The preservation of 142 Free Street and the Portland Museum of Art’s expansion plans are not mutually exclusive. The museum has ample room for both outcomes. It should view 142 Free Street as an asset, not a hindrance. The options are many: performance venue, makerspace, museum shop, café, offices.

The PMA should embrace the opportunity to utilize a handsome building worked on by John Calvin Stevens. From its birth in 1882, Stevens nurtured what is now the Portland Museum of Art. Stevens was part of the group that founded it, kept it afloat, mounted its shows, housed its collections, organized its events, designed its buildings and cultivated donors like Margaret Sweat and the Payson family. Stevens was a trustee for 57 years – from 1916 to 1938 he served as board president.

It is shameful that the PMA doesn’t realize its own heritage (as well as the city’s) will be diminished if 142 Free Street is destroyed.

John Calvin Stevens remains Maine’s most famous architect. He designed fine new buildings and possessed a genius for adapting old structures to new uses. Two examples are in PMA’s care. Winslow Homer’s iconic, oceanfront studio and summer home was a nondescript stable until Stevens transformed it in 1884. Stevens adapted 142 Free Street in 1927, transforming a Victorian church.

Take a cue from John Calvin Stevens. Adapt 142 Free Street once again. Imagination and creativity will be required. Isn’t that what art museums should be about?

David Chase

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