Greater Portland Landmarks is known for celebrating buildings – historic architecture, preservation and revitalization. But the nonprofit’s gala May 31 at Ocean Gateway focused on people – six Living Landmark Award recipients, including the organization’s 91-year-old co-founder Mary Lou Sprague.

“It’s a miracle to me to think there are so many people here,” Sprague said. “When I started, there may have been six.”

Sprague spoke about the shock in 1961 when Union Station was demolished where there’s now a strip mall on St. John Street in Portland. Three years later, she was among the small group of people who formed Greater Portland Landmarks to preserve the historic character of Portland.

“In the early 1960s, preservation had no voice,” said Living Landmark honoree Hilary Bassett. “People were stunned as a wrecking ball turned Union Station’s elegant granite bell tower to rubble. Families had to relocate as neighborhoods were torn down to make highways, as happened where Franklin Arterial is today. Landmarks’ Safford House was spared, but right next to it families lost homes.”

Bassett led the nonprofit as its executive director through the past 19 years – through the restoration of the Portland Observatory, moving to and restoring Safford House, identifying 26 Places in Peril and designating four historic districts: the Old Port, the West End, the Eastern Promenade and along Congress Street.

The other four Living Landmarks honored were board member Sally Oldham, who has been in the preservation movement since 1975, and her husband, Ted Oldham, an architect who photographed 20,000 properties in Portland for historical comparison; Anna Marie Thron, who updated financial systems; and real estate expert Greg Boulos, who helped Landmarks find its current home at Safford House.

“I believe that Landmarks’ growth is the result of the hard work, vision and support that our Living Landmarks have shared,” said board president Ed Gardner. “They have challenged us to think big, try new ideas, be strong advocates and strengthen our core activities.”

“I’ll definitely be involved supporting preservation efforts,” said Bassett, who was passing the torch to Sarah Hansen in the weeks after the gala. “It’s really a sincere passion.”

Over the years, Bassett welcomed 17 interns, including Hansen, a Yarmouth native who went on to direct preservation services for Maine Preservation and will be leading Greater Portland Landmarks.

“Hilary has been such a gracious leader,” Hansen said, “and I’m honored to be following her.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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