Adapted Armories

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.

4 responses to “Adapted Armories

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    It’s stunning to think about how much history has been lost in some of America’s most historic cities. And nothing ruins the character of a historic area quicker than a developer dropping a gleaming, 18-story high-rise right in the middle of a bunch of 19th century buildings.

    Nice job of contrasting what can be done with a bit of civic foresight.

  • Nelson Dionne

    As an interested observer of Salem doings, I found the rush to demolish the internal structure of the head house of the armory interesting. It would appear the the remaining exterior brick walls could be salvageable if a new internal steel girder building was erected within the old walls, and using sheet steel pans, a new concrete floor was poured.

    This was how the old Webber’s store in Town House Square was preserved. The close proximity to the Essex Institute buildings is such that a tunnel connecting the buildings could have been built at the same time. When under National Guard use, the cellar under the Drill Shed was used for storage of the unit’s field equipment. Th square footage of the complex would have been a large increase of good usable storage to he PEM.
    The 1939 Mass. National Guard Yearbook has a large group of period photos of the Salem Armory ( I have a copy ). it’s men & equipment.

  • Susanna

    I am in no way supportive of what was done to the armory – but I will note that as a downtown-living mom, I use that little park ALL the time, as do many of the other moms I know. We love it – it’s semi-contained and the kids adore the big benches and the walls. While it’s not the same as a beautifully restored historic building – and again I would prefer that it had been saved – I do enjoy the little park as do many of my downtown parent cohort.

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