I read an article yesterday in the current issues of Preservation magazine about adapted uses for armories that made me feel sad and regretful, sad because the Salem Armory was lost and regretful that I didn’t do more to save it. I wrote about the armory story in a previous post, along with other preservation losses in Salem, so I won’t bore you with the details now, but I was on the Redevelopment Authority during the early stages of the battle to save it and wish I could have done more. The fire-ravaged armory was just such an eyesore, and the “demolition by neglect” policy of the Peabody Essex Museum, seemed to make its eventual demolition inevitable, a fait accompli. But once a building of that stature is gone, the streetscape is never the same.
The Preservation article, by the wonderfully-named Margaret Shakespeare, focuses on two Portland armories on either ends of the country. The Portland, Maine Armory has been turned into the Portland Regency Hotel, while the Portland, Oregon armory has been transformed into a theater for the Portland Center Stage Company. These building look amazing, but perhaps more importantly, their environment is lively: so different from that part of Essex Street in Salem where our armory once stood.
The Portland (Maine) Regency Hotel in its first incarnation as the State of Maine Armory, and now.
The Portland, Oregon Armory exterior and interior mezzanine.
The Salem Armory was demolished in 2000, leaving its rear drill shed reconstituted as a Visitor’s Center for the Salem Maritime National Historic site and an always-empty “Armory Park” in its wake. In the intervening decade between then and now, both a new hotel (The Salem Waterfront) and a new theater company (The Salem Theatre Company) have come to town.