The bottom of Munjoy Hill has been on top of the world the past few years. Hill People descending Congress Street can poke their heads into a host of hip shops (Ferdinand, Knit Wit, Ember Grove, Homegrown Herb & Tea…) on their way to grab a pint at The Snug or take in some soup and folk music at North Star Music Café. It’s a far cry from, say, 1998, when this part of town offered little more than used furniture and a punch in the face.
But the transformation is not quite complete. At the corner of Congress Street and Washington Avenue stands a building that reminds Hill hipsters this part of town is also called East Bayside.
Say hello to 6 Washington Ave.
According to Gary Berenson, whose family owned the building from 1951 to 1991, the structure began life as a grocery store sometime in the 1890s. It was a carpet-cleaning business called E A Little Company when Berenson’s father bought it and opened his dry-cleaning shop there. Apartments occupied the upper floors until the business expanded in the mid-1950s.
The last dry cleaner to occupy the building closed several years ago, and now the roofless, gutted structure’s days are numbered. Alec Altman, one of the owners of Binga’s Wingas, purchased the property in 2006, intent on whipping it into shape and opening an East End Binga’s. Two years — and a flurry of planning permits — later, Altman has finally decided the building is beyond repair. He plans to knock it down by the end of this summer.
This is the first major redevelopment project Altman has undertaken. He described it as a truly educational experience. “The planning process is tough. It’s thick, it’s solid,” he said. “It’s not quick.”
Indeed, a perusal of documents on file at City Hall shows Altman’s plans morphing from interior demolition to full scale demo to roof replacement. Then there’s an October 2007 stop-work order from the city’s inspections department, which deemed the structure unfit for human habitation.
Altman ultimately decided to go back to square one. He’s begun working with an architect to design a new mixed-use development on the site. Luckily, despite the building’s history of housing dry cleaners, chemical contamination is not an issue. Altman said the site has been certified safe by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
And fans of deep-fried poultry need not be disappointed — Altman wants to make a wing joint part of the mixed-use project. “I bought the building to open a Binga’s Wingas,” he said. “That plan has never changed.”
After almost two decades of deterioration, the structure at 38 Custom House Wharf profiled in a previous installment of That’s My Dump is gone.
In late April, the Portland City Council ordered that the building be razed within 30 days. If that deadline was not met, the city would take it down and charge the wharf’s owner for the pleasure. But by the time the council voted, the building was already a stack of boards, and no further action by the city is expected. The site’s future is still anyone’s guess.