Every neighborhood has its eyesores. In Portland’s fashionable West End, one such dump has been standing — leaning, really — on the corner of Pine and Brackett streets for years, next to a small parking lot where the teenagers smoke.
The house at 189 Brackett Street wasn’t always a disaster-in-waiting. In fact, it has a distinguished, if obscure, history. Built in 1840, the four-bedroom Greek Revival survived the Great Fire of 1866 and the urban renewal orgy of the 1960s and ’70s, only to succumb to neglect in recent decades.
Deb Andrews, who manages the city’s Historic Preservation Program, said the age and style of the building, located in the West End Historic District, make it historically valuable. “It lends to the understanding of this neighborhood,” she said.
The unoccupied structure is owned by Merle Clarke, of Portland, who did not respond to requests for comment made through his attorney.
City Councilor Dave Marshall lives right across the street from this dump, on Pine. Earlier this year, he called a meeting with Andrews, Clarke, and Clarke’s attorney, David Turesky. Marshall said Clarke wants to demolish the house to expand the adjacent parking lot, which
he also owns.
City regulations would make that no small task. For one thing, Clarke would probably have to fork over a $50,000 fee to comply with the city’s so-called “housing replacement” ordinance. This ordinance normally doesn’t apply to buildings with fewer than three units, but apparently it does if the housing is making way for parking. Plus, the city’s historic preservation ordinance would require that an extensive review be completed before the property’s historic designation could be rescinded. After that, it’d be on to the
Portland Planning Board, the City Council, etc.
Andrews said Clarke should expect the whole process to take at least three months.
Turesky said his client is willing to work with the city to make something constructive happen. “We are exploring any and all alternatives we can to make it an appropriate and viable investment for the community,” he said.
Rehabilitation doesn’t seem to be among those alternatives. “The building is now so structurally impaired that it simply cannot be saved,” Marshall said. “[It] should have been saved a couple of years ago.”
“Anything is possible given the resources applied to it,” Andrews said hopefully. But, she conceded, in this case, “It would still be a fairly tough prospect.”
— Patrick Banks