That’s My Dump! Five Year Reunion
by Patrick Banks
Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first annual That’s My Dump! Five Year Reunion, in which we check up on the dumpy properties profiled in this publication half a decade ago.
If these dumps could walk and talk, what would they say to one another while they awkwardly mingled in some crumbling function room, guzzling weak cocktails and munching cold hors d’oeuvres? Like a reunited high school class, one imagines the handful of proud houses renovated into success stories clucking to one another about the sorry state of those who still look like hell. And perhaps all those still standing would raise a broken glass in remembrance of the classmates who’ve been bulldozed from the face of the earth. Alas, we’ll never know.
That’s My Dump! first appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of The Bollard, when this magazine was published quarterly. This reunion includes the dump in that issue, the Spring 2008 issue, and the June through December editions of that year. A year from now, dump hunter Patrick Banks will update us on the fate of the 12 dumps profiled in ’09. (If you own one of those properties, and it’s still a wreck, consider this fair warning.)
— Chris Busby
189 Brackett St., Portland
The first dump we looked into was a modest residence built in Greek Revival style near the corner of Pine and Brackett streets in Portland’s West End. The plucky little house survived the Great Fire of 1866, the urban renewal movement a century later, the gentrification that followed, and all the nor’easters in between. But by the turn of this century, it was empty and in an advanced state of decay.
Owner Merle Clarke wanted to knock the place down and pave the parcel into a parking lot, but his plans were thwarted by the city’s historic preservation protections and the so-called “housing replacement” ordinance. Clarke would have had to pay a $50,000 housing-replacement fee and undertake an extensive review process to have the property’s designation as a historic landmark rescinded.
On top of that, Clarke subsequently discovered that he owed over $13,000 in back taxes on the property. In a December 2008 follow-up, Clarke told us, “I was so intent on tearing it down, I forgot about the taxes.”
By that time, Clarke had put the property on the market. He was asking $200,000 for the house and the adjacent parking lot. The Great Recession was well underway, and the gears of city government continued to turn at a glacial pace, but Clarke finally got his demo permit in November of 2011, and by the summer of 2012 he’d found a buyer for the newly empty piece of real estate: Jonathan Culley, of the local development firm Redfern Properties.
Redfern’s grand design for this corner is West End Place, a four-story building with 39 “green and sustainable” luxury apartments and retail space and parking on the ground floor. The website for the development claims the residences will be ready for occupancy next summer, but shovel has yet to hit ground. Earlier this year, Redfern submitted plans to build 29 luxury condos on Munjoy Hill, leading some West Enders to wonder whether the project in their neighborhood had been abandoned.
Culley told me in December that groundbreaking has been delayed because it’s taken longer than expected to secure financing. But he said the project is still a go. “We’re hoping to get shovels in the ground in January or February,” he said.
38 Custom House Wharf, Portland
The first dump featured in these pages to taste the wrecking ball was a half-burnt shack on Custom House Wharf. The place had been in bad shape since a fire tore through it in 1990. By the time we investigated in early 2008, the structure was noticeably leaning to both port and starboard, its rusty metal siding peeling off like the lid of a giant sardine can.
Owner Ken McGowan had been at loggerheads with City Hall over the structural condition of this and other buildings on the eastern side of his wharf. The previous December, city inspectors had declared the Comedy Connection and the former Boone’s Restaurant space next to the club too dangerous to occupy. Those issues were resolved within a few weeks, but McGowan said the city’s waterfront zoning rules, which limit potential tenants to marine-related businesses, made it hard to justify the expense of demolishing the shack and laying down a new deck slab (a job McGowan estimated could cost $750,000), given the dire state of the fishing industry.
City officials expressed some sympathy, but this dump’s demolition was no longer negotiable. Rather than have the city do it and stick him with the bill, McGowan reduced the shack to a stack of boards that April. Five years later, not much has changed. The space formerly occupied by the shack is now occupied by a couple parked vehicles, a stack of wooden pallets and a few plastic barrels. Given the continuing woes of the fishing industry, looks like this troubled patch of the working waterfront won’t be back to work anytime soon.
6 Washington Ave., Portland
In the summer of 2008, there was a roofless, four-story shell of a building on the corner of Washington Avenue and Congress Street. Alec Altman, co-owner of Bingas Wingas, had recently purchased the property and planned to knock the building down and replace it with what he envisioned would become the eastern stronghold of his burgeoning fried-poultry empire.
But then Bingas’ restaurant on the West End burned down. Altman and his partners decided to pursue new locations in Yarmouth and downtown Portland, instead. After a tussle with the city over fees required by the aforementioned housing-replacement ordinance (a fight Altman won), a demolition permit was issued for 6 Washington and the structure was razed in the spring of 2010.
Sadly, the vacant lot that resulted is unchanged nearly four years later. The chain-link fence still corrals a crop of weeds; the snowplow blade leaning against a pole hasn’t moved an inch. Awhile back, a local artist wove a geometric pattern through the fencing with strips of blue tarp, as part of a neighborhood beautification project, but wind-blown litter still clings to its base for dear life.
Altman told me last month that he’s still in no hurry to redevelop the property, largely because he’s reluctant to deal with City Hall again. And converting the lot into some much-needed parking would be too expensive, due to drainage issues. “For what I’d have to do to turn it into a parking lot, it would cost me $200,000,” Altman said. Selling it doesn’t appear to be an attractive option, either.
Looks like this corner will remain the domain of tumbleweeds for the foreseeable future. Anybody need a plow?
46 Bay St., Portland
When we last visited this crumbling bungalow in Portland’s Back Cove neighborhood, it was hidden behind a dense thicket of weeds, and shrubbery was growing from the chimney. Inside its sagging walls, open windows had invited a vicious den of raccoons and feral cats. Most infuriating to the neighbors, however, was the growing pile of furniture and broken appliances dumped there by miscreants too cheap to haul their trash to the transfer station.
The folks responsible for the house at the time, Francena and Gary Roberts of West Bath, had inherited it from Francena’s uncle, the late Llewellyn “Louie” Leavitt, several years before. The Roberts were retirees living on a fixed income, and said they were struggling to come up with the money to pay the $1,200 fee to transfer the property’s title to their name, nevermind paying for maintenance.
They must have come up with the cash somehow, because a year later the house was sold. The new owner had it demolished and hired Robie Builders, a residential construction company in Windham, to replace it with a handsome single-family home and attached garage. By early summer of 2010, the new home was ready for occupancy. It changed hands again this past fall.
When I visited in December, the property was the picture of domestic tranquility. The driveway was freshly plowed and the front door was bedecked with a festive wreath. Congratulations, 46 Bay! You are no longer anyone’s dump.
Brighton Avenue and Riverside Street, Portland
The abandoned Mobil station at the intersection of Brighton Avenue and Riverside Street bit the dust three years after it first appeared in these pages. Kamlesh Patel — whose company, Portland Hotels Realty Inc., owns the site and operates the Travelodge behind it — told us in 2011 that he had no plans to redevelop the lot, but indicated it might be on the market soon.
I was unable to reach Patel for this follow-up, but there’s no indication the lot is for sale. All that remains of the old Mobil are a few pipes jutting from a concrete slab. This gateway between Portland and Westbrook appears poised to remain a minor eyesore for years to come.
35 Mayo St., Portland
What a difference five years can make! In the summer of 2008, this three-unit East Bayside apartment building at the corner of Oxford and Mayo streets was a toxic-smelling, burnt-out wreck. Rumors circulated that the place had been stripped of its copper, and that bike thieves had turned the basement into a warehouse for their ill-gotten booty.
When I visited last month, I saw a building reborn: new vinyl siding, curtains in the windows, satellite dishes receiving signals from space. The only section that looked old was the foundation, but it looked sturdy.
A contractor named Steven Fowler-Greaves bought this foreclosed property from The Bank of New York Mellon in April 2009, for $25,000, and brought it back to life. It was sold again, a year ago, for $300,000 (slightly more than its current property tax–assessed value), to an LLC registered last January by local attorney Michael High.
Next-door neighbor Belinda Ray couldn’t be happier with the condition of the building these days. “They cleaned it up nicely,” she said.
291 Fore St., Portland
On the other hand, sometimes five years is but a blink of an eye in the lifetime of a dump.
Built in 1900, the former chewing-gum factory at 291 Fore St. is known these days as the Old Port home of Hub Furniture. The first three floors of this angular five-story building don’t look that bad from the outside, and Hub uses them as unfinished showroom space — the idea being, apparently, that customers will think the prices are low because money clearly isn’t being spent on extravagances like drywall. But the top two floors, used as warehouse space, look like an inferno waiting to happen. “One can see lots of dusty old mattresses, cardboard boxes and pieces of wood through the dirty windows, some of which are missing panes,” I wrote back in 2008. Those same words apply today.
Hub Furniture President Sam Novick declined to speak with me at the time, and hasn’t changed his mind since. “I’m not sure why you’re calling me back,” he said last month.
Hub Furniture celebrated its 100th anniversary last summer. Perhaps they’ll clean up the attic in time for their bicentennial.
1 Joy Place, Portland
This grey-blue barn off Brackett Street in Portland’s West End was a relic of the neighborhood’s agrarian past. When I first visited five falls ago, neighbor Brian Chick was waging a losing battle against the colony of feral cats living there. “They’re not exactly friendly,” Chick said. Meanwhile, the city was waging a losing battle with owner Albert Bresette, who also owned two structures next to the barn that likewise belied their address — there was no joy about this place.
City officials had demanded that Bresette submit a report on the barn’s structural stability, but a city spokesperson said at the time that he had not done so. The building’s structural integrity was put to the test in February of 2010, when a nor’easter arrived. The barn failed that test. In the face of winds clocked at 65 m.p.h., it toppled like a house of cards. “A total collapse appears to have been prevented by the building next to the barn, which is now propping it up,” the West End News reported.
The remains of the barn were hauled away not long after the storm, but the cat gang moved into the dumps next door. “One of those feral cats chased off my well-mannered cat, and she was MIA for two weeks!” said former Brackett Street resident Caitlin Gilmet. “It was like ‘Nam back there.” One wolf-looking feline seemed to be in charge of the others, Gilmet said.
Portland Inspections Director Tammy Munson said the city is currently trying to get Bresette to voluntarily remove the other buildings. She noted that he did agree to remove one section deemed dangerous.
When I reached Bresette, who lived off Riverside Street, five years ago, he said, “I wish you wouldn’t write about my house,” and added that we’d hear from his attorney if we did (we didn’t). This time, I repeatedly reached full voicemail boxes.
The fate of the rest of Joy Place is probably in Mother Nature’s hands now.
99 Capisic St., Portland
This yellow house on a hill in Portland’s Rosemont neighborhood is the victim of a collapsed marriage, a burglary, and a life at sea. Owner Vincent Devlin was a merchant marine who spent most of his shore time in Ft. Lauderdale. He rented the house at 99 Capisic to various tenants beginning in the mid ’70s, and wasn’t around much to keep an eye on the place until the mid ’90s, when he decided to do some renovation work.
Ten years passed. Life happened. Renovation — not so much. Devlin told me five years ago that the repairs were delayed by a messy divorce. Then, in the summer of ’08, after he’d finally finished the interior, burglars broke in and ransacked the place while Devlin was in Florida. He said that in addition to stealing plumbing fixtures, they made off with all his tools, but that he still hoped to finish the job and rent the house again.
Half a decade later, the place looks as dumpy as ever. Inspections Director Munson said the city has tried numerous times to contact Devlin with requests to, at a minimum, secure the property. “Based on my inspectors’ notes, it appears there is no response from the owner of 99 Capisic Street and it has gone into foreclosure,” Munson said. (My own attempts to reach Devlin were also fruitless — the phone number listed for his Ft. Lauderdale address has been disconnected.)
A sheet of particle board covers the front doorway these days, so perhaps the property is secured. But thanks to an unplowed driveway and a steep slope covered in feet of snow, it’s also pretty much inaccessible. Just like its old landlord.