I have brought many a visitor to Newburyport to the top of the Old South Steeple and it does not fail that after seeing the sweeping view of our historic city (the Old South Steeple is the best view in town), for them to recoil in horror when spying the Sullivan Building. Their instinctive reaction is to recoil in horror that someone could allow this hideous 65 foot edifice to be allowed in our downtown.
Newburyport. So beautiful and so historic that many of our new arrivals in town can’t even imagine it in any other form. But the Sullivan Building was built in the same time span when twenty of our historic buildings were busily being demolished and the boardwalk was just beginning to be built. (the waterfront was a dangerous place of weeds and construction debris peppered with the homeless and the drunk!)
But the seed and inspiration for this monstrosity was Mayor Byron Matthews. (1967-1977) He had the same mentality (and political power) that Mayor Donna “Bulldozer” Holaday has today. He was no historic preservationist. This man wanted “to do something, anything” to help Newburyport and was just full of ideas. He wanted to pour blacktop all over the downtown and waterfront and put up a Zaire’s Department store. He wanted to put an oil refinery in the Common Pasture. And after he oversaw all the demolitions (interesting how history repeats itself), he cleverly jumped on the historic preservation bandwagon when the town rose up in outrage but still he stubbornly stuck to his ‘contemporary’ building on Lot 8. (Merrimack Landing)
Interesting that during Mayor “bulldozer” Holaday’s tenure, a big deal was made at how ‘wonderful’ Mayor Matthews was to preserve the town complete with a memorial on Inn Street.
But this is the man who gave us this monstrosity on Charter Street without regard to all the historic buildings lost.
I’m beginning to wonder, is our present mayor trying to outdo Byron!?!
He only demolished a city block, the waterfront buildings, and erected this 100 unit rental facility that totally clashes with appropriateness, height and zoning*. Now she wants to outdo him with 80 units of rental housing with a plan to add 540 units more. Byron pushed for downtown destruction. Our Mayor today won’t reign in the Building Inspector, or the ZBA or the developers – it’s build, build, build something and now demoitions are occuring all across the Newburyport Historic District particularly the South End.
What we need now is the outrage that put Byron in check. We desperately need it now for this present Mayor.
If we don’t; her drive to outdo the “Man” could sink us – we need to convert the Mayor into an historic preservationist!!!! Hey, Byron was extremely clever and transformed himself to the point, he gets accolades now. (forget all that destruction, of course.) Mayor Holaday has already showed this cunning by abandoning the construction of buildings on the Central Waterfront.
Maybe if the majority of us stand up and say, “Enough”; History may be kind and label her a “saviour” of the city!!!!
But if we don’t, it will be back for the next two years out doing the “Man”
* Instead of this Stalinist building, couldn’t they have at least modeled it after our 19th century mills?
Note: Just a quick comment on the ‘building’ at 25 Temple Street. The Sullivan family is not to blame for this nasty structure. It was named in honor of James E. Sullivan who was Marshall in the 40’s and 50’s and was well respected in the community. He had died June 2nd, 1969 and at a special meeting in May, of 1972; they decided to assign his name to the structure. At the time, the dark siders in town were quite proud of their architectural achievement and granted the name as an honor.