Jeff Marshall: On The Waterfront

Jeff Marshall at the Cape Ann Museum until November 25th.

By Ken Riaf 

The Wharf

Jeff Marshall’s studio sits above the tide on Smith Cove and overlooks a truck corral down at the Morse Sibley Wharf. It’s where fisherman hitch their workhorses for however long it takes to get the fish from out there to back here. The ancient pilings driven deep into clay centuries ago and sistered to newer stringers form a solid structure. But it’s akin to the old utility knife that over time acquired two new blades and three new handles.

The wharf’s beaverized timbers and moaning spiles hover above a dank cavern of wooden stalagmites and yet, despite its picturesque decay, it’s still a place to go fishing from.

Morse Sibley Wharf

Comings and Goings.   © Jeff Marshall

The Lot

Pickup trucks rest on a scrapple of broken asphalt penned-in by rusting cargo containers and dredges laced with Tansy gone to seed. There’s a hogged wooden hull up against a battered wharfhouse whose padlock gets shielded from the weather by a leather flap above the hasp. Decomposing memories of fisheries past – a Gillnet dries on a wooden spool and a stone-age winch is ready to start a new life as a mooring stone.

In earlier times a telephone pole spiked with store bought and makeshift signs warned unwary interlopers:

We’ve Seen Your Approach Now Let’s See Your Departure and No Trespassing means Go Away, Go Away Means You or the ever popular I Gave At The Office.

Process Sequence of Monster Truck #3.   © Jeff Marshall

An Old Horse Knows the Way

The classic wharf truck hauled and dragged whatever needed hauling or dragging from A to B and sometimes as far as C.  In a time when working folks understood one another’s burdens and the beasts that carried them, a yellowed inspection sticker or expired plate were often overlooked with a friendly nod as good as a wink. In a world of rust and midnight doings the waterfront code of live and let live was the grease that made the dockyard’s hum.

A point of pride was seeing just how long one could keep the heap. Could you coax it to expire at the junkyard gate? The Morse Sibley corollary to Murphy’s Law “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” was – “I know it’s broken but it works all the same”.

Ronnie’s a Bulldog.   © Jeff Marshall

Outside of a dog, a pickup truck is mans best friend – inside of a dog, it’s too dark to drive.

Everything has at least two sides to it from dishes that need washing to the great philosophies. The wharf truck probably has at least four sides, those being inside & out and top & bottom.

The cab is a place to get out of the weather while your vessel idles awake. It’s a smokey, fishy, coal-tar pitch museum of the trade. Retired oilskins fused with fish scales and the mending needles in the glove box are always close at hand. There’s a candy dish of melted bon-bons on the dashboard and bits of old lunch wedged in the visor.

Patches of red lead filler and gray primer hide the scars. She lists to starboard on a balding tire squared from sitting. Those are its topsides and keel. A land scow that the family dubbed “Our Shame.” And what of lost mariners who never return to claim their mounts? Keys dangle in the ignition because who would want to thieve this? The newspaper splayed to the sports page beside a bottle of Moxie and a half-eaten lobster roll. These things happen.

In Fishtown, one might refer to someone not entirely tethered to his mental moorings by genteelly suggesting that the poor fellow’s wharf “doesn’t go all the way down to the water”. Well, the Morse Sibley wharf does go down there and has been doing so since the age of sail. Future fishers will shelter in the lee of their steeds to talk weather, the price of fish and about that new electric pick-up truck, they’re gonna get someday.

So now comes Marshall to set himself, easel, paints and tools at the hub of this sometimes milling sometimes solitary station where fishers hitch their warhorses, cast the lines and slip to the fog. He knows the situation and the terrain down the old pier and his subjects know how to hold a pose.

Gone … Fishing, a special exhibition of recent work by Jeffrey Marshall, is on now until November 25th at the Cape Ann Museum.

 

Ken Riaf is a lawyer, artist, author, educator, playwright, activist and all around great guy who owns and operates the Law & Water Gallery on Pleasant Street in Gloucester.

 

 

Ruth Mordecai, Eponymous.

by Bing McGilvray

Ruth Mordecai’s new, eponymous book is cause for celebration. A visual feast and a triumphant testament, it is a summation of her life’s work at age 80. She had just left Torah class at Temple Ahavat Achim when we sat down for a light lunch at the Sandpiper Bakery on Middle Street. In person, Ruth radiates the same confidence and compassion that can been seen in her paintings and sculpture. We talked about her art, living and working in Gloucester and much more. You are invited to listen in.

B. First of all, this book is magnificent. A great achievement. Where can folks get a copy?

R. Trident Gallery and The Bookstore, both on Main Street in Gloucester, are selling it. Or, just get one from me, the artist.

B. The cost is $125 because of the abundance of high-quality reproductions and a very limited run. How many copies did you print?

R. Only 125.

B. Run me through the process you took, looking back over a lifetime of work and editing it down.

R. In about 2014, I did a series called The Container Series. They were big paintings and I threw into them a lot of the symbols that I have used over time. Maybe it was a ladder relating to the story of Jacob’s Ladder. Horizon lines from some of the landscapes I’ve done. Or apples from earlier paintings. I threw it all in and I felt I was beginning to summarize what I’ve done. But the thing that was missing for me was, how do people know what motivated me to do these containers – what are the origins?

B. I see.

R. The biggest thing I wanted from this book was to have something for my children and grandchildren. I also wanted to make it for the museums and individuals that collected my work and my community.

At the same time, at Temple, there was a group that met around creating an ‘ethical will’ – and what is an ‘ethical will’? It is what you leave to tell your children or your closest loved ones, a personal written memoir. I was approaching 80, a sort of landmark thing, and I thought if I don’t do it now, it’s not going to happen. There were other factors too.

Trump came in. I felt that anything that had a portion of  ‘the other’ needed emphasis. The Jewish part of my work is very important to me to express. I sensed this creeping anti-Semitism coming back. It wouldn’t matter if I were Mexican or Muslim or anything. It’s coming from this same place of being ‘other’. So that motivated me with the book.

B. Yes, I think it’s motivating many of us these days. I hope so.

R. At heart, I am a teacher. There aren’t as many artists now coming from a figurative tradition. I wanted to describe the journey from the figurative to abstraction in a way that people might be able to understand it. And I also wanted other artists to know that they can do this too.

Most people think you’ve got to have a book from Abrams Publishing. That assumes you’ve got a major gallery and have had a major museum show.

I thought, why can’t I make a book that’s equivalent to that and do it the way I want? Why not? My designer was wonderful, Meredith Anderson, who’s at the Cape Ann Museum. She had a connection to a publisher that specializes in art books. Charlie Carroll, a wonderful guy from Gloucester, made sure all the photography was ready for printing. So it was all done right here in Gloucester. I took six months and just got it done.

B. The end result is fantastic. I think it’s everything you set out to do … and beyond. Tell me about the text.

R. The two people who have written about my work (Judith Tolnick Champa and Ori Z. Soltes), I knew before. I felt they knew my work. So, I wasn’t looking for someone who was necessarily a museum person, although they both are in their ways. They have known my work over a long period of time.

B. Two distinctly different voices. And you.

R. My ‘Artist Statement’ I’m very proud of. It took a long time to get it down to one page. But it is what I wanted to say. Fifty years in one page but I’m very pleased with it.

B. Fifty years in one book is an accomplishment too. As a record of your life and work, it’s very clear and powerful; your journey and its metamorphosis through time and place and experience. Like all exploratory artists, there is always something of your previous work in the new work. It’s evolutionary in that sense.

R. There was a book I saw. You walked right into it. The artist was front and center. Pictures of the artist in the studio before you got to the work. That was something I wanted to do.

B. Where was the cavernous space, the black & white photo at the start of the book?

R. That was 249 A Street in Boston. That’s where my studio was for 25 years, before I came to Gloucester.

B. That’s the question I really want to ask. Why did you come to Gloucester?

R. Well, for one thing, I met my husband Ed (Powers). He was coming from New York and I was in the studio in Boston. It was a live/work space.

B. This was the Fort Point Studios right?

R. Right, Fort Point. We tried living there for a few years and at some point we bought a house in Gloucester with the idea that we could rent it out while we stayed in Boston. That’s not exactly the correct sequence of events. Before that, a friend let us use her house for a few days a week. It was summertime. We fell in love with the place.

B. How long have you been on Rocky Neck?

R. Since 1999. Almost 20 years.

B. Tell me about Rocky Neck. Supposedly, it’s America’s Oldest Art Colony. Anyway, it is unique. I don’t know of another place quite like it.

R. Well, Provincetown was but …

B. That’s gone now. There are many regional art enclaves throughout the country. What makes Gloucester so unique, Rocky Neck, in particular, is that it has real artist presence existing alongside a working waterfront. On Cape Ann, the artists aren’t separate from the community. They are ingrained in the fabric of life here. A vital part of it. It’s been that way for over 150 years.

Trident Gallery, Gloucester. August 2018

R. It’s not just visual artists but writers, dancers, musicians, and theatre. Pretty amazing how many talented people are here.

B. Creative people are a major part of the city’s economic engine. Most citizens are aware that it is about art here as well as maritime. Artists are accepted and welcome. Most people here know an artist or two. I hope Gloucester never loses that but sometimes I worry.

R. Rocky Neck has been changing. We are threatened with development.  I’m not sure what the forecast is. We have lots of energy now about our Board and community and sharing our exciting programs. Certainly, we still have serious artists there. We are connected to the whole Gloucester community.

B. Cape Ann is an artist’s island. Was Fort Point your first studio?

R. No, actually when my kids were 5 and 7, I got a place in Watertown. The first studio was over the garage. Then when the kids were in school, a group of us formed a collective, right on the river in one of those old brick buildings.

B. I grew up right across the river in Brighton.

R. Oh. OK. Well, we were on California Street.

B. I know it well.

R. After I was there 4 or 5 years, Fort Point started to happen. I became a member of an artist’s group, Boston Visual Artists Union. We were interested in live/work space. All these buildings on the waterfront on the edge of South Boston were becoming available at that time. We bought the building for one million dollars, 70,000 square feet. There was a great deal of resistance at the time because we were all liberals and …

B. Hippies?

R. Yes. Hippies. South Boston was very conservative.

B. Uptight Irish Catholic. That’s my background. It’s disappearing now, I think.

R. Oh, it’s changed so much.

B. Is it still there, your building?

R. Oh yes. There are two or three buildings where the artists own their own space are still there.

B. It happens all the time. Artists move into low rent, abandoned areas and the gentrifiers soon follow, pricing artists out.

R. People came there first because it was artsy. Then they drove everyone out.

B. Your recent show at Trident Gallery was wonderful. Was it meant to coincide with the release of the book?

R. I finished the work for Trident six months before the show, so it could be photographed and that would be the last chapter of the book.

B. I see.

Trident Gallery, Gloucester. August 2018

R. Secondly, there are several works that really relate to stories in Jewish … are they Old Testament stories, Biblical stories? One of them is totally mystical. The piece that has the four prongs –

B. The Missing Letters.

R. The Missing Letters series. That’s a result of our present political struggles. It’s similar to the belief of the Messiah coming. When the mystical letter appears there will be no more repression and we will be loving. So, that’s my way of dealing with what’s going on now. It pushed me into that series.

Finally, these pieces are hopeful.

The one with the letters floating above it … those are Hebrew letters. One is an Aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Another is Chi, which means life. The third is Bet, which means home.

The story revolves around a rabbi who was very special to the people and his congregation. It was during the time of the Crusades. The Crusaders wrapped the rabbi in the Torah and lit it on fire. His parishioners were just going crazy, crying, ‘What will we do without you? What’s going to happen without you and the Torah?’ And the rabbi says ‘Do not fear – the letters are going up to God.’ OK? Well … it was something that grabbed me.

B. Wow. I can see why.

R. It became the basis for the piece which – but you don’t even need to know that. Maybe I shouldn’t …

B. It’s a very powerful story. But the work stands on its own.

R. There are some mono-prints. I love collage. I cut up and pasted some mono-print forms. Two of those, black & white. And another one, more painterly, with the apples.

B. Yes, tell me about the apples. It’s a recurring theme. Anything to do with Adam and Eve?

R. No. Nothing. We had apple trees in my backyard growing up. Eddie, the man who worked there, he and I would go out and shake the tree, put all the apples in baskets, bring them in to my mother. She would make apple pie, applesauce and the house would smell wonderful.

B. Another great story. Let’s see, anything else you want to add in conclusion?

R. No. I’m just thrilled it’s done. Thrilled you are interested.

B. The thrill is all mine. Thanks, Ruth.

For more information on Ruth Mordecai visit: ruthmordecai.com or tridentgallery.com

Ruth Mordecai. © 2018 Bing

  Bing McGilvray is an artist, flaneur, and raconteur living in Gloucester.

Ralph Coburn, an Artist’s Artist

Peter Anastas

Paris Landscape. n.d.

Painter and long-time Lanesville resident, Ralph Coburn, who died on June 5th in Miami at the age of 94, was an artist’s artist.  This is not to say that his “spare, beautiful, abstract art,” (Boston Globe) wasn’t appreciated by the many who came to view it at the Cape Ann Museum, Wellesley College, the Arts Club of Chicago, David Hall Gallery, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where Coburn’s innovative, geometric paintings were exhibited.   Rather, it denotes the deep appreciation that Coburn’s unique abstractions received from those who best understood the thought behind them and how they were part of an ongoing attempt of American painters to move beyond the dominant Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s.   Yet Coburn, whose work ethic was memorable and whose knowledge of art, from the frescos of Masaccio in Florence to Ellsworth Kelly’s bright, elemental abstractions, was extensive, did not insert himself into the art world in the manner of today’s careerists.

“Not enough people know about Coburn’s work, which is spare, beautiful, witty, and uncannily satisfying,” Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe art critic, wrote in 2010. “Coburn himself, I’ve been told, is modest to a fault, which is no doubt one reason why we don’t know more about him.”

Sea Study. 1985    Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum

I can attest to Ralph’s modesty. We met in 1986 while doing our laundry at the laundromat in Dunkin Donuts plaza in downtown Gloucester.  I might have been reading a book that Ralph commented on, or maybe it was the other way around.  A conversation began that ended with the last item of clothing removed from the drier and was taken up again the following Friday; for it was invariably on Friday mornings that we met to do the week’s wash, two aging men talking excitedly about Gertrude Stein or the latest recording of Bartok’s Quartets, while children ran between our legs and their mothers sat smoking and thumbing through tattered copies of People.   One of the most surprising moments of those early talks was our discovery that we had both been in Florence at the same time; in fact, our paths had nearly crossed in the Tuscan hill town of Settignano, where I was then living and Ralph had come to visit my neighbor, artist Susan Nevelson, daughter-in-law of the sculptor Louise Nevelson.

As far as I knew from what Ralph had disclosed, he was at the point of retiring from a job in graphic design at MIT, where he had been an architecture student before the war.  It took a long time before I learned that Ralph was actually a painter, who had been close to a group of post-war artists in Boston, many of whom had studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, including Ellsworth Kelly, Bernard Chaet, and Ninon Lacey.

Landscape Distallation. 1950

It turned out that Ralph was also friends with James Mellow, the Gloucester born biographer of Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, and Ernest Hemingway, whom I had met through playwright John Coyle, who spent his summers in the family home on Church Street.  Mellow and his partner Augie Capaccio had a summer cottage nearby Ralph’s home and studio in the former Folly Cove Designers barn overlooking Folly Cove.  Soon we were gathering for drinks and dinner at each other’s houses, joined by Mellow’s cousin Dr. June Mellow, a retired clinical psychologist and avid reader, and clinical social workers Peter Parsons and Helane Harris.

Those dinners became a summer routine, a night on John’s deck on Church Street, or at Augie and Jim’s, or at our house where Peter and Maria Denzer, our friends from Houston, MN prepared an unforgettable seafood risotto and the talk ranged from who was doing what in art to Mellow’s National Book Award for his biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which reviewer John Updike had called “the finest biography ever written” about the novelist of Salem’s dark secrets.

If Ralph had been modest about his art, which we were finally to experience when we were invited to his house for dinner, he was even more modest about his cooking.   That first night—there would be many others—Ralph, who had spent a great deal of time in France, prepared a fish soup of white fish in a clear broth with fresh vegetables and herbs.  Everyone pronounced it “exquisite.”  But that was only the prelude to the dishes that Ralph would cook for us on subsequent evenings.

Ralph and I shared a love of Modernist music, not to exclude Mahler, and the novels of Andre Gide.  Ralph was also a lifelong jazz fan, having spent countless nights at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston, while a student at MIT and later working at Boris Mirski’s gallery of vanguard art on Newbury Street. He greatly admired the playing of another Gloucester native, trumpeter and orchestra leader Herb Pomeroy.

What Ralph did not talk about much was his art—he merely did it, carefully and painstakingly, day after day, year after year, without the thought of recognition.  It was thrilling to see the paintings emerge.

Thinking back to the time we spent together, which now seems never to have been enough, I remember most our laundromat days, when we talked non-stop about art and life, while our clothing whirled in the driers and the children ran and jumped around us.

Ralph Coburn 1950

Ralph Coburn and his niece Carol C. Metcalfe. 2011

 

 

Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Charlie Movalli

Dennis Poirier

To celebrate the Cape Ann Museum’s exhibition Charles Movalli: Cape Ann & Beyond,  we asked Dennis Poirier to share some thoughts on his mentor and friend. 

The entrance to the Charles Movalli exhibition              at the Cape Ann Museum

I met Charlie for the first time on the steps of the gallery of Aldro Hibbard, in Rockport.  I was at that time renting the house from Mrs. Hibbard. It was a perfect place to meet him really. I moved to Maine soon after and it was to be many years later, in 2000, that I would see him again.

I was now showing at Bird’s Nest gallery in Bar Harbor, Maine. I had been painting with Mike Graves, and a group from Gloucester came up to paint too. The group included Dale Ratcliff, Carleen Muniz, Ramona Murray and a few others. Charlie came up in the fall of that season, when we all had dinner in October. Dale contacted me that she wanted to buy one of my small paintings of Gloucester that had been at Bird’s Nest gallery because it caught Charlie’s eye. I was thrilled that he wanted to own one of my paintings!  A few months later, I was at a show at the Rockport Art Association and he told me that he loved having it in his “Gloucester” collection. I was so pleased to hear that.

Gloucester Harbor © Dennis Poirier.           Purchased by Charles Movalli in 2000

I invited Dale and Charlie to come up to Maine and visit a local artist named Charles Andres. Dale told me that Charlie really enjoyed that visit since he was such a terrific writer of art history. Mr. Andres was a student of the great Harvey Dunn. He also had helped out on the book about Dean Cornwell. In his home he had original works by Dunn, Von Schmidt, and many beautiful Dean Cornwell paintings and drawings.  Charles Andres work was also on his walls of course.  I loved going to visit him, so I enjoyed sharing this with my art friends too! Don Stone also enjoyed meeting Charles Andres. It was like a museum of Golden age illustration!

Charlie and Dale once took me to breakfast after I had been rejected from the Rockport Art Association, in 2001 or 2002. Charlie predicted that I would win awards at Rockport and he turned out to be right. I have won more times at Rockport than at North Shore Arts in Gloucester where I grew up!

In 2013, I fell and broke my right wrist. I taught myself to paint left handed during my recovery. When Charlie broke his right arm my pal Caleb told him how I had painted lefty. Charlie emailed me and I told him, “Yes, try it!”  Sadly, it was my last email from him.

I was pretty blown away when Dale sent me a Christmas card with that final painting he worked on with his left hand. I enjoyed seeing it in the show at Cape Ann.

Heading for Port © 2016 Charles Movalli.                    This is Charles last painting, done with his left hand.

Just one thing more: Being half Sicilian (my mom was a Scandalito) I have what I like to call my Italian connection of artists, now all passed away— Joseph Santoro , Salvatore Grasso, Rudy Colao, and of course Charlie Movalli. All these men were very supportive, helpful and inspiring to me and all were good friends.  I sure miss them all.

Dennis Poirier

 

Dennis Poirier grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The colors, sights, and sounds of the busy port and fishing fleet inspired Dennis to paint.
Dennis began his studies in high school and then went to Butera School of Art in Boston. He returned to Cape Ann to become the first student studying the Atelier System with John C. Terelak and Ted Goerschner at the newly formed Gloucester Academy of Fine Arts.  Later he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League, winning the Charles J. Romans Memorial Award at his very first national exhibit at the Allied Artists of America Show. Dennis is a member of the North Shore Arts Association, and Rockport Art Association.

 

At the Cape Ann Museum on Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m., a panel discussion, moderated by Sinikka Nogelo, artist and former host of the Cape Ann Report, and including friends, students and colleagues of Charles Movalli, will reflect on his amazing life and career. Panelists will include T.M. Nicholas, Mike Graves, Dennis Poirier, Charles Shurcliff, Marilyn Swift and Tom Gill.

A NEIGHBORHOOD WIPED OUT

In the year 2000 one particular block in the City of Gloucester, MA had not changed in 100 years with the exception of the Sawyer Free Library onto which had been built a new wing.

Holding down the corner of Middle Street and Dale Avenue stood the Saunders house, built in 1764, converted for library use in 1884 with additions in 1913 and 1976. 

Sawyer Free Library showing 1913 and 1976 additions to 1764 Saunders house.

Sawyer Free Library showing 1913 and 1976 additions to 1764 Saunders house.

In 1800 Capt. Beach owned the old Saunders house with a large piece of land. In 1801 John Mason bought land from Beach and built a house which he then sold to Joseph Henderson and Samuel Gale for $1600 in 1807. Henderson and Gale who were also house wrights next sold the lot with the house for $1215 to Nathaniel and Charles Babson in 1810.  Along with the house, there was also a shop.  It is not clear whether this was a separate structure or was included within the house.

This Federal period house with the gable end on School Street was next owned by John W. Haskell for many years.  The main part of the house that faced Middle Street had replaced 2 over 2 window sash, popular in the Victorian period.  The ell of the house still had small paned 6 over 6 window sash that would have been original to the house.  Although set way back on School Street the house faced Middle Street.  In front of the house is another house that can be seen in the photo.  It was most likely the back of the home of John J. Somes that was later replaced by the Lorraine Apartments built nearly thirty years after this picture was taken in 1882. 

Later in the 19th century, the Lane family lived there.  The house was deeded to Maria Lane, wife of Edwin Lane of the fire department.  At that time the fire station was on Dale Avenue on the site of the Central Grammar Apartments today.  It was just steps from Lane’s house to the station.

This is a Corliss and Ryan photo taken about 1882.  Courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum

2-3-school-st

Eventually, another house was built next door at 7 School Street.  This house was occupied by J. Warren Haskell, probably the son of John W. Haskell.  It was larger than the charming but small Federal at 3-5 School Street.

Benjamin F. Somes, bank president, lived on the corner of School and Middle in a Federal period house with a nice fanlight over the door.  John J. Somes, long time city clerk, lived in a modest Victorian house that was next door to Benjamin’s house but newer and closer to Middle Street.   Photo courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.

3-80-middle-st

The two Somes lots on the corner of Middle Street and School Street became the lot on which the Lorraine Apartments replaced the Somes houses about 1910.  School Street was between the Benjamin Somes house and the Congregational Church.  The Somes houses may have been moved to new locations in the city.

4-the-block-in-1851-saunders-house-was-then-dr-davidsons

The block in 1851.  Saunders house was then Dr. Davidson’s

Next door on the right side of the Lorraine Apartments on Middle Street was the former First Parish Church, in recent years the Temple Ahavat Achim. Continuing up School Street it soon intersects with Mason Street.  Mason Street is a sharp right-hand turn facing Central Grammar and the passageway to Dale Avenue next to the Sawyer Free Library.

On this short leg of Mason Street at #3 was the pretty Italianate house that was quite new when Corliss and Ryan photographed it in 1882.  Right behind it is the back of the First Parish Church.  The small chimneys indicate stove heat.  Fireplaces were no longer needed for heat. Through the trees on the left side of the house is the gable end of the old house that originally stood on the corner of Dale Avenue and Warren Street facing City Hall.

5-3-mason-st

In 1867 this piece of land was sold for $950 with no house on it.  In 1883 it was sold by Horatio Andrews to Emma Perkins with a house for $5000.

This handsome house has pairs of brackets under the eaves, the hallmark of the Italianate period in architecture so popular in Gloucester.  Chances are that it was built in the 1870s.  This photo is courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.

As late as the year 2000 this neighborhood was still as described.  The Saunders house with its library additions was still next door to the old First Parish Church with the Lorraine Apartments on the corner of Middle and School streets.

6-library-and-first-parish-meeting-house-as-they-appeared-in-the-late-19th-century

Library and First Parish Meeting House as they appeared in the late 19th century.

 

7-the-lorraine-apartments-built-as-a-hospital-circa-1910-burned-2007

The Lorraine Apartments built as a hospital circa 1910. Burned 2007.

On School Street, the first house, the old Haskell house, was still standing at 3-5 School Street with the other Haskell house still standing next door at 7 School Street.  Turning the corner onto Mason Street was the Italianate house of the later 19th century.  This completes this block as it was in the year 2000 just before this long-time stable and established block began to change. 

The first house to go was the former pretty Italianate at 3 Mason Street.  The Sawyer Free Library, in anticipation of expanding to meet modern library needs, purchased the house for $229,000 and demolished it.

The library next focused on the two School Street houses.  On June 4, 2003, the library acquired 3-5 School Street for $339,000.  Just about two weeks later 7 School Street was acquired by the library for $350,000.  Both houses were demolished clearing three house lots in preparation for a larger library with some parking.

That ended the planned demolition but unplanned demolition continued to wreak havoc on this city block.

In December of 2007, a devastating fire destroyed the Lorraine Apartments with a loss of one life.  As the apartment house collapsed in flames it took the former First Parish Church, then Temple Ahavat Achim, with it completing the destruction of this block.  Only the old Saunders house with its 1913 and 1976 additions remained.  Now Gloucester was presented with a unique opportunity to redevelop this block and begin renovations to the library.  There was plenty of room for the library to spread out.  Kirk Noyes, representing the Gloucester Development Team who owns Central Grammar organized a charrette hoping for inspiration for exciting redevelopment. 

8-the-new-contemporary-temple-ahavat-achim

The new contemporary Temple Ahavat Achim

Sadly, this opportunity to do something really wonderful slipped away as a poor reproduction of the Lorraine Apartments quickly rose from the ashes and a controversial Temple replaced the old converted first Parish Church, its contemporary design thought to be out of place in a small historic district struggling to survive the loss, recover from this major upheaval, and keep its identity.

9-the-reproduced-lorraine-apartments

The reproduced Lorraine Apartments.

The money hoped for though an override for the library failed to materialize and the 2007 plans for expansion of the library were shelved.

With a new round of library funding available in 2017, the library has again jumped on board.  Having discarded the 2007 plans the building committee began anew and presented the city with a disappointing set of plans.  Although the interior would provide the much-desired features it was recommended that the 1976 library building be demolished and replaced with a very contemporary and controversial building designed by architects who apparently didn’t look at the surrounding area, consider the Gloucester Historic District or the 250-year-old Saunders house.  The city was shocked! The important Saunders house didn’t work for these architects so that would be put out to pasture unless someone could come up with a sensible idea for an architecturally important but 250-year-old detached piece of the library.  The new plan has yet to be approved and the land on School Street and Mason Street remains vacant but providing some parking for the library.  The newest plan does not call for expanding in the rear of the library where the old houses once stood.

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Nearly $1,000,000 in historic Gloucester houses was lost, a number of affordable rental units lost, nearly $1,000,000 in grounds work, a beautiful amphitheater and landscaping doomed if the plan goes through.  Now there are two sets of architectural drawings costing several hundred thousand dollars wasted if the plan isn’t approved or used.

Why wasn’t the Gloucester Historic District Commission or the Gloucester Historical Commission included in the planning?  There are a lot of unanswered questions.  For the time being, we are left with a decimated neighborhood and an application pending for funding for a new library that will make many people very unhappy if it ever gets approved.

Although it didn’t all come out of one pocket the expenses incurred and the loss of antique houses and rental units in an attempt to renew the library are huge.  I feel sorry those who have contributed so much such as the amphitheater named for the Randos and the new beautiful landscaping by Hillarie Holdsworth that would be destroyed.  I feel sorry for the Monells knowing that the beautiful and appropriate building their father designed would callously be bulldozed.

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The new amphitheater for the library. Dedicated to the parents of John Rando.

When and if a new library gets built, whatever the design, it will represent a very costly trial and error attempt. There has been insufficient regard for the old Saunders house, the Gloucester Historic District, the National Register designation, or the civic-minded individuals who contributed time and money so generously in support of their library to make it better. 

 

Prudence FishPrudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.