September 21, 2012

Seven Portland historic sites are in 'peril,' advocates say

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

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The Masonic Temple building on Congress Street in Portland

2009 Staff File Photo

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House Island in Casco Bay

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The Abyssinian Meeting House on Newbury Street in Portland

2009 Staff File Photo

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The Grand Trunk building on India Street in Portland.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The Portland Company complex sprawls on Fore Street in Portland

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Eastern Cemetery on Mountfort Street in Portland

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The old Maine National Guard Armory building on Broadway

2007 Staff File Photo

 


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