Salem is still in the midst (throes) of a relentless building boom that began several years ago with the construction of an over-sized courthouse and will eventually encompass a train station/parking garage (just opened), a new hotel complex, and an expanded campus for Salem State University. This is a lot of construction for a relatively small city, and the buildings are big. Actually I’m not sure whether the scale of these structures bothers me more than the design, though now that I’ve thought about it for a second, it’s definitely the former with the courthouse and the latter with the proposed hotel complex, which looks like it is shaping up to be a truly ugly building. Anyone who has glanced at this blog briefly knows that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to architecture so no surprises there. But I don’t want to write about the design attributes of these buildings in this post: I’m more focused on what the average citizen can do when these big projects attack–and they can, at any time and anywhere. After years of watching these developments play out, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there is very little that one person–or even a group of very dedicated and well-connected people–can do to stop them, most especially if the state is the developer. The process usually goes something like this: the project is proposed in all its glory, people get mad, and organized, but are repeatedly told that it’s a done deal, a fait accompli, except for (relatively) little details that are subject to mitigation, these details get discussed in the review process, the project gets built, period. And that’s how Salem got its GIANT courthouse and its generic parking garage. Even though Salem State University is Salem State University, the process of development has been a bit more collaborative, at least from my perspective (which could be very biased, as I work there), but now the university wants to build a large parking garage in very close proximity to a residential neighborhood that really doesn’t want it there. And I’m wondering if they have the power to stop it.
Massive/massing: the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center in Salem; the new Salem Station Parking Garage; the proposed RCG Hotel Complex with “Cube” wing, courtesy Salem News.
I’m very torn on the Salem State parking garage, and not just because I work there. It seems quite apparent to me that design is a much greater priority for those who are planning the Salem State campus than those who are transforming Salem’s downtown. Salem State has 10,000 students and no parking garage–obviously it needs one (but it also needs a train stop)! There are actually three separate campuses: must there be one HUGE parking garage rather than three smaller, less obtrusive ones? I suppose this option is cost-prohibitive, but this is what every student that I’ve talked to wants. And there are plans for more buildings: won’t forcing this garage down the neighbors’ throats hurt future development plans? The neighborhood has organized itself into a group called Save our Salem (S.O.S: they started out as Save South Salem so this was a wise change), and they look committed. I’m really hoping that this particular superstructure doesn’t harm the environment in which I live and work.
Facades and aerial outline of the proposed 54-foot, 725-car parking garage on the North Campus of Salem State University; Save our Salem signs along Raymond Road.
This is a very busy time of year in Salem, of course, but yesterday morning when I looked outside my bedroom window I saw four buses lined up on Chestnut Street. Then I remembered: the cruise ship is in town, one of the first signs of the port’s transformation from power plant facility to destination dock. There has been talk of cruise ships for a year or more, ever since it was announced that the old Salem Harbor oil- and coal-powered plant would be closing, but I didn’t expect them to arrive so soon or be so BIG. Obviously I hadn’t listened closely, as my expectation was that ships with a capacity of 150 or so people would be stopping in Salem, but this ship looked like it belonged in the Caribbean! I approached carefully on my bike, and it got bigger and bigger…..
And then there it was, blocking out everything else in sight! The Seabourn Quest, en route from Canada to Florida, via Salem. I’m so glad its name isn’t the Sea Witch!
Quite a site really, especially when you compare this ship with the other ships in the harbor, like the replica Fame, a War of 1812 privateer (that tiny little ship in full sail on the right below), and the Friendship, a 1797 East Indiaman. Salem’s past, present and future?
Exciting Appendix! My former student Erin, who now works in the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and has her own facebook page entitled “Archival Encounters” which should be a blog found this GREAT (but undated and unattributed) postcard in said Archives.
P.S. Just got the attribution: Invitation to the 1996 Annual Meeting of the Salem Partnership.
The most telling–and troubling–details about an incident this past weekend in which a young homeless man started digging up an 18th-century grave in Salem’s oldest cemetery were the comments from “a large group” of onlookers, who thought the act might be part of a performance. Given the proximity of the Old Burying Point on Charter Street (and the Salem Witch Trial Memorial) to the fogged-in alley of the Salem Witch Village, who could blame them? Indeed the Village advertises graveyard tours on its website, since “We are fortunate to have on our premises the Charter Street Burying Point or Old Salem Burying Point, America’s second oldest cemetery”. I guess it is their cemetery–who knew?
I did a little bit of genealogical research so I could return a modicum of humanity/dignity to those whose graves were desecrated–apparently the digger (armed with “archeological tools”) believed they were his ancestors. Nathaniel Silsbee, Jr. was a member of the third generation of a Salem family that became quite wealthy and notable after his death. He was a housewright and joiner who lived near the wharves and also held land in North Fields and was married twice over his long life, first to Hannah Pickering and then to Martha, who survived him. I hope they rest in peace from now on.
I am returning to the ruin on Carlton Street, what remains of a circa 1803 structure decapitated by a “developer” a few weeks ago, even though I don’t have much of an update. Work was stopped on the day after, and the shell of no. 25 is still standing—in a very vulnerable state that must be incredibly distressing for its neighbors to gaze upon. We are waiting for either the judgement of the city engineer or the city solicitor, maybe both, and then the developer will be brought before the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals). There are two preservation agencies in Salem: the Historic Commission (which has jurisdiction over the city’s four local historic districts–see below) and Historic Salem, Incorporated (HSI), a nonprofit preservation advocacy organization. Both have been rendered relatively powerless by the demolition of 25 Carlton: the Historic Commission because the house is not located within its jurisdiction, and HSI because it has chosen not to even issue a statement to the effect of: We are sorry to see such an insensitive renovation of a historic structure. I have received hundreds of emails from all around the country in the past few weeks, expressing rage and disgust, but also amazement that this could happen in Salem. So that’s why I wanted to return to this house, to show that this could easily happen in Salem.
The three local historic districts in downtown Salem (there is a fourth on Lafayette Street)–just click to enlarge; 25 Carlton Street this past weekend; the plans posted in the window (which were produced by a structural engineer rather than an architect) show a gabled roof quite similar to that which was lopped off, but completely different fenestration in the front of the house, and and whole new rear addition.
The weather continues to be amazing here in New England: clear, sunny, breezy and never (knock wood) too hot: this might be the first summer without a heat wave in a decade. I spent the weekend on or near the water, and much of yesterday afternoon admiring the old wooden boats of the (32nd) annual Antique & Classic Boat Festival at Hawthorne Cove Marina near the House of the Seven Gables. As was the case with the classic cars a few weeks ago, I wasn’t intending to post on this event because I’ve done so before, but many of the boats were new to the festival, or at least new to me, including a beautiful 1932 Chris Craft runabout named Nancy which stole my heart–much like the little BMW limo from the car meet. So here’s the Nancy and some of her fellow party boats, all gleaming in the late summer sun. How can plastic possibly compete?
I think I will insert a little plastic in here–our kind of watercraft, near the Parker River in Newbury this weekend:
I was not going to post on the (13th) annual Antique Car Meet sponsored by Historic New England’s Phillips House and held right here on Chestnut Street because I’ve been there, done that, but I changed my mind. It’s just such a great event: the cars are beautiful, the cars on the street are beautiful, the entire event joyous. This year’s meet was bigger and better than ever, and the spectacular run of weather that we have been having has put everyone in a great mood. But the main reason that I’m pushing cars is that I fell in love with one yesterday–and now nothing will ever be the same. I’m going to set the scene and give you some car context before I zero in on the object of my affection: fully half of the street was lined with classic cars (and a few vintage bicycles too) for a good part of a glorious day, and 20th century machines cast in bright primary colors popped against the 19th century background of neutral Federal facades.
All the cars had their particular admirers, but it seemed to me that the three-wheeled 1955 Messershmitt drew the most consistent attention. Very cute.
But once I spotted it, the only red that I could see was another little German car, a 1958 BMW Isetta 600 Limo! I have no words for how adorable this car is: it’s cuter than a Bug (for which it was built to compete), literally. I really want one, even though I heard it referred to as “death on wheels” several times. I’ll just look at it–for the rest of my life.
Turning my attention back to Salem, one of the first things I noticed after a week away, sadly, was the shuttered Old Spot, a nice English pub located on a very prominent corner in Salem, diagonally across from the Hawthorne Hotel on Essex Street. I knew it was closing but was sorry to see it closed. It was a fine place, very dependable: you could take your grandmother there, a hipster student, or a Harvard historian ( I have, all three). There was only one television, and it wasn’t too big. It wasn’t an institution but definitely a successful business, operating for 8 years or so. So why did the Old Spot close? Apparently its owners were unable to renew their lease with their landlord, perhaps because the latter had expanded his property (upwards) in the past few years to incorporate several condominiums whose purchasers were not pleased with the pub downstairs. I don’t really know; that’s the word on the street. If that’s the case, it’s a shame, as this building has been commercial from its inception: the residences and residents are the latecomers. Salem is a dynamic little city, and anyone buying downtown—especially on this busy corner, should be ready and willing to embrace (or at least accept) a little action.
Night and Day for the Old Spot: on one of its last open nights in late July and yesterday, closed. The building in the 1970s, from its MACRIS listing: it was built c. 1870 by J.B. Theriault for a grocery store, and always seems to have been utilized in a commercial capacity.