the Abyssinian Meeting House on Newbury Street, the Grand Trunk office building on India Street, the Portland Masonic Temple Grand Lodge on Congress Street and the Maine National Guard Armory in South Portland.
Two other sites on the inaugural “Places in Peril” list are House Island in Casco Bay and Eastern Cemetery at the base of Munjoy Hill.
All seven sites are “at a tipping point,” said Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks.
She said the list was released to call the public’s attention to places that are at imminent risk of being lost or altered considerably.
Bassett said the list was compiled from nominations from city officials, developers, preservationists and others, with the final seven chosen by a Greater Portland Landmarks committee.
“In some cases, people aren’t aware of (the) significance” of the sites, she said, so greater recognition of the potential for losing the buildings or sites should spur public action and focus Greater Portland Landmarks’ efforts.
The Portland Company complex and House Island are for sale, and new owners would have few, if any, legal barriers to tearing down or significantly altering the structures there, Bassett said.
n Phineas Sprague, owner of The Portland Company site, said no barriers are needed in his case.
“Clearly, the buildings are historic. We understand that, and that’s why we’ve been taking care of them,” Sprague said, so for him, a lack of legal restrictions doesn’t mean that anything goes.
Portland’s master plan for the eastern end of the waterfront calls for historic buildings to be preserved, although Greater Portland Landmarks said there are few legal restrictions.
Still, tearing down the historic buildings “is unacceptable,” Sprague said. “It would be unacceptable to the community.”
n On the other hand, Karen Lannon, who owns House Island with her brother, Harold Cushing, said the siblings won’t accept any restrictions on what a new owner could do with the 24-acre island, which has been on the market for $4.9 million since June.
“I’m one that believes that if you don’t own it, you don’t control it, and my brother has the same thinking,” said Lannon, whose mother bought the island nearly 60 years ago to block a plan to demolish Fort Scammon and use some of its granite to build a breakwater.
“Mom bought it to keep the fort from being torn down,” said Lannon, who rents out the island for weddings, lobster bakes and other events.
“Mom always believed you can’t have tomorrow without yesterday. She was a preservationist before it was the thing to do.”
Lannon said she and her brother looked into selling the island to a land trust but couldn’t work out anything, so they put it up for sale.
“We’ve owned it all this time with no restriction and we’re going to follow through (on its sale) with no restrictions,” she said.
n Keith Cook, building manager for the Portland Masonic Temple Grand Lodge, bristled at the “in peril” label for the 101-year-old building.
“It’s like throwing it out there like the building is ready to close,” he said.
Greater Portland Landmarks said the building needs “significant funding” for repairs because of “extensive deferred maintenance” and it lacks a master plan for future use.
But Cook said the building needs “just basic little-bitty maintenance items.”
The Masonic lodge recently set up a tax-exempt foundation to raise money for restoration efforts.
Cook said there are leaks on all six floors that need to be fixed, and the lodge hasn’t yet come up with an estimate of the cost of repairs.
n The city, which owns Eastern Cemetery, recently adopted a master plan to fix up the nearly 7-acre cemetery, said Troy Moon, Portland’s environmental programs and open space manager.
He did not dispute Greater Portland Landmarks’ characterization of the cemetery as neglected and beset by vandals. Moon said the master plan will be used as a guide for future funding of cemetery improvements.
n The Abyssinian Meeting House, an 1828 building that is one of the oldest African-American meeting houses still standing, made the list despite a restoration project that has been going on for 13 years.
Greater Portland Landmarks said “enormous progress has been made,” but the Abyssinian Meeting House was included on the list because the restoration project will require about $1 million in additional funding to complete.
Leonard Cummings, who is helping to lead the project, said a capital campaign will begin next year and volunteers are dedicated to finishing the restoration and construction of a museum inside the building, even if it takes four or five more years.
“It will happen. The project all along has operated with very little cash,” Cummings said. “We’re committed to doing it, to completing it.”
n The National Guard Armory is the newest building on the list, dating to 1941.
Greater Portland Landmarks said it’s at a significant intersection at the base of the Casco Bay Bridge and is a prime example of Art Deco style, including keystones carved with images of tanks, bullets and grenades.
The military stopped using the building 16 years ago.
The armory was bought by the city of South Portland in 2006, but it hasn’t been well maintained, Greater Portland Landmarks said.
n The Grand Trunk railroad office building also has been poorly maintained, the group said. Bassett said some prospective buyers have been interested in the property, but it has a complicated ownership structure and further delays in selling it could leave it damaged beyond saving.
Sally Oldham, a member of Greater Portland Landmarks’ board, said the organization hasn’t determined how to handle the list — for instance, whether it will continue to include buildings and sites from previous years or add imperiled locations each year.
Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation, which has released a “most endangered list” for the past 15 years, said he believes that such compilations are useful.
“It calls to the public’s attention issues that they may have otherwise not been aware of,” and the list format is an easy way to do that, Paxton said.
“It’s a summary of some of the issues that are facing us in the field of historic preservation.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:
[email protected] Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, says the list was released to call the public’s attention to places that are at imminent risk of being lost or altered considerably.