Every revered building in Portland was new once. That’s an important thing for people to remember when they evaluate a proposed new theater in Portland’s Munjoy Hill.
The design, a geometric box planned for the corner of Congress and Munjoy streets, is certainly not going to remind anyone of the ornate St. Lawrence Church which stood on that spot until 2008. But there is nothing wrong with a bold, modern design in what is a fairly eclectic neighborhood.
That is not the response members of the city’s Historic Preservation Committee will expect to hear tonight from some in the neighborhood at a public hearing at the East End Community School.
There will likely be reasonable complaints about parking and traffic, which is to be expected in a very densely settled neighborhood. But judging from the informational meeting last week, they will also hear some angry responses to the building’s modern design, described as “fascist” by one of the neighbors.
Any time someone compares neighborhood art centers to totalitarian dictatorships we know they have entered the realm of unreality. When those words come spilling out, everyone should stop and take a deep breath.
Although there are some failed modern buildings in town, that doesn’t mean that everything has to be covered with red brick to fit in Portland. The Friends of the St. Lawrence are setting out to build a new landmark, and people should imagine how this new building would grow with the city over the decades.
Neighbors who have been around for a while should remember what the neighborhood was like before the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center took over the empty and neglected church property and turned it into one of the city’s most active theaters.
And the proposed modern addition would not replace the old church. It would replace a vacant lot that has been in the church’s place for four years, an eyesore for the neighborhood. Neighbors should come to the process with an open mind as this plan moves forward.