Thursday, February 04, 2010

Blog comments that should be posts - Historic Preservation

Fall River has historically done a bad job with historic preservation, which is why THIS is a comment that should be a post. And honestly I can't say it any better than Scout. Historic preservation needs to be part of the mission for our city leadership. Scout is right when he says "that heritage and architecture are among FR's few remaining assets." And I believe they are an important part to revitalizing Fall River.

said... (5:43 PM, February 03, 2010)

Lefty, can we talk about the need for a coherent historic preservation policy in FR?

I know that's not top of mind for everyone, given all the other challenges the city's facing ... but I'm so sad to see the wrecking ball headed for St. Louis Church.

FR has a consistent history of destroying beautiful, historic buildings and replacing them with concrete boxes. And yet I'm still somehow astounded to hear of this latest insult to the city's skyline.

Durfee Theatre: gone.
Old City Hall: gone.
Central Congregational: rotting away on Rock Street.
And now this latest casualty of an indifferent preservation policy.

Has there been any discussion locally of what's going to happen to the old Durfee building if/when its courthouse operations are moved to the new courthouse?

Again ... I know this must feel less than urgent to a lot of people. But I really feel that heritage and architecture are among FR's few remaining assets. And their destruction will have immediate effects on the people of the city (as an extension of broken window syndrome) as well as longer-term implications for economic development.

If FR can address education, crime, and its other various challenges, it will survive only if it can a) attract new industry; and/or b) become a bedroom community for folks who can't afford property closer to Boston. The city's heritage value and architectural integrity are key to both possible opportunities.

I'm not local, so I don't understand the particulars ... but I don't get how a nonprofit organization can acquire a National Register property and simply neglect it to the point that it (apparently) needs to be demolished. And no one noticed. How is that possible?

Is there anything that can be done to stem the tide of this destruction? If so, what?


Anonymous said...

"but I don't get how a nonprofit organization can acquire a National Register property and simply neglect it to the point that it (apparently) needs to be demolished. And no one noticed. How is that possible?"

It is amazing and its been out there for a while.

Scout said...

Thanks, Anonymous 10:15. Very informative.

Sorry to have been out of the loop. I didn't realize that this group tried so hard to save the building (8 years/$200K.) Wow. Very sad all around.

Best of luck to the museum ... obviously a great project ... but still sad re: the church.

In addition to putting together an effective preservation plan, it would be great to develop an easily accessible resource to advise nonprofits re: management of historic properties (both pre- and post-purchase) so they don't get in over their heads. Would protect both the properties and the organizations. I wonder if there might be grant funding for that?

Anonymous said...

Everyone complaining now but where were they before our elected leaders voted to allow the building to be demolished or did you try to help people raise money to save the church? Don't complain after the fact, it's useless.
1:20 AM, February 04, 2010

Youth_in_Asia said...

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The lack of preservation is appalling enough, but what are these historic buildings being replaced with? A rotting Brutalist City Hall (eerily Similar to what happened at Boston's Government Center/Scollay Square, rotting central elevated highway (eerily similar to Boston's highway) and all sorts of smaller scale historic buildings that were then replaced with parking lots and suburban style banks and businesses.

If anyone wants a sad glance into what Fall River was aiming for, take a look at this photo ("city of tomorrow" of an old add by marcfoto on flickr:

Thankfully, some of those buildings have been preserved (i.e. the Academy building... one of the nicest commercial blocks you'll find anywhere).

There's no reason many of these buildings can't be saved and reused. Fall River has done a LOT of damage already, but that doesn't mean it can't be saved. Boston is still one of the best preserved cities in the U.S. despite the debacle at the West End, Gov't Center and central artery (among many others). Portland Maine's Old Port, regarded as one of the better historic districts in the country, is marred by scars of neglect and lack of preservation. However, the city got its act together and worked to preserve it. Now, it's a premier destination. Even nearby New Bedford spared its historic district from destruction (18 was slated to destroy where Freestones and the Custom House are), but preservationists had it moved and eventually turned the area into a National Historic Park. There's no reason that 79 can't come down and the historic area along Fall River's waterfront can't be knitted back into downtown and saved. Fall River still has MANY beautiful buildings and it's far from too late for them.

Scout said...

Lefty, thanks for elevating my comment to post status. Wow!

Anon 1:20 AM: apologies if I seem like I'm Monday-AM quarterbacking. I'm very aware that, as a non-resident (albeit former resident) I'm out of the loop. So I didn't know about this problem until it was too late, and wasn't aware of any fundraising to save the church. But Anon 10:15 filled me in on the 8-year, $200k effort (via O Jornal) and I'm chagrined to see that not only did the church not survive, but this little nonprofit also disbursed funds in a desperate attempt to save the building. Sad all around.

Youth in Asia: Rock on! I agree with everything you posted. Just within an hour's drive of FR you can find examples of cities that strayed down the Brutalist road but managed to save enough of the good stuff to retain their heritage and personality. You've covered Boston, Portland, and NB beautifully. Other examples are Newport and Providence.

FR has lost a lot, but there's still so much to save. And, as I mentioned in my earlier comments, I'm personally VERY concerned specifically about Central Congregational and the old Durfee High School. That area on Rock Street is a jewel of historic architecture, and links so well with the historic buildings that are left downtown.

How can we stop the wrecking ball? Is Mayor Flanagan interested in this issue? Is there something our on-line community can do to get something started?

Lefty said...

Scout you are entirely welcome. St Louis and historic preservation deserved a post and why should I write one from scratch when you outlined all so well in your comment?

Also complaining after the fact is NOT useless. It's how we stop this from happening again.

Not every building is historic, not every building can be saved but we need to give more consideration to what ones are and should be, which is something Fall River has not been doing.

How can we stop the wrecking ball? I don't know, but I would start by speaking with groups like Save Our Neighborhoods, and the Preservation Society of Fall River. I would reach out to politicians who have expressed an interest in preservation, both past and present. That list would probably include Eric Poulin, Brad Kilby, Steve Camara and I'm sure there are others. I would find out WHAT was already being done and how we could work to push for some gains and progress.

I wouldn't mind reaching out to these folks, but I'm not sure how much respect or credibility an email from Lefty would get.

Faye Musselman said...

I would make a bet that within 3 to 5 years the old Central Congregational Church, aka Abbey Grille, will be demolished under the same approvals rendered by the City as applied to the St. Louis Church.

There's a reason there is no buyer besides the cost of repairs and renovation.

It's too bad the election didn't root out all the incumbants. All new fresh blood flowing through Fall River's veins is what was needed, metaphorically speaking.

Maybe next time. (sigh)

Scout said...

Oh, Faye ... I hope you're not right about Central Congregational. But I have a sinking feeling that you are.

This just cannot be allowed to continue.

Lefty, I think your thought re: reaching out to like-minded elected officials and community groups is a good idea. (Although it's the non-like-minded we need to reach! :)

I must confess that I'm not very familiar with the preservation groups. I don't know anything about Save Our Neighborhoods ... would they care about the downtown/Rock Street area, even though those areas are not totally (or even mostly) residential? And I was under the impression that the Preservation Society was mostly concerned about the Highlands, and also doesn't seem to have an activist mission? I think tours of beautiful Victorian homes, etc. is lovely ... and is a wonderful thing to do, especially at Christmastime ... but is this something that would interest them?

Maybe the thing to do is to get one of the groups to sponsor a preservation forum and bring in speakers who could present on the ways in which preservation has supported growth/recovery in other cities ... and get a followup plan going that builds in some advocacy. In order to reach the folks who don't care about the historic or aesthetic aspects of preservation, I think we need to show some dollar signs. Which wouldn't be hard to do.

What do y'all think?

Anonymous said...

Well, at least they preserved the intent of the land. Now, let's see how they can get around it

reality check said...

At the recent city council meeting where Fernando Garcia asked to speed up the process for tearing down the church, he also spoke of interest in buying the old St. Louis School. He claims he hasn't the money to fix the church, but apparently he has the money to buy the school, which is not needed for the museum.

Salem turned an old church into the Witches Museum. It's amazing how other communities are able to preserve historic buildings, but Fall River, we have every excuse in the book why it can't be done.

The unfortunate thing is that over the years many of our elected leaders have been clueless and without vision when it comes to the importance of this city's history, and of the ways of using it to the city's advantage. All you have to do is look at 64 Durfee St. and how it almost became low income housing, instead of being used to try and revitalize downtown.

Faye Musselman said...

I personally think its the demographics of FR that contributes to its lack of historic preservation amongst the populace. FR's politicos don't risk anything because the voters, such as they are, don't care. Why rattle a cage for preservation's sake when nobody cares about the cage in the first place?

Also, there are not enough deep pockets in FR to care about the St. Louis Church or the Abby Grille. It takes money to effect change...not just rhetoric and rightious indignation. Investors want to see a return on their investment. Preservation of historic edificies used for restaurants or museums dont generate enough $$ for that ROI.

Now the waterfront is something completely different. Worthy of deep pocket investment for development, it stands relatively mute in comparison, numerous proposals and plans notwithstanding.

The right plan, the right people, the right amount of money could turn the Waterfront into a spectacular attraction generating enough money to make a significant step in turning Fall River around.
And the general populace with its notable low income and sustained lack of higher education - wouldn't matter, because the investors would know they would make a bundle.

The only positive thing I've seen come out of Fall River in the past 5 years is the higher profile of the arts community. The Narrows, in particular, is a shining example. Artists, as people, aren't always motivated by $$ - just art for arts sake. Their efforts have rendered a tiny transfusion into FR's veins that keep it alive with promise and hope for a better place to live.

P.S. It's 3:00 here in Payson. Go Saints!

Scout said...

Excellent analysis, Faye ... as usual!

As I've acknowledged many times during this discussion, the desperate level of need in vital areas in FR has unfortunately squeezed capacity for concern about big-picture issues like preservation.

But maybe if the people of the city understood that FR's CHARACTER may be what saves it long-term (that that's part of what the outsiders they need to recruit care about) it can gain a toehold in the public discourse.

Or maybe it's the arts community (which, as you say, is motivated by incentives other than money) that can take the lead on preservation.

Or maybe the vast FR diaspora ... the many, many people who left the city for education or career or family but still care about it ... needs to get active.

Agree that development of the waterfront would be a key economic driver. (Assuming that all of the various interests can cooperate to pull it off.) But without the rest of the heritage identity, it's just one more generic community with a waterfront. And the waterfront offering would have to be spectacular to become a destination; there's a lot of competition within an hour's drive, in communities that offer far more amenities and activities than FR.)

Without the heritage piece, and a compelling sense of place, a developed waterfront could indeed attract some day-trippers. But after a while, they'd just get back on the highway and head to Boston, Newport, Providence, or the Cape ... where they'd spend the real money on hotels, restaurants, retail, etc. And those are the places they'd consider when deciding where to retire, or where to relocate their company, etc.

Preservation is an economic development issue in FR.

Anonymous said...

Please look closely at the circumstances of St. Anne's Church, and I am afraid you will see it is likely to be next in line for heartbreaking consequences like St. Louis. Urgent collaborative attention from the entire community is necessary.

Faye Musselman said...

To Anonymous 11:17. Well, that's pretty cryptic. Enlighten us - at least enlighten me as I don't live in FR.

I do expect the Central Congregational Church to be demolished, but I never thought of St. Anne's being in any kind of jeapordy with such a large Catholic population in Fall River. Good Lord. The views of St. Anne's and CCC's steeples are have long been significant and iconic identifiers to where you are when crossing the Braga Bridge.

I would suppose St. Anne's Hospital would utilize the space if it came to that. Then again, a mini strip mall with a Dunkin Donuts, a Pay Day Loan franchise, a laundromat, and a bridal shop would not surprise me either.

I've got to believe if the existence of that structure were threatened there would be a very loud noise, much fundraising and real concern. Unlike for the CCC.

Scout said...

Anon, I'd love to hear some more detail as well. Like Faye, I don't live in FR and so haven't heard anything about St. Anne's.

But I agree with Faye (quel surprise, Faye!) that those iconic steeples cannot be allowed to fall. FR's beautiful view-from-the-bridge skyline cannot be destroyed.

Also, does everyone agree with Faye that Central Congregational is destined for the wrecking ball? Is that conventional wisdom in FR? Is it too late for intervention?

If something is going on with St. Anne's, let's get it out in the open now ... while it's still early enough to save it. So many of these tragic losses occur behind the scenes and only become public on the verge of destruction.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of historic preservation experts in the region. It shouldn't be too difficult to put together a group of them to lead a meeting on just what Fall River could do to take advantage of its historic properties.

Scout said...

Agree, Anon 4:57. There's ample preservation expertise in New England, and it wouldn't be hard to bring that expertise to bear on behalf of FR's historic properties.

The challenge is translating that expertise into a sustainable preservation strategy in FR ... making sure the folks on the ground establish policies with teeth and sustain an active preservation agenda. How is that best accomplished?

Anonymous said...

First are foremost is the need to identify a group of Fall River residents who understand believe in historic preservation, and who are willing to create and sustain an organization to protect, preserve and restore historic properties in the city. It is not easy work, and often calls for activism to persuade public officials to support the cause, and to sometimes oppose developers and property owners. It requires a strong will and the resolve to stay the course and finish projects.

Once a few people like that are identified, the best next step would be to meet with Jim Igoe, president of Preservation Massachusetts. Jim and his staff are well equipped to assist an effort to establish and grow a historic preservation entity in Fall River.

Scout said...

Anon 12:40: Sounds like an excellent plan. As a first step, should some kind of symposium or open meeting be convened (with all preservation-minded folks invited)and perhaps invite Jim to speak?

Anonymous said...

Yes, that would make sense. But someone still has to take the lead and set it up. Here is what would make the most sense to me:

1. Identify an individual or small group of organizers to get things started.

2. This individual/group would contact a historic preservation expert and ask him/her to participate in an informational forum on the topic. I suggest Jim Igoe at Preservation Massachusetts. The availability of the featured speaker will dictate the date and time of the forum. Give yourself at least a full month to promote it.

3. Once the speaker and the date/time of the forum have been set, secure a convenient place to hold the forum. It should be a room that can comfortably accomodate 30 - 50 people, have good acoustics or a sound system, be a well-known location people generally know how to get to, offer ample easy parking, and preferably be in a historic building. I suggest the meeting room in the lower level of the main branch of the Fall River Library on North Main Street.

4. Advertise the meeting via local media. The group of organizers could write letters to the ditor and offer to appear on local radio talk shows.

5. Target specific groups and individuals who are likely to have an interest. The Fall River Historical Society is an example of a group to invite. Also, residents who own and take good care of historic properties should be invited. They clearly see the value of historic preservation.

6. In addition to the main speaker, invite experts involved with organizations from surrounding towns and cities. There are groups and individuals in Westport, Little Compton, Tiverton, New Bedford, Dartmouth, Newport, and Providence who could be helpful.

Well, that's about it. Someone simply needs to take the ball and begin running with it.

Scout said...

Anon 7:25AM, agree ... those would be the necessary logistical steps.

And I like the idea of the library as a setting. What a wonderful building, and the architecture on that end of North Main St. is so beautiful. I haven't been there in a long time ... is the room you suggest where the reading room used to be?

It would be nice to do the forum on a summer or spring afternoon/evening ... what photographers call "the golden hour." It would really give folks a sense of what that neighborhood could be like.

The first step, of course, is the hardest. I'm sure a lot of us in the blog community would be willing to help with planning, speaker ID, invitations, publicity, etc (and even come to the event, depending on date chosen) but some of us are no longer part of the local FR community. Someone (or some group) with feet on the street in FR needs to own this first event and subsequent activities, with support from the rest of us where it makes sense ... otherwise, it's all just theoretical.

Is there someone here who can take that first step?