Mechanics’ Hall on Congress Street in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mechanics’ Hall will receive $2.86 million in federal funding for critical structural repairs to its historic building on Congress Street in Portland.

The project is the first step of a major restoration to the busy arts and literary venue.

“Thanks to the generous support and leadership of Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, Mechanics’ Hall has secured $2,860,000 in funding that will enable us to address active leaks threatening the integrity of our 165-year-old building and to repair the iconic clerestory roof and granite exterior,” said Annie Leahy, executive director of Mechanics’ Hall. “This funding has effectively saved our historic landmark building and paved the way for its future.”

Mechanics’ Hall was built at 519 Congress St. in 1850 by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, a group of artisans and craftsmen looking for a gathering space for scholarship. It also served as a mustering station for union soldiers during the Civil War and as a temporary City Hall after the Great Fire of 1866. It regularly hosted musical performances, dances and lectures, but membership started to dwindle in the early 20th century.

Much of the building was converted to offices and leased to local businesses. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, but maintenance was often deferred. More recently, board members and supporters have been working to revive its building and its programming. In 2019, the organization hired its first full-time executive director. As a result, Mechanics’ Hall has emerged as a downtown hub for arts and culture with intimate concerts, dance and theater performances, literary events and more. (And now, the Portland fashion brand Loquat will open a store on the ground floor in the space formerly occupied by the Maine Craft Association.)

In 2022, Mechanics’ Hall was designated a Nationally Significant Landmark Building on the National Register of Historic Places, which opened up opportunities for funding. Maine’s U.S. senators included the money for this project in a funding bill for the Maine Community and Economic Development Projects in fiscal year 2024.

“Mechanics’ Hall has been a pillar of support for Portland’s creative arts community for over 150 years,” King said. “The historic landmark is an icon of downtown Portland and I am proud to have helped secure funding that will help Mechanics’ Hall preserve the building’s rich architectural and artistic integrity. Mechanics’ Hall serves as a gathering place for thought leaders, artists, and visionaries – and this investment will ensure it stays that way for generations to come.”

“This important funding would support the revitalization of infrastructure and community assets across the state of Maine, helping to spur economic development and job creation,” Collins said.

Fundraising is ongoing for a second phase of restoration, which would upgrade interior systems, increase accessibility and expand the front entrance and lobby.

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