2013-10-04 / Front Page

Much of city designated ‘in peril’

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Historic resources across the entire city were named as Places in Peril by Greater Portland Landmarks, a nonprofit organization committed to the advocacy of historic preservation. This is the second year the group has released a list of Places in Peril.

The city of South Portland was named one of seven landmarks in the region the group would like to raise public awareness about. It is the first time Greater Portland Landmarks has included a broad area as a place in need of public attention. The other six landmarks were all specific sites in Portland.

Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, said South Portland’s historic resources in general were chosen “largely because there are so many wonderful neighborhoods and buildings from a variety of periods.”

Bassett said that Ferry Village and Meetinghouse Hill are just two examples of neighborhoods full of “wonderful architecture.”

“There are pockets of discovery all over the city,” Bassett said, but there are relatively no regulations or standards in the city’s ordinance for protection of historic buildings.

The goal, Bassett said, of designating the city’s historic resources as being in peril, is that the public will become more aware and more resources may be directed to preserving the historic parts of the city.

Bassett said she hopes the city will systematically inventory its building stock by conducting a survey to “find out what’s there.”

The city only has three buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places – the Portland Breakwater Light and Spring Point Ledge Light Station in Portland Harbor, and Seavey-Robinson House at 580 Ocean St.

The city also has one historic district – the State Reform School National Register Historic District at Brick Hill, formerly the site of the Maine Youth Center. None of the city’s neighborhoods are designated as historic.

Mayor Tom Blake, who has a master’s degree in history and gives walking tours in the city, said he thanks Greater Portland Landmarks for the report.

“I take it as a compliment, we have something nice here,” Blake said. “They’re just saying that we need to try and keep it.”

Blake said the city council will discuss the report, but it will wait until after the November election when the new council is seated.

Despite the fact that none of South Portland’s neighborhoods are officially designated as historic, Blake said there is a lot of history worth preserving.

“We have the oldest neighborhood in the county,” Blake said. “The Willard and Ferry Village areas were settled even before Portland.”

Blake said when he met with State Historic Preservation Officer Earle Shettleworth Jr. years ago, Shettleworth told him, “I would be hard-pressed to find a greater diversity in housing stock anywhere else in the state.”

Blake said he hopes that in the future, the council may take action to inventory its stock, as Greater Portland Landmarks is suggesting.

Bassett said when Portland did a survey of the historic district’s Congress Street properties, the city researched the history of every building.

When people know the history of their buildings, or if certain areas of the city are designated as historic, Bassett said, property owners can take advantage of some benefits such as historic preservation tax credits, which can fund up to 25 percent of historic restoration costs.

The organization decides which places get designated as a Place in Peril based on three main factors – significance to the community, level of need and the benefit of bringing it to the public’s attention.

“South Portland has become a very popular and good place to live,” Bassett said, “but in terms of South Portland’s (historic assets), no one knows what they are.”

Blake said the council and the city’s historical society can easily get caught up with other business, but that Greater Portland Landmark’s report might help motivate the city to get a better accounting of the historical value of all its buildings.

“In the end, (the report) is a good thing,” Blake said.

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