If you look back in recent history from say, 1970 onward; it has been lawsuits that have largely paved the way for the appearance of today’s Newburyport. As I have said before, Newburyport looks so beautiful and when the sun is shining and the birds are singing; rather peaceful. So incredibly lovely as to make our visitors gasp, and yet it belies the blood that was shed in fearful battles for every inch of our downtown.
The Daily News in their book, Port in Progress, did what they could to hide the fact that much pain and legal wrangling was endured to make our downtown this beautiful.
The battle for Lot 8 was one of those events – we look at Merrimack Landing today. So easily we can forget the fight to see this become a reality. Of course, Mayor Byron Matthews wanted a contemporary building, and in many ways; he wrestled it into existence. Using deceit, hubris and political power; it is fitting that his memorial stands in contrast to his achievement. Sadly, even today; the building’s modern feel has never produced the revenue expected as tourists hurry by it to get to the real historic downtown.
Then there was (and is) the epic; and I mean, on an Homeric Level; the battle for the waterfront. Lawsuits, and counter-lawsuits for well over 40 years, and we still haven’t seen an end to it. The NRA today exists because many parties involved wouldn’t know what to do without their favorite whipping boy; and there is a very real fear that the balance of power would then reshape the players into a new reality. (Hopefully, they’ll get over it and dissolve the organization – perhaps have a retirement party or something so everyone can trumpet the NRA’s achievements and pass out commendations. That would be a pleasant way to exit the scene!)
All the while, the waterfront has grown. Little by little, the parking lots are more defined; the trees are more mature; the gardens and landscaping more set into place, the waterfront commercial scene more maritime and varied. Yes, even the feel for a green expansion is in the air. The recognition of the Ways to the Water have been translated into walkways adding yet more structure to the Central Waterfront.
It has been lawsuits that often produced these beneficial effects. Without them, we would have seen a rather large hotel instead of a park; blacktop everywhere and shopping malls; there wouldn’t have been a lovely downtown and there wouldn’t even be a Firehouse as the centerpiece of our cultural scene. We would have suffered the same fate as Gloucester, Marblehead, Plymouth, Salem, Swampscott and other Oceanside communities with slipshod construction, dated inappropriate styles, ghastly commercial areas and spot zoning.
Speaking of a hotel; we could have been stuck as poor Plymouth, with some dated, Scandinavian designed white elephant – underperforming and sticking out like a sore-thumb. ( As you can see from this recent picture, they redesigned the Bradford Inn and ditched the Scandinavian look but it’s still bad and doesn’t fit the historic area of Plymouth.) The lawsuits of the past, plus the threat of a lawsuit by the owner of Bennet & Co; has finally pushed it into the narrow confines of the W.W.O.D. and that is as it should – blending more into our historic downtown as our garage will be. (I hope.)
I hold strongly that it is time for community and historic preservationists to ready themselves for legal battles.
We will have a need for two powerful arms: First, a legal defense fund and the fundraising to enlarge it; and second, the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of preserving the community. In other words, we need to get serious about the desperate situation we are in today. This is no longer an armchair pleasantry. If we lose, the city is lost as a major, national heritage site. We will sink into obscurity – and I mean sink, financially and socially.
We are now a boomtown – with developers and house flippers and money-grabbing City Hall officials; seeking to consume our historic district until it is largely no more. If you want to see our fate – take a drive to Plymouth and drive around the non-touristy areas.
Worse, we have new arrivals who fled their trashy communities; and probably out of old familiarities combined with ignorance – see no problem as Newburyport is steadily being destroyed. Allied with dark siders; they work night and day to pull our city into the darkness of obscurity.
Lawsuits are expensive as the ever-consuming legal maw of lawyers must be satisfied. It requires a stick to it mindset – understanding that it isn’t the winning and losing of cases; but the long-plodding appeals designed to wear out the enemy until they collapse in exhaustion; so they in turn will warn their exploiting companions who wish to destroy the historic district and the character of Newburyport to stay away unless they suffer the same fate.
That is d__n expensive!
But the present failure of the Mayor and City Hall to protect our city demands it.