History Wars, Episode Two– Wipe away the painful memories!

The city was in desperate poverty.       The downtown was beginning to have more and more empty store fronts and boarded up windows.      As was the growing trend in the sixties, commerce had moved onto main, long thoroughfares that were close to the new superhighways.      Many towns and cities found their centers increasingly abandoned and dilapidated.

A nationwide movement was spreading on the idea of urban renewal.      After seeing consumers and retail fleeing, the only solution was to redo the downtowns in the image of the new ‘strips’.      There had to be plenty of parking and they had to have wide-open vistas so there would be room for expansion and quick accommodation to market forces.      Most older centers were composed of tightly bunched buildings and narrow streets – room had to be made for automobiles.

The solution was easy.     Demolish the downtowns and re-create it into the image of the shopping mall.    This was widely accepted as standard policy.     Whole neighborhoods filled with ethnic groups and rich cultures were pushed out by eminent domain across the country – in place of historic buildings, came structures of glass and steel; in place of residents and shops in close proximity, were isolated clumps of self-contained complexes and malls.    Single lane streets were replaced with wide avenues and four-lane highways.     

In Newburyport, the idea of totally demolishing the center was a popular one – The area would have plenty of blacktop for parking and low-level shopping centers and professional buildings would be arranged up to the water’s edge.

Model II Model VII

Newburyport’s downtown was in disrepair, plus the city had been dying for a while and lack of maintenance was making neighborhoods, Market Square and State Street look bleak and Tear it downuninviting.   Bill Plante, a new arrival, could see no value in preserving the past, he was enthusiastic back in 1967 and said (echoing the prevailing sentiment of the day), “If we don’t tear them down, they will fall down!”

The focus for citizens and politicians was to get the factories back!       The citizens pooled their remaining resources together and raised funds for the creation of the Newburyport Area Industrial Development (N.A.I.D.)   It’s intended mission was to bring back the jobs the citizens so badly needed.

They took a large section of the Common Pasture and began an industrial park for the stated purpose of providing jobs to the working class that had been so happy back in the fifties.

This gave rise to the Dark Side. As I have indicated in my P. Preservationist glossary,

The Dark Side believe that Newburyport’s future lies in industry and not in eco- and heritage tourism. Therefore, they see no value in aesthetics…They do not value the old buildings and would love to sweep them away for new – a Dark Sider feels a deep shame that was generated by years of having an inability to replace old houses with the latest “modern” building of the moment. To live in an old house means you are poor and socially inadequate. New, means you can afford the best materials and the latest fashion. This explains why Dark Siders see no value in local historic districts or understand the value of preserving past architecture.”

So with the blessings of the majority of citizens, the waterfront with its Federal-style warehouses and entire streets were turned into kindling.       Plans were also in the works to demolish the Firehouse and even talk was made about bringing down the Custom House.nra land

All of a sudden, people began to feel a great loss – rich history was being torn up, people who had lived here for generations were livid that everything had to go!      It wasn’t long before they gathered into a loose rebel alliance and began to campaign for stopping the destruction.    But they were treated with ridicule and scorn – any such talk was pure fantasy and had no purpose for solving the city’s real world needs.

They were shrugged off and the demolishing continued.    It wasn’t long before Unicorn Street was mostly gone.    

But the Dark Side continued on their quest for jobs.      Talk was in the works for an oil refinery located on the Common Pasture and a sludge processing plant.       A contemporary-styled building was planned for where Merrimack Landing is presently located.     

The Dark Side were in control and they were determined to re-create Newburyport into their vision of the future!

-P. Preservationist



This entry was posted in Heritage Tourism, Historic Demolitions, History, Local Historic Districts (LHD), News and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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