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November 10, 2012

2008 File Photo/John Patriquin

Portland’s Masonic Temple, whose interior can be seen at left, is on Greater Portland Landmarks’ first-ever list of Places in Peril.

Maine Voices: Preserving historic buildings pays off in immeasurable ways

By Robert H. Kahn, who chairs the Masonic Trustees of Portland

PORTLAND – Why should a person care about our old buildings? And why should we collectively, as citizens, care? Doesn't being old mean the end of usefulness and productive life?

Old historic buildings, much like the enchanting paintings by Winslow Homer now exhibiting at the Portland Museum of Art, unmistakably tell us something about who and what we were – what ideals and concepts of self-identity were important to people at a certain time and place.

But unlike people or paintings, buildings are rooted to land, property, real estate. And with that fixed position, a building becomes a force and is subject to natural and conceived forces in the environment in which it was designed and constructed. Recognizing buildings and places with the intent of preserving them for posterity is to recognize the connection and importance of our past as being a part of ourselves today and in the future.

It is hard for us today to comprehend the significance that the creation of buildings for commerce, manufacturing, culture, social or other uses had in times past. They were acts of community pride, aspirations, hopes and unification. They defined a community's place in the world and hold the memories of those who grew up with them, attended events there or were sheltered by or otherwise interacted with them.

With Greater Portland Landmarks' first-ever list of Places in Peril, this local historic preservation program has directed our attention to properties deemed important to the general public's interest and welfare.

The value of the buildings and places is not just for nostalgia. It is hard to think of any successful redeveloped area (with its associated increase in real estate value) of a downtown in this country that does not include historic preservation.

Investment in the preservation of buildings in Portland's downtown has played a central role in our city's elevated value, now recognized nationally and internationally. Any smart growth sustainability plan needs the proven strategy of preservation in order to increase opportunities and well- being within the community.

Speaking for our nominated building, the Masonic Temple of Portland, I am thankful for the Greater Portland Landmarks designation as an aid in our efforts to preserve this building, as I am thankful for support from the city of Portland and Maine Preservation. I am also sad that we find ourselves in this time of need, but I am hopeful that the Places in Peril nomination will direct attention toward this old building as a public resource.

The Masonic Temple building actually has two owners. The back section is owned by the Masonic Trustees of Portland. The Masonic Trustees of Portland is committed to preserving and upgrading our part of this fine old building while intensifying public use.

Recently, the Masonic Temple has been a venue for both private and nonprofit events. The building is now more than 100 years old, and both its exterior and interior elegance are beneficial to Portland and the Arts District of which it is part. The interiors are arguably unmatched in their uniqueness north of Boston. These spaces are proving an asset to our downtown cultural and social environment.

While maintaining the historic beauty of our space, the Masonic Trustees of Portland wants to upgrade the interiors to encourage and allow increased public activities within. In order to accomplish this, a new and separate 501(c)3 tax-deductible nonprofit organization has been established – the Masonic Temple Foundation.

The Masonic Temple Foundation is separate from the Masonic Trustees of Portland and is dedicated to the preservation and increased public use of the Masonic Temple. We welcome interest and support from our community.

The Places in Peril program recognizes the value of what significant endangered buildings and places mean to Greater Portland, both the sacred and profane: individual and collective memories of who we are and the future economic benefits of development.

 

- Special to the Press Herald





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