When this photo was taken in June of 1998, the old Building 5 warehouse at Bug Light Park had been removed the year before, but it would still be another year before the park would be loamed, graded and seeded. About 20 years later, Bug Light Park is now a landmark destination in South Portland. South Portland Historical Society photoEven in the winter, Bug Light Park is a gem in South Portland. For those new to our city, it might be hard to fathom that the park is relatively new. Going back to 1941, you could motor around in your boat on the site that is now a recreational destination. The park was created on filled land, land that was created during World War II when the US Maritime Commission wanted more land on which to expand the shipyard. The large rocks, known as riprap, along the water’s edge are the only evidence that you are on filled, not natural, land. That riprap is needed to ensure that the ocean’s tides don’t erode the land and reclaim the cove.

Over the last month, I’ve covered the history of many of the businesses that operated in the shipyard area in the post-war years. Last week’s column had a photograph of the old Building 5, the hangar-looking building that General Electric was using that was located on the land just adjacent to Bug Light.

After GE closed down its heat transfer products division here in 1983, that huge building sat vacant for many years on the site that was considered an eyesore. Patches of old asphalt, weeds, foundations of former buildings – the land had the look of an industrial wasteland when it all went up for sale. In 1995, Irving Oil was actively looking at the land on our east end as a possible site for a new terminal where it would build up to 19 fuel storage tanks.

Some local residents, calling themselves Concerned Citizens of South Portland, decided that the land on the waterfront would be better suited as a public park. One of the leaders of the group was local resident Kay Loring who put in countless hours to find a way to make it possible.

It took some creativity and ended in a combined effort to acquire the land. The city council sent to voters a $996,000 bond issue to purchase one of the giant waterfront lots that was put up for sale by Spring Point Associates (one of its partners was Al Glickman); voters approved the bond issue in June 1996.

The public funding was matched by a $400,000 donation from the Greater Portland Public Development Commission. Portland Pipe Line Corporation also came to the rescue by coming up with close to $1 million to purchase the two adjacent lots (totaling roughly five acres) in December, 1996, and agreeing to allow the city to use part of that land for the park, as well.

In 1997, after considering the possible renovation of the old Building 5 warehouse to become a recreational facility, the City Council decided instead to demolish the building. At its meeting on May 19, 1997, the council awarded the bid for demolition and removal of the building to R.J. Grondin & Sons. Although it was a somewhat controversial decision at the time, I think with hindsight we would all agree that having that land as a green space has proven to be a far better use.

At its meeting on January 20, 1999, the city council awarded the bid to A.H. Grover, Inc., for the work of creating the park. To save the expense of having the concrete foundation of the former Building 5 removed, the City instructed the contractor to simply loam and seed over the site. According to A.H. Grover, Inc., in addition to loaming over that foundation, they also graded the park so that there would be a sloped hill (toward the driveway to the parking lot) which would create seating for an outdoor amphitheater.

The parking lot near the lighthouse was created in the shape of a deck of a Liberty Ship (which is why the lot narrows on the “bow” side facing the lighthouse). The Liberty Ship Memorial was added later, in 2001. We have Bob Blackwood and Fred Thompson to thank for spearheading that effort to have a permanent memorial in the park to recognize the significant role that South Portland and the shipyard workers played in the shipbuilding effort of World War II.

Note to readers: South Portland Historical Society’s museum is now closed for the winter, however the society remains active with its staff and volunteers working on collecting, documenting and cataloging our local history, and starting work on a new museum exhibit. If you need to reach us in the winter, just give us a call at 207-767-7299, email to [email protected], or visit us on Facebook at South Portland Historical Society. The Online Museum is also available; you can link to that through our website at www.sphistory.org.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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