From Corner Store to Colossus

There are no pretty pictures in today’s post (well, as usual, the historic one is relatively pleasing) but I feel the need to weigh in on yet another inappropriate development looming over Salem–in this case, threatening the view and the neighborhood I see from my office window at Salem State University. An assortment of tired twentieth-century shops grafted onto an older building in a rather awkward–but certainly not imposing–manner might possibly be replaced by a behemoth commercial structure more appropriate for a Route 128 office park, and if the developer doesn’t get this way, an apparently even larger building comprising 34 residential units. The developer in question is of course from nearby Marblehead, a town which has produced a long line of investors in Salem, hoping to either reap returns or assuage their suburban guilt over residing in a town that “celebrates diversity” but has none. He unabashedly proclaims his project “Lafayette Place” even though there is a lovely little street bearing the same name (for over a century) a few blocks down the road. Because he is also a former overseer of SSU, there are also concerns that this is another encroachment by the university into a residential neighborhood. I really hope that’s not the case and I tend to think it is not: the university is building big–very big–on its own campus but it is also the new tenant of an ambitious adaptive reuse project just down the road from the proposed “Lafayette Place” (and up the road from the real Lafayette Place) in which a Salem developer has transformed the former Temple Shalom into an academic building within its existing footprint.

Now brace yourself for the pictures: the corner of Lafayette and West Streets, present, past, future (?). The cute little A&P store that once occupied the site (you can still see its Colonial Revival “frame”) makes me very sentimental for corner grocery stores in general and A&Ps in particular, although I’m not sure I’ve even been in one! The scale of this building is still appropriate for its surrounding neighborhood.

Corner Store 002

Corner Store 005

Corner Store AP SSU

Corner Store Lafayette Place

Lafayette Place 2

The corner of Lafayette and West Streets present & past (Dionne Collection, SSU Archives and Special Collections), and renderings of the proposed “Lafayette Place”.  Jerome Curley, a great source for Salem’s visual history and history in general, has offered the picture below so you can appreciate the scale issue. On the immediate right is the Lafeyette/West corner, and all of those residential buildings on both sides of the street remain. (From his Salem through Time, co-edited with Nelson Dionne).

Lafayette West Corner

15 responses to “From Corner Store to Colossus

  • Jerome Curley

    Nice article as usual.

  • Tim Jenkins

    Salem needs quality development not vast quantities of terribly designed monstrosities. We mustn’t be cowed into submission.

    This building could win an architectural prize: Salem’s ugliest most inappropriate building. But it has lots of scary big and ugly competition all over Salem moving rapidly through the so-called planning, zoning and design review process.

    Why are we getting these turds dropped all at once into our once small beautiful city? It has not always been this way.

    The PEM’s architect, Moshe Safdi, took the time to design a world-class building that respects the surrounding neighborhood by not overwhelming it. He tried to incorporate design elements and materials that made sense and complemented the surrounding neighborhood. He may have gotten parts wrong, according to some folks, but at least he/they tried.

    We are getting generic boxes that can be seen all over the Midwest. A historic New England seaport town famous for its vast collection of remarkable buildings shouldn’t be treated this way.

    Look at the original SSU building at One Broad Street, the Salem Normal School. Tell me that that isn’t a beautiful building made of the best materials. It is something to be proud of. This new building will be an embarrassment for decades.

    Don’t fool yourself and drink the “progress” Kool-Aid. Just ask yourself, “How would I feel if the State of Massachusetts dropped this building into my neighborhood?”

    NIMBYs get a bad rap, but you will be very sympathetic when someone tries to plop a monster like this next door to you.

    Believe me, there’s a monstrosity planned for a corner near you.

    • KIKS

      I’m just curious. Can you name a single large project that actually managed to achieve “moving rapidly through the so-called planning, zoning and design review process.”

      Most take a year or more, and come out better than they went in.

      • daseger

        Well, that’s Tim’s quote, so I’ll let him defend it, and I do agree that developments take a great deal of time. But I disagree with your notion of “better”: I don’t think better than generically monstrous is good enough for Salem. I don’t even think ok is good enough for Salem. I think we should set very high standards for design–and enforce them in design review.

      • KIKS

        I definitely am not saying they come out “good.” I’m saying they come out better than they went in originally. Tim gives the impression that they are basically rubber stamped with barely a cursory glance. That’s not really accurate.

      • daseger

        Well, I’ll let him speak for himself (he’s good at that!!!). I generally agree, I guess–regarding the courthouse, not so sure about that dreadful Tavern in the Square building.

  • KJV Howerton

    Long-time lurker reader here – love this blog and its beautiful photos of Salem, one of my all-time favorite small cities for its abundance of history and preservation. One thought on the proposed building: I live in Houston, and I’d swear this building is right down the street from me. In fact, I could drive to over a dozen intersections in the fast-changing “hip” part of the city and see some variant of this same vague and generic glass-fronted box. It’s a shame that developers today simply reuse the same nondescript, unimaginative plans everywhere, regardless of scale or impact, as a cost-cutting measure. Hopefully, some vocal citizen of Salem can stand up in front of the planning board and advocate vociferously for development which fits more with the stylistic flavor of the city. Looking forward to future posts –

    • daseger

      Thanks so much for your kind comments and for jumping into the fray! Your comments are spot on–this building, and all of the other proposed new buildings in Salem, could be built anywhere: Houston, Cleveland, San Jose, wherever.

  • Stan

    Great blog, incredible research every time. Especially love the A&P in this one.

  • grammiepoet

    When I was very young, my parents shopped at this A&P! I remember trailing after them – they were always in a hurry but I just wanted to look at everything. I remember sawdust on the floor.

    As for that plan – it’s an abomination! Why on earth would Salem want to trade in its unique charm in order to look like any town in Generica?

  • Brian Busby

    Had I not read your post, I would have sworn that the rendering was of a building in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. In fact, I’m not sure that it isn’t. It looks familiar in the way that suburban malls look familiar… similar designs, each with the same shops. The A&P building, on the other hand, looked unlike any grocery store this Canadian has ever seen. Such a shame to see its decline.

  • Nelson Dionne

    I grew up in the back rooms of the various A & P markets in the area. My father was a meat cutter, retiring after 40 years.
    Breaking down beef that was delivered hanging ( a 1/4 steer was broken down in he stores then.
    Omer Beaupre, who lived on Sumner Rd, was the store manager,until it closed when the chain built a new market on Canal St (now Crosby’s Other Salem locations were North ST ( Salvation Army site). Lafayette St ( in between Ward & Peabody Sts ) & on Federal St in the old Federal theatre.(taken down by Urban Renewal. Remember buying glass bottled tonic, with 2 & 5 Cent returns ? Ann Page (house brand ) everything ? Ringing up a really big $10 order at Thanksgiving ? It took 2 carriages to go to the register !
    Almost no frozen food back then..
    Competitors were Fontaine’s, on Jefferson Ave, Food Land,
    opposite City Hall, Ganem’s on Essex St, J. B.Bloods,
    the Mohican Market (later home t Jerry’s Army & Navy)
    The First National and Stop and Shop on New Derby,
    on & on, not to forget the Saturday market at Old Town Hall.

    Memories .,rusty Memories.

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