The power was out for several weeks on the top floors of Franklin Towers in August 2022. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The National Park Service has deemed Franklin Towers – Portland’s beleaguered high-rise public housing complex – “worthy of preservation and protection as part of the nation’s cultural heritage.”

Compared to the World War I-era Fort McKinley torpedo storehouse on Great Diamond Island, which also was named to the National Register of Historic Places this month, Franklin Towers is not the most obvious choice for historic preservation.

“The building is disgusting,” said David Caston Sr., who has lived at Franklin Towers for 15 years and considers himself an unofficial community watchman.

The complex is 55 years old and has been plagued with problems in recent years. Residents have said the building is neglected, and at least one recent inspection report noted non-life threatening health and safety deficiencies.

Brian Frost, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, which owns the building, said the move is not designed to honor the history of the building, but to help fund major upgrades.

Caston heartily agrees that the building needs work.


He says there are plumbing issues and random leaks. In 2022, the building drew notice after a storm knocked out the power for several weeks. At the time, residents complained of bug infestations, dirty hallways and only one working elevator, not to mention the lack of electricity.

The housing authority is in the planning stages of a large-scale redevelopment of the 16-story building on Cumberland Avenue that could cost $38 million to $45 million. The historic designation gives them access to tax credits that Frost said could shave off $9 million to $14 million.

Franklin Towers is home to about 215 low-income elderly and disabled people. In public housing, tenants pay 30% of their income toward rent. The current average monthly rent payment is about $385.

Dave Caston Sr. has lived at Franklin Towers for 15 years and considers himself an unofficial community watchman. He and another resident collect photos of the problems at the 16-story public housing complex. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Portland Housing Authority has only barely been able to keep the building’s major systems running, so there simply hasn’t been enough money for the “deep renovations and upgrades” that the building needs, Frost said.

The renovations will improve the tower’s energy efficiency with new windows, better ventilation and heating, and it also will just “make the individual apartments more comfortable and functional for the residents,” he said.

Frost hopes to see construction start in summer 2025 and expects the project to take 18 to 20 months. The work will be done in stages, with a chunk of empty apartments remodeled first. Then residents will move into the empty apartments and work can start on the ones they’ve left.


Franklin Towers was built in 1969 as a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Portland Housing Authority. It was the first and largest local example of a federal subsidy for low-income senior housing, according to the national register.

Around that time, Portland used federal urban renewal funding for “slum clearance,” particularly along Franklin Street, which exacerbated the city’s need for affordable senior housing. Urban renewal was a national effort to revitalize American cities by razing buildings and low-income neighborhoods to clear the way for private redevelopment.

When it was completed in the late 1960s, the 16-story building was the tallest in Maine and, according to its new designation, it remains a strong example of a high-rise building. It followed federal policy guidelines for senior public housing and “embodies many of the building type’s character-defining features,” the register said.

Franklin Towers residents load into what was the 16-story apartment building’s single functioning elevator in September 2022. The Portland Housing Authority says it is planning a $38 million to $45 million renovation as it tries to keep up with maintenance with limited resources. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Frost said the designation recognizes the historical and personal significance Franklin Towers has for the community and its residents.

“Although many of the original residents no longer reside at the property, we continue to house several long-term residents who take a lot of pride in their homes,” he said.

Preserving Franklin Towers means that its legacy – and that of the Portland Housing Authority – of helping people and families find permanent affordable housing can continue, Frost said.


But Caston, the unofficial watchman, said he and other residents don’t want to deal with the disruption that will come with renovations.

He said he’s heard of a few other buildings in the city that are scheduled for demolition.

Seen at dusk in 2022, Franklin Towers was built just over half a century ago and is home to about 215 older and disabled residents in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“As far as I’m concerned, they should do the same here,” he said. “But what are they going to do with 200 people?”

At the same time, Caston said he doesn’t want to move.

“It’s going to really suck. They’re going to have to move all of us out of our apartments.” he said. “I don’t look forward to it at all.”

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