Alterations to Historic Newburyport

I’ve walked the South End of Newburyport, particularly the area closest to Plum Island (Ward 1) now for 30 years.  I love to walk, and I walk everyday. (It started when I first moved here in 1981 and walked my new puppy and then added my little boy in his stroller, walking around the South End of Newburyport, pushing the stroller and dragging Sadie, who was then no longer a puppy, behind.)

Back then, when I started walking, the area was sometimes in bedraggled shape, but historically intact.  I would fantasize about living on certain streets in the South End.  A new house or major alteration would go up here or there.  In the beginning it was so minor that it was “quirky.”

Yesterday, I took a walk along some of the streets in Newburyport’s South End, some of the streets that I often fantasized living on.  What I realized yesterday, was those streets have been altered so much over the years, bit by bit, a little by homeowners, a lot by developers, that I would now never want to live there.  In fact parts of those streets no longer look like an historic city, they look like narrow streets with a sometimes a jumble of houses that have created not particularly, in my mind, compared to what once was there, an attractive area.  I was really taken aback.  I would no longer want to live in those areas (including an area mentioned in an opinion piece in today’s Newburyport Daily News).

High Street, so far has mostly avoided that fate and so has downtown  Newburyport and the areas close to it, in Wards 2 and 3, the area for the proposed LHD (800 houses not 2,800 houses-good grief).

If those areas are doctored little by little, just like the areas on my walk, and become a jumble of architectural styles, Newburyport would change so much that it would just be another suburban place to live, not the place we live in today.  That wouldn’t work for a lot of people. The LHD (and I understand people’s concerns over property rights) would make sure that that did not happen. If it can happen and is still happening in the South End at a rapid rate (by developers), it could happen anywhere in Newburyport.

Protecting the integrity of Newburyport is so important for us. And, oh my, I am concerned.  There is a very loud and vocal opposition (not the more quiet folks concerned with property rights, that one can have a real back and forth conversation with), that are using misinformation and innuendo to express their point of view.  I am concerned that the a real “discussion” about a Local Historic District for Newburyport could get derailed (which is the forcefully stated intent),  instead of letting the democratic process unfold.

Newburyport Local Historic District Study Committee

I read the opinions and comments in the Newburyport Daily News from some of the folks who aren’t wildly in favor of the Newburyport Local Historic District Study Committee (NLHDSC).

The hostility and misinformation about the the LHD Study Committee is really over the top, and to quote one of the anti LHD folks, it sounds to me as if it’s often those folks who are made up of “histericals!” (their quote, not mine).  Good Grief!!

Lets look back, shall we?  The Newburyport LHD Study Committee was appointed by the mayor (just like all other boards and commissions in our democratic Newburyport government), Mayor John Moak and and the Study Committee was passed by the Newburyport City Council on June 25, 2007.  (All by the book.)

This is not some “new” idea, by some “volunteer helpers” (their words, not mine) who suddenly sprung out of nowhere to make peoples lives a living hell.  Hello.

On the Study Committee there are some very reasonable and knowledeable folks.  Doug Locy who was the chair of the Newburyport Planning Board for years.  Ed Ramsdsell, who has been the chair of the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals for years (both terrific men with a great deal of integrity).  Sarah White, who was president of the Newburyport Preservation Trust, a very impressive gal.  And how about Doug Bolick? long time and highly respected Newburyport attorney (a very reasonable fellow-not an “histeric”). Margaret Whelch, who has done an incredible amount for our historic city over the years.

These folks are not crazy Nazis that suddenly sprung up out of thin air, unbeknownst to anyone in particular.  And they are not “Histericals.” And the folks who come up with these wild, misinformed ideas and misinformation on the Newburyport Daily News are the ones in my mind who are sounding hysterical, not the well thought out process (whether you agree with it or not) by the City of Newburyport.  Good grief.

(And BTW, the folks on the Newburyport LHD Study Committee really are “historic home advocates,” the real deal. I hate to see anyone call themselves an “historic home advocate” without some very solid credentials.)

Newburyport, Big Box Stores R Us

In March 2007 Newburyport had a “Buy Local” campaign.  The initiators of the Buy Local campaign got burnt out because they were told no big box store (which wasn’t what they were actually talking about) would ever come to Newburyport.

On Pond Street there used to be two local hangouts/meeting places for the community–Express Video and White Hen Pantry.  In the spring of 2010, New England Development, who owns that property, along with over 50 retail properties in downtown Newburyport and along the waterfront, did not renew the lease of Express Video and then did not renew the lease of White Hen Pantry.  (Thank goodness for David Hall and the Tannery Marketplace, who gave both business a place to go and thrive.  White Hen Pantry is now The Black Duck.)

And New England Development let CVS expand, and in my mind Newburyport has it’s very own small Walmart, big box CVS store, right in the “upper” downtown area right next to our very scenic Bartlett Mall.

Fowles News Store and Soda Shop (photo courtesy of the City of Newburyport)
Fowles News Store and Soda Shop (photo courtesy of the City of Newburyport)

Again, the folks who brought you this great big huge big box store within walking distance of Newburyport’s waterfront, own over 50 retail properties in downtown Newburyport and along the waterfront, including the iconic Folwle’s news store and soda shop.

And it appears that the leases for Fowles news store and the soda shop may not be renewed (I think that this is nicely understated).

Will New England Development demolish Fowles?  of course not.  Do they care about keeping this iconic Newburyport place its own iconic self?  Judging by New England Development’s actions up on Pond Street, preserving local hang outs, used by the everyday citizens of Newburyport–quite possibly not the case.

These people own most of downtown Newburyport and properties along the waterfront.  The Urban Renewal Plan has expired and there is now no protection for downtown Newburyport.  Wouldn’t you like a little insurance policy for downtown Newburyport?  I sure sure would.  And the best insurance policy is a Local Historic District (LHD).

The Proposed Newburyport Local Historic District Commission

I have heard so much about the Nazi like quality of what the proposed Newburyport Local Historic District Commission, the commission that would help regulate the proposed Local Historic District (LHD), and I gotta tell you, a lot of misinformation out there, good grief.

Q: ( Me)  What do you think the LHD Commission would be like?

A: (A lot of people) People who don’t live in Newburyport, a bunch of controlling zealots who would make the lives of the people living in Newburyport a living hell. (No exaggeration here, I hear this all the time, no kidding.)

The proposed commission would be like any other of the Newburyport commissions (and boards), it would be made up of people who live in Newburyport, not controlling Nazi outsiders who care nothing about the people who live here.  Hello.

In the draft of the LHD Ordinance (and it’s a draft, so that means lots of public input from public hearings, good grief) it proposes that the LHD Commission be made up of  7 members.  And just like other boards and commissions, those members would be appointed by the mayor (often members are recommended to the mayor by citizens of Newburyport, no different here), and confirmed by the Newburyport City Council (just like ever other city board and commission). So if the people of Newburyport, don’t like a proposed member, they can call the Newburyport City Council and the Mayor and register their complaint, which often happens in our Newburyport democratic process (and often the person is not appointed or approved!).

The draft proposes that there be (again everyone lives in Newburyport) a realtor, an architect,  a member of the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, people from entities like the Newburyport Preservation Trust and the Historic Society of Old Newbury, 2 members who are residents of the proposed district, and in the beginning 2 members of the Local Historic District Study Committee, to help with any initial confusion, and get things off to a good start.

The draft of the ordinance proposes that in the beginning, 2 members get appointed for one year, 2 members for two years, and three members for three years.  And then after the initial go through, each member would be appointed for 3 years, just like other Newburyport boards and commissions.

So now, hysterics out there, and there are a lot of hysterics out there, who are just so upset that they can’t hear what someone who may be for the Newburyport  Local Historic District (LHD) may be saying, this is not a proposed Nazi commission to control and destroy your lives (good grief!!).

Demolition of Downtown Newburyport

The buildings next to the Five Cents Savings Bank in downtown Newburport that were demolished in 1972 to make way for a drive though addition.
The buildings next to the Five Cents Savings Bank in downtown Newburport that were demolished by the bank in 1972 to make way for a drive-in addition. (Courtesy of the Archives at the Newburyport Public Library)

The photo from July 1972 from the Archives of the Newburyport Public Library shows old, historic buildings next to The Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank.  The archive also says that those old, historic buildings next to the bank on State Street were purchased by the The Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, and that the bank planned to demolish the buildings and construct a drive-in addition, with the entrances and exits from Temple Street and Charter Street.

And in 1984 The Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank put up a very contemporary addition in place of those historic, old buildings.

In 1972 Newburyport had “turned the corner” and the brakes were put on the demolition of downtown Newburyport.  But, one of our most beloved institutions, that has done so much for this community, and that has so many wonderful folks working there, tore down part of historic downtown in 1972.

The thinking had not completely changed.  Old buildings, still in so many minds, meant economic stagnation, and the new contemporary architecture implied economic vitality and a bright new future.

The contemporary addition by the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank that replace the old, historic buildings in downtown Newburyport.
The contemporary addition by the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank that replace the old, historic buildings in downtown Newburyport (see above photo).

And part of it was the times.  The aesthetic back then was to combine the old architecture with new modern architecture. The Inn Street fountain, its modern sculpture (which I happen to love) in an historic setting, is an example of combining the old with the new.

But I look at the buildings in the photograph from the Newburyport Public Library and I ache when I see those old buildings now gone forever.

And as I said in an earlier post, the trend to demolish old buildings continued for The Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, which demolished One Temple Street in 2006, a few years ago, and put up a contemporary addition in its place.

And, it’s just a guess, but one wonders if such a fuss wasn’t made by the community over the demolition of One Temple Street, whether there would be a reminder of what once stood there, a replica of the old facade of the historic building.

So, to sound like one heck of a squeaky record, don’t think that downtown Newburyport is safe from demolition or unwanted alterations.  We need that insurance policy, a Local Historic District (LHD) in the worst way.

(If you download the top image, would you please give the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library and the Newburyport Blog credit. Thank you.)

Protecting Downtown Newburyport

Downtown Newburyport being destroyed in 1968. (Photo courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library)
Downtown Newburyport being destroyed in 1968. (Photo courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library)

On The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page I put up an album of the photos I took from the Archival Center at the Newburyport LIbrary of Newburyport from 1967-1974, the time of Newburyport’s Urban Renewal.

The photos are so shocking to me, what we lost back then and what we almost lost.

People think it couldn’t possibly happen again, no need to protect our historic assets.

But tastes change.  In 1967, and it wasn’t just Newburyport, people felt that old buildings, historic old buildings, were a symbol of economic stagnation and economic collapse.  The favored architecture of the time was minimalist, low to the ground, “modern.”  It symbolized economic rebirth, economic vitality.

Right now we appreciate our historic buildings, but taste in what makes small cities vibrant change.  We need to protect downtown Newburyport.  It was almost destroyed once, it can happen again.  We’ve come too far not to have an “insurance policy” on all that we have accomplished.  The greatest protection for downtown Newburyport for us and for future generations is a Local Historic District (LHD).

Modern architecture favored in the 1960's
The kind of modern architecture favored at the time of Newburyport's Urban Renewal

I love really good modern architecture.  It’s actually one of my passions.  I just don’t happen to think that it’s right for this place, for Newburyport.  And it’s almost what the entire downtown of Newburyport would have looked like (we came so close).

(If you download the image at the top would you please give The Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library and The Newburyport Blog credit.  Thank you.)

Video on Newburyport’s Urban Renewal-a “Must See”

I hope that this video by Lawrence Rosenblum on what the city looked like before Urban Renewal and after, made in 1975, goes viral. Tom Salemi over at Newburyport Posts put it up on his blog and it’s beginning to show up on places on Facebook.

One of the cool things is that because it is on video, you can jump around the film and go back and look at the parts that interest you.

It makes what happened to us “visceral.”

Here’s a quote from the Newburyport Daily News, November 26, 2007, “A city’s ‘character’ changed for good.”

“In late 1975, Newburyporters gathered to see themselves on the big screen. Filmmaker Larry Rosenblum had finished his three-year-long project, “A Measure of Change,” a half-hour documentary that explored the city’s battle to stop the federal bulldozer.

“The film may be a catalyst as well as a piece of Yankee advice, ‘look before you leap,'” The Daily News stated in a film critique.

Within a few months, the film was getting international attention. It won several awards and was selected as the U.S. entry at urban planning conferences in Stockholm and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Suddenly, the little old seaport was exporting to the world again. This time it wasn’t goods, it was a concept: historic preservation and revitalization.”

Yes, people come here because of Newburyport’s “historic preservation and revitalization.”

Urban Renewal

Newburyport, We’ve Come a Long Way!

This is a film that about Newburyport made in 1975 that’s been around for a long time, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen it in video for the Web. It’s about the story of Newburyport’s Urban Renewal (and we have come a long, long way).  The film was made by Lawrence Rosenblum (Vision, Inc. and Urbanimage Corp.) and is called, “Newburyport: A Measure of Change” and the video runs about 30 minutes.

You’ll see lots of friends, Sue Little (Jabberwocky Bookstore), Tom Kolterjahn, John (Hacky) Pramberg (former president of the Institution for Savings) and others (all much younger)! It’s very cool!

Measure of Change-video about Newburyport's Urban Renewal
Link to Newburyport: A Measure of Change-video about Newburyport’s Urban Renewal

The link to Newburyport: A Measure of Change.

Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Demolition on Inn Street
Demolition on Inn Street courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library

Today, with a tip from Jerry Mullins, I visited the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library where I found the archives from 1967-1974, HUD, the NRA and Newburyport’s Urban Renewal. (All the photos are courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library.)

I took a ton of photos and I often included the captions and some of the text.

You can find the entire album of photos on (the new) Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page.  You can see the entire album here.

Now one can comment on posts on The Newburyport Blog.  I am not good with comments, hence no comments on The Newburyport Blog, but I am looking for help from my fellow bloggers Tom Salemi over at the Newburyport Posts and Newburyport City Councilor Ari Herzog who are masters of the whole comment thing.

(If you download the image would you please give The Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library and The Newburyport Blog credit.  Thank you.)


Newburyport, Stuff Disappears, One Temple Street

One Temple Street, courtesy of the City of Newburyport, with the clapboard building next door.
One Temple Street, courtesy of the City of Newburyport, with the clapboard building next door, also demolished.

When I talk to folks about buildings disappearing in Newburyport, what I often hear is that doesn’t happen anymore.

Well, actually it does.

And it disappears these days.  (Our buildings need to be protected-hence a Local Historic District, LHD.)

To start with one of the most wild ones, at least to me, would be downtown Newburyport, One Temple Street.  Doesn’t exist today.  Torn down by one of our most beloved institutions.  An institution inhabited-run by great folks.  An institution that has done unbelievably wonderful things for our community, demolished an historic building in downtown Newburyport (I believe it was 2006, maybe 2007).  Our very own Five Cents Savings Bank.

If these good folks can tear down an historic building (yes, I went to all the hearings), one would think just about anybody could.  And we don’t need protection in the form of a Local Historic District in downtown Newburyport?  Oh, good grief.

One Temple Street, courtesy of the City of Newburyport, later photo.
One Temple Street, courtesy of the City of Newburyport, later photo, without the clapboard building next door.

One Temple Street dated to the early 19th century and was erected as an addition to Wolfe Tavern. The building wasn’t just left to rot. According to the City of Newburyport, in 1972 (Newburyport’s Urban Renwal) the building was rehabilitated, and was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Puriington of Byfield (this is on the historic surveys).

The City of Newburyport has two photographs of One Temple Street that I could find. An earlier photo that contains another clapboard  building that was also demolished. And a photograph of One Temple Street later on without that building.

The replica of the facade of One Temple Street that exists as part of the Five Cents Savings Bank today, in my mind, just ain’t the same.  Good try, but nope, doesn’t cut it.

And if the Five Cents Savings Bank can take down such an important building, folks, in my mind, nothin’s safe.