Friday December 13, 2013 | 08:02 AM

The Bayside neighborhood is in the news this week as city planners get ready to vote on final approvals for an ambitious redevelopment on long-vacant railyards along Somerset Street. Randy Billings had a good overview of the neighborhood's history and past redevelopment efforts on the cover of Monday's paper, and along with it we ran an old aerial photo of the neighborhood from around 1960, part of our new "Flashback" feature in which we share old negatives from the newspaper's archives at the Portland Public Library. The library has actually made prints of more than a dozen of these aerial photos and they're on view on the walls of the second floor reading room. 

That photo came from a large-format negative, which gives the picture an amazing level of detail — as you zoom in on the interactive version here, you can make out individual business names on buildings throughout the neighborhood.  And a look at those businesses from 50 years ago offers some intriguing insights about the past half-century's economic changes. 

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Recycling was big business in 1960.  I counted eight city blocks filled with mountainous piles of junk in the 1960 photo. In addition to the open-air scrapyards there's also a warehouse on the corner of Marginal Way and Preble Street with a sign that says "WILLIAM GOODMAN WASTE PAPER". Two blocks away on Hanover Street (visible in the lower left corner) is a huge auto scrapyard behind a triple-decker with a "CENTURY TIRE CO." sign.
  • There are lots of empty lots. In 1960, most of Marginal Way passed through empty meadows, even though someone went to a lot of expense to fill in that land and push back the banks of Back Cove. And Interstate 295 doesn't exist yet, either: its future route is still watery in 1960.
  • There were a lot more homes. Residential neighborhoods along Lancaster and Franklin Streets extended far into Bayside. A number of homes shared fences with the scrapyards. Most of these neighborhoods were bulldozed for the construction of Franklin Street. 

Today, only one of those scrapyards is still in business: E. Perry Iron and Metal on Lancaster Street. The waste paper warehouse building is still there on the corner of Marginal Way and Preble Street, but now it's occupied by Trader Joe's.

The buildings of another scrapyard visible in the distance have been re-occupied by Bunker Brewing and Tandem Coffee Roasters. Century Tire is still in the same spot, but most of the junkyard has been replaced by a U.S. Postal Service warehouse. And even though we've gained some new empty lots since 1960, developers have constructed more than a dozen multi-story apartment and office buildings along Marginal Way and in the blocks behind City Hall since the year 2000.

The state as a whole has transitioned from a manufacturing economy to one that's more oriented towards services like health care and retail, and what's happened in Bayside reflects those changes in a single neighborhood. The Bayside of 1960 was mostly dedicated to relatively low-value manufacturing industries. Judging by the overgrown waterfront lots it seems safe to assume that land values were low. The Bayside of 2013, on the other hand, is more valuable and more diversified, with retail services, medical offices, breweries, coffee roasters and restaurants mixed in among a few surviving vestiges of the industrial past. 

 

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I'm an economics wonk and an online content producer for the Portland Press Herald.

You can get in touch with me by emailing cmilneil [at] mainetoday.com, or by calling 791-6307, or by following @vigorousnorth. Also check out my business and economics list on Twitter.

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