PORTLAND — When Phil Thompson was a child in the 1920s, the West End was mainly farmland, he said. That was before J.B. Brown built himself a home in the middle of the field, triggering other well-heeled businessmen and professionals to follow suit.

The 95-year-old Thompson, who grew up on State Street and now lives on West Street, fondly recalls going to dances and playing pick-up games with his friends from Portland High School.

“We’d take any vacant lot and play football on it,” Thompson said, noting that Dudley Weed Drug Co. was a popular neighborhood spot for ice cream.

“Of course, in the wintertime, Deering Oaks skating brought a lot of people together,” he said.

It’s memories like these that the city and the Maine Historical Society hope to collect at a series of four forums focused on the West End, Bayside, East Bayside and Libbytown. All four forums will be held at the Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St.

The first forum, on the West End, will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The second, on Wednesday, will focus on Bayside, while forums on July 31 and Aug. 1 will deal with East Bayside and Libbytown, respectively.

Organizers are seeking accounts of “the hilarious, the ridiculous, the mundane, and more,” according to a news release.

The “Meeting Place” project is spearheaded by the city-based nonprofit Art at Work. The project’s aim to increase neighborhood awareness, pride and participation through art.

Meeting Place is part of a larger Gateway Arts Project, which is funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and will feature collected stories, photos, block carvings and poetry during community-wide open houses on Sept. 22 and 29.

Events in September will be held at businesses, churches, mosques and schools throughout each community, according to Marty Pottenger, Portland’s Art at Work director.

“It’s community development with art at the heart,” Pottenger said.

But Meeting Place is about more than creating art for a single event, she said, it’s true aim is invigorate community involvement, especially through neighborhood associations.

“Meeting Place is about building new relationships and deepening relationships,” Pottenger said. “The neighborhoods are pretty diverse and that’s not reflected in the neighborhood associations.”

Over the past year, Art at Work has been holding monthly community art workshops, Pottenger said. And East Bayside residents recently planted sunflowers throughout their neighborhood as a way to interact with one another.

“By September, East Bayside should be covered in these beautiful yellow sunflowers that are 3-feet tall,” she said.

The upcoming forums have sparked the interest of Louis Savard, a 68-year-old Davis Street resident who has spent his entire life in Libbytown. He learned about the streets as a child by delivering the Evening Express and the Sunday Telegram newspapers, he said.

Savard said he remembers when Interstate 295 was built, gobbling up parts of Douglass, Little Douglass, Wood, Bristol and Lowell streets.

He also recalls the fields and hills where kids would play and go sliding, but now that area is the site of a Clarion Hotel.

“We played hard down there,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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Twitter: @randybillings