2017-09-22 / Front Page

Historic help

Pair of school buildings named ‘Places in Peril’
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


The former Bowery Beach School at the corner of Wheeler Road and Two Lights Road in Cape Elizabeth has belonged to the local Lions Club since 1983, but began life as a one-room schoolhouse in 1855. It’s on the 2017 “Places in Peril” list issued Sept. 19 by Greater Portland Landmarks because damage from rot and rodents, coupled by funding shortfalls, leave what is one of about a dozen surviving schools of its historic pedigree left standing in the area in danger of being lost. (Duke Harrington photo) The former Bowery Beach School at the corner of Wheeler Road and Two Lights Road in Cape Elizabeth has belonged to the local Lions Club since 1983, but began life as a one-room schoolhouse in 1855. It’s on the 2017 “Places in Peril” list issued Sept. 19 by Greater Portland Landmarks because damage from rot and rodents, coupled by funding shortfalls, leave what is one of about a dozen surviving schools of its historic pedigree left standing in the area in danger of being lost. (Duke Harrington photo) One of the oldest surviving one-room schoolhouses in southern Maine, the former Bowery Beach School in Cape Elizabeth, has landed on the latest “Places in Peril” list issues by Greater Portland Landmarks, as has one of the largest educational edifices in the area, South Portland’s Mahoney Middle School.

The fourth iteration of Greater Portland Landmarks’ highlight of historic properties was released Tuesday, Sept. 19. The first list, issued in 2012, included the former South Portland National Guard Armory, which was then vacant and suffering from years of deferred maintenance. The 2013 list included South Portland as a whole, with Greater Portland Landmarks citing fears that the varied styles of its housing stock could be lost due to lack of local ordinances governing historic preservation.


Mahoney Middle School, located on a 15-acre lot on the corner of Ocean Street and Broadway in South Portland, has also been named to the 2017 “Places in Peril” list. The designation is meant to draw attention to the fact that no guarantees are in place to prevent demolition of the 1924 Beaux Arts style building as part of a planned consolidation of the city’s two middle schools. (Duke Harrington photo) Mahoney Middle School, located on a 15-acre lot on the corner of Ocean Street and Broadway in South Portland, has also been named to the 2017 “Places in Peril” list. The designation is meant to draw attention to the fact that no guarantees are in place to prevent demolition of the 1924 Beaux Arts style building as part of a planned consolidation of the city’s two middle schools. (Duke Harrington photo) Although no such rules have yet been adopted, the shock of the 2013 list was a direct catalyst behind formation of the city’s arts and historic preservation committee. The armory, meanwhile, was sold, and while the drill hall was demolished to make room for gas pumps, the main part of the building was saved, thanks in part to an historic easement championed by Greater Portland Landmarks to preserve the building’s art deco reliefs of various armaments and other implements of war.


Employees and trustees of Greater Portland Landmarks, along with representatives of developer Priority Real Estate and South Portland’s arts and historic preservation committee, pose on the front steps of the former South Portland National Guard Armory building Sept. 19 prior to the group’s annual meeting, held inside. The group chose to hold its gathering on site to celebrate the renovation of the historic 1941 building, which had been named to organization’s inaugural “Places in Peril” list in 2012. Pictured are, front row, left to right, Rhoda Renschler, Jane Hurd, Kate Lewis, Patti Butler, and Doreen Gay, and back row, left to right, Daryl Renschler, Bruce Roullard, Tom Dowd, Ed Gardner, Jim Howard, David Latulippe, and Adrian Dowling. (Duke Harrington photo) Employees and trustees of Greater Portland Landmarks, along with representatives of developer Priority Real Estate and South Portland’s arts and historic preservation committee, pose on the front steps of the former South Portland National Guard Armory building Sept. 19 prior to the group’s annual meeting, held inside. The group chose to hold its gathering on site to celebrate the renovation of the historic 1941 building, which had been named to organization’s inaugural “Places in Peril” list in 2012. Pictured are, front row, left to right, Rhoda Renschler, Jane Hurd, Kate Lewis, Patti Butler, and Doreen Gay, and back row, left to right, Daryl Renschler, Bruce Roullard, Tom Dowd, Ed Gardner, Jim Howard, David Latulippe, and Adrian Dowling. (Duke Harrington photo) According to Greater Portland Landmarks Executive Director Hilary Bassett, naming the two schools to the 2017 “Places in Peril” list is an attempt to secure a similar positive result, to help focus attention on preservation efforts by highlighting just how perilously close these places are to being lost forever.

Also on this year’s list, all in Portland, are:

 The Portland Motor Sales Building on Marginal Way, built in 1963 and now home to a U-Haul business.

 The 1925 Seth Thomas Clock in the Hay & Peabody building at 749 Congress St.

 The Peaks Island Amusement District, which ran from 1880 to 1930, earning the Casco Bay island the nickname “Coney Island of Maine.”

 Dunn Memorial Church, built in 1906 at 4 Brentwood Street.

 As a whole, 19th century African American resources found across the Portland Peninsula, which tell the story of early black settlement in Maine.

“These properties help define greater Portland,” Bassett said at Tuesday’s unveiling. “In every case, the properties we’ve identified are prominently visible and have such historic significance that we must advocate for their protection and preservation.”

Mahoney Middle School

Named for long-time South Portland High School principal Daniel J. Mahoney, the Mahoney Middle School began life as the city’s high school in 1924.

Built, Bassett said, as a “showcase for the Beaux Arts style” by Maine architectural firm Miller & Mayo, which was responsible for dozens of high profile structures across the state between 1907 and 1929, the threestory brick building measures 94,000 square feet. It has been eligible for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008, which opens the door for tax credits used to preserve key architectural features.

What puts Mahoney at risk is approval of state funding to renovate or replace the building. Although Mahoney is in many ways in better physical condition that Memorial Middle School, located on Wescott Street, Mahoney got a higher score on the state’s school construction list. That’s partly due to its age and original design, including open stairwells now deemed to be a fire hazard. The stairwells have since been enclosed, Superintendent Ken Kunin said.

For more than a year, a special school department committee has worked to draft plans to build a single $43 million school to house all 740 middle school students in South Portland. That building could go on the footprint of either Mahoney or Memorial. Other plans, scheduled to be unveiled in a series of public meetings in October, also call on keeping one middle school and replacing or renovating one middle school at a projected cost of between $24 and $30 million.

“Depending on the consultant’s recommendations, the future of the building’s character defining elements and even the building itself is at risk,” Bassett said. “No preservation protections exist on the building to guide future additions or ensure rehabilitation.”

Bassett said Greater Portland Landmarks’ preferred solution is that Mahoney remain in use as a public school or education facility of some kind, “because local schools are proven to contribute to and enhance neighborhood vitality.”

A next best solution would be for a “compatible civic use,” Bassett said. As it happens, one plan floated by city council members going back at least a decade, is for a combined middle school to be built where Memorial now stands, and for Mahoiney to become the new South Portland City Hall, which would combine the executive and town clerk’s office with planning and development and assessing services, now housed off site from the main city building.

That would be a good plan, Bassett said, because it would increase the likelihood of the school auditorium – dedicated to the soldiers of “The World War,” because city leaders at the time that plaque went up little dreamed there would be a sequel – remaining in use.

“It’s hard to imagine how that space might be used if the building was converted into apartments,” she said.

School officials also advocate for ways to obtain a new middle school that do not include demolishing Mahoney, if at all possible.

“It’s a grand old building and we think it’s a jewel in South Portland,” Kunin said. “It should grace the center of South Portland for generations to come. So, I certainly take no issue with the (Places in Peril) designation by Greater Portland Landmarks.”

“The question for the school department and, really, for the city in the end, is will it meet the needs of our children educationally moving forward? That’s what the middle school project is really supposed to help us determine,” Kunin said.

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli could not he reached for comment Tuesday.

Bowery Beach School

The one-room schoolhouse in Cape was built in 1855 and remained in use as late as 1930, when dwindling enrollment prompted busing of rural students closer to town. The building then belonged to the Cape Elizabeth Ladies Union until 1983, when what it called Crescent Lodge – named for nearby Cresent Beach – was sold to the Cape Elizabeth Lions Club.

According to club president Benson Dana, the school did not come with its original bell (assuming it ever had one) but the deed for the school did include a single desk and a stipulation that it remain with the building forever.

“So, we still have that one original student desk,” he said.

According to Greater Portland Landmarks officials, the building is notable because, while one-room schoolhouses of its type – with two front doors, one for boys and one for girls – were once an ubiquitous feature across southern Maine, only about a dozen are still known to exist.

“Unlike many others, this one has been located on the same site since construction,” Bassett said. “The building contains most of its original exterior features and architecture, and its materials, design, workmanship, feeling and setting are intact in near original condition.

However, the framing needs repair due to years of abuse from rot and rodents.

Dana said the building is used on a weekly basis by the Lions Club and Cape Boy Scout Troop, as well as other local groups. Lions Club members have done a great deal of work to the building, he said, and he is seeking a National Register listing. But the focus of the Lions Club is on its various charity work, leaving little time or money left over for its own use, including building maintenance.

“All of our fundraising goes 100 percent to our charity fund, unless otherwise advertised,” he said.

The club needs about $5,000 per year to keep the doors open, he said, citing annual utility and insurance costs. It does have a fund set up from a bequest to operate the building, but that reserve will only last another three years, or so.

“We are facing not a crisis, but a significant challenge as to what we are going to do in the future. We have relied on this trust we set up, and those monies are fading,” Dana said. “The members have been repairing as much as we call, but we are actually thankful for this designation, in hopes it will help bring some attention to the need.

“We are very excited,” Dana added. “We are inexperienced and unsophisticated in terms of begging for money for ourselves and our building. It’s easy to raise money for the club’s charitable purpose. But to ask for money just for our building is difficult. So we hope this will help to shore up the trust, and the building.”

Bassett says Greater Portland Landmarks will continue to monitor the endangered properties in hopes they can be removed from the list, working to connect building owners with various resources.

“We’ve seen over the last 20 years how important historic preservation has been to the economic growth of Portland and retention of property values,” said Ed Gardner, owner of Ocean Gate Realty and a Landmarks trustee. “Saving these properties can only enhance the vitality of Greater Portland.”

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