before
after

The site of the proposed first phase of the 'midtown' development in Bayside at the corner of Somerset Street and Pearl Street.

Architectural rendering courtesy of The Federated Companies; photo by Gordon Chibroski, Staff Photographer.

December 9, 2013

Building on history in Bayside

An ambitious development in a neighborhood with an unsettled past could face a key vote Tuesday.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

For the last 50 years, residents and city officials have struggled to remake Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

Today's poll: Bayside neighborhood

Should the Portland Planning Board approve a plan for four high-rise buildings and two parking garages on city-owned land on Somerset Street?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

The proposed site of the first phase of the midtown development, viewed down Somerset Street toward Chestnut Street. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services building on Marginal Way is at right.

Photo by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

This circa 1960 photo shows Portland’s Bayside neighborhood looking east, before the construction of Interstate 295.

1960 Press Herald file

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While many want it to be a shiny gateway to the city, it’s still trapped in the shadow of its industrial heritage.

The struggle will continue on Tuesday when the Planning Board could approve a master plan for four high-rise buildings, retail space and two parking garages on city-owned land along Somerset Street. Construction would begin early next year on the first phase, a 15-story tower of market-rate apartments and a 705-car garage, said Greg Shinberg, the local representative for the Miami-based developer, The Federated Cos.

The proposal has divided a neighborhood already at a crossroads. One side desires small, incremental change, while others hope the ambitious project will prove to be a silver bullet.

It wouldn’t be the first transformation for Bayside.

“It’s an area of the city that – since its inception – has always been an area of change,” said state historian Earle Shettleworth.

THE BEGINNING

Bayside is roughly 100 acres bounded by Marginal Way, Franklin Street, Cumberland Avenue and Forest Avenue. It’s nestled between Interstate 295 and downtown, making it a gateway to the city.

Much of Bayside didn’t exist until the mid-1800s, when Charles Q. Clapp, a local developer, began filling in Back Cove with earth taken from Munjoy Hill.

Before that, Back Cove nearly reached up to Oxford Street and into Deering Oaks. The Deering Bridge, which no longer exists, spanned an estuary that is now Forest Avenue.

Clapp filled in about 11 acres north of Oxford Street in 1850 with the vision of building piers and a dam, Shettleworth said. The steep banks overlooking Washington Avenue are a testament to that effort, he said.

Most of Bayside today was in a section of Back Cove filled with debris from the Great Fire of 1866 – which burned most of the Old Port. More fill was added in the 1960s to build Interstate 295.

A rail yard was built along Somerset Street shortly after the area was filled, and a street car ran along Oxford Street.

ERA OF STABILITY

Over the decades, Bayside established two identities. It was an industrial center of Maine – connected to immigrant labor and a relatively large and active rail line and seaport. It was also a burgeoning melting pot of new Americans – a diversity that is still reflected there today.

Bayside, which has also become known as West Bayside, was the industrial zone, with foundries, lumber companies, soldering shops and junkyards.

East Bayside was a lower middle class neighborhood where immigrants settled. It spans from Franklin Street to Washington Avenue.

The Irish were among the first to settle there, followed by Scandinavians in the 1880s, Eastern Europeans in the 1890s and more recently African and Middle East refugees.

“It all became a melting pot after 1900,” Shettleworth said, noting the arrival of Jews, Italians and Greeks.

URBAN DECLINE

The landscape changed in the 1960s when roughly 155 buildings were demolished to make way for Franklin Arterial and the housing project now known as Kennedy Park. Also built in the 1960s was the 16-story Franklin Tower on Cumberland Avenue.

Another 110 homes and businesses were demolished as part of the city’s “slum clearance” program.

The lack of homeowners and increase in social services, such as homeless shelters, made Bayside a rough neighborhood through much of the 1980s and 1990s. Some buildings were abandoned and became frequent hangouts for the homeless and vagrants.

Rob Spinella, however, saw potential and bought a house on Cumberland Avenue nearly 20 years ago. He now owns three buildings and is an active member of the community.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Bayside neighborhood

Should the Portland Planning Board approve a plan for four high-rise buildings and two parking garages on city-owned land on Somerset Street?

Yes

No

View Results