That’s My Dump! Five Year Reunion
by Patrick Banks
9 Wescott St., Portland
It was a few weeks before the dawn of this decade when dump hunter Emily Guerin checked out this 10-unit brick apartment building near Maine Medical Center, in Portland’s West End. Over three years had passed since the Sunday in October 2006 when a 165-foot-tall crane, being used to construct the hospital’s new maternity wing, was toppled by winds gusting over 70 m.p.h. and smashed into the front of this building.
Amazingly, no one was injured. The tenants moved out, as did the residents of two adjacent buildings damaged by the crane. Those two properties were eventually demolished, but Kenneth Fisk, a resident of Falmouth, Mass., who owned 9 Wescott., had a huge black mesh tarp nailed to the left half of the building and allowed it to remain vacant.
Squatters soon made this dump their home, and one of them likely started the fire that further damaged the structure in August 2007. Graffiti taggers desecrated the brick walls and boarded-up windows, hospital workers on lunch break left trash there, and though the property was supposedly secured, transients continued to make it their clubhouse. Inspection records on file at City Hall indicate neighbors were still complaining about “vagrants and drug addicts” breaking into the place as recently as March of 2012.
Richard Berman, of the Portland firm Developers Collaborative, told Guerin he’d expressed interest in buying the building after the crane accident, but said Fisk’s asking price for the property (assessed for tax purposes at $352,000) was too high. By August of 2013, inspection records indicate the place was finally secured against trespassers, and there were signs Fisk was planning to renovate it. But the next record on file, from January 2014, is a demolition permit.
It looks like Fisk followed through on that. When I visited last month, all that remained of this once stately structure were a few bricks scattered on a weedy vacant lot, in the long shadow of Maine Med’s no-longer-new baby building.
593 Forest Ave. and 38 Primrose Lane, Portland
Five winters ago, someone e-mailed Guerin about the cinderblock bunker at the corner of Forest Avenue and Clifton Street. The squat structure, with its boarded-up window and glass front door covered with a long sheet of crinkled paper, was an intriguing mystery to nosy neighbors. “Its only purpose is for people to drunkenly piss behind it on their way home from the Great Lost Bear (guilty!),” the tipster wrote.
Guerin was able to determine the place once housed a hair salon, but had been empty for over 10 years. Residents of the adjacent apartment building weren’t talking, and neither was landlord Nicholas Giusti III, who could not be reached for comment at the time (or since).
“He’ll go after you if you write about him,” Giusti’s father told Guerin. So, naturally, she tried to hunt him down at a house on Primrose Lane, off Washington Avenue, that tax records indicated Giusti the Third had purchased in 1997 with a woman who later became his ex-wife. That place, a raised ranch, was also abandoned and dumpy.
The bunker, which Giusti also bought in the mid-’90s, hasn’t changed much over the past half decade. The window has been cinder-blocked out of existence and the doorway completely boarded over. Instead of purple paint covering graffiti on the whitewashed wall, gray paint covers graffiti on beige-painted blocks. The house on Primrose Lane, however, was sold in the summer of 2011 and has been renovated into a respectable residence.
130 Eastern Promenade, Portland
A woman named Jacqueline wrote to us in 2010 to share memories of her days, decades before, in this turreted triple-decker overlooking Casco Bay. “I had a brass cow bell hanging out my kitchen window … down the side of the building, to know when my manfriend x sgt from the army was calling on me,” she wrote. “He rang the bell [and] I went down to let him in.”
Constructed in 1903, the building was known as Ye Longfellow Inn during the first half of the last century. During World War II, it’s said that shipbuilders took turns occupying its rooms, the night-shifters arriving as the day-shifters left for work, and vice versa. In the second half of the century, the hotel was converted into over a half dozen apartments, or rooming houses, occupied by folks like Jacqueline. The units were decently decorated — Jacqueline specifically recalled the beautiful, expensive wallpaper — but the hallways were like “a war zone, or disaster areas,” she wrote.
The property changed hands a couple times before a real estate firm called Casco Bay Ventures bought it in 2007. The company’s plans to construct significant additions to the building sparked what turned into a protracted legal battle with neighbors who claimed the site was too small for such an expansion. In the interim, all the tenants moved out and the units were never rented again.
When we wrote about this place in April of 2010, the paint was peeling and the porch was splattered with pigeon shit. The Portland firm Fish House Realty had bought it in the fall of 2009 and planned to renovate it into three units.
In July 2013, Fish House sold the property to Geoff Minte for $1.25 million. Minte is the founder of several marketing and social-media companies, including Local Thunder, a Portland-based tech start-up that apparently shut down in the spring of 2013. Complaints from neighbors about excessive noise and dust during the summer of 2014, on file at City Hall, indicate that’s when the $2 million renovation project began in earnest.
The former flophouse for shipwrights now contains four condominiums. Minte resides in the third-floor condo, and the first-floor unit is on the market for $1,490,000, according to Mainebiz.
Last November, Mainebiz reported that the sale of the condo on the second floor, for $1.7 million, broke a Portland record for the price per square foot: $893. Before real estate on Munjoy Hill got hot 15 years ago, a couple could rent a decent one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood for that sum.
We recommend you stop reading now, scream into a pillow, then take a deep breath and continue…
Jewett Junkyard, Bridle Road, Brunswick
Half a century ago, curious motorists traveling on Route 1 north of Brunswick were lured off that byway by a trailer painted with the words “Jewett’s Used Fish.” The turn onto Brindle Road led to Jewett’s Junkyard, a holy site of sorts for seekers of trash treasures.
The dilapidated condition of the house on the old junkyard property caught our eye five years ago. Guerin noted that it had “deteriorated well beyond the point of possible repair.” The basement contained piles of stuff: “an old TV set, a stove … a pair of dirty white pumps.” She spotted a faded copy of the Portland Press Herald on the floor, dated May 11, 1970.
The house had been vacant since 1966, when Ernest Jewett Sr. passed away, Guerin reported. His son, Ernie Jr., kept the junkyard going but never moved into the house, his daughter told us; instead, he resided in a trailer on the site until an illness compelled him to seek treatment at a veterans’ hospital, where he later died. Bath Iron Works’ Hardings Fabrication Facility is adjacent to the old junkyard. A former manager there told Guerin he used to see clouds of black smoke billowing from the property. “They used to burn rubber-coated cable to get the copper out of it,” he said.
In the late 1980s, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection got wind of potential hazards on the property and found a number of causes for concern: electrical transformers, oil drums, old car batteries. In 1996, the Brunswick Town Council reportedly refused to renew Jewett’s license to operate the junkyard. Ernie’s friends hauled most of the junk away and his daughter put the 12-acre property on the market for about $350,000.
My traveling companion and I tried to retrace Guerin’s footsteps last month to determine what condition the place is in today, but a hostile canine we encountered guarding the site convinced us to slink away with our tails between our legs. If you want someone to take on a junkyard dog, call Leroy Brown.
300 Allen Ave., Portland
Over the course of a decade, the domicile at 300 Allen Ave., near the Northgate shopping plaza, went from being Portland magazine’s House of the Month to The Bollard’s dump of June 2010.
In December 2000, our colleagues at the glossy monthly clucked about how “gracious,” “clean” and “uncluttered” the old Cape was, “lovely with its white clapboards and large green shutters, safe from time and perched in front of a spacious acre filled with walnut, apple, blackberry, willow, pine and oak trees.”
Blackberries don’t grow on trees, but the relevant mistake here is the assertion that any structure can be “safe from time.” This one sure wasn’t. The place was bought and sold several times since it was featured in Portland, but neighbors say no one ever moved in. Instead, the weeds invaded, the green shutters disappeared, white paint flaked off the clapboards and the spray paint of vandals showed up.
Robert L. Adam of Westbrook, operating as Harlequin LLC, acquired the property about 10 years ago. In 2010, it was on the market for nearly half a million bucks, more than triple its tax-assessed value. The broker told us at the time that a prospective buyer planned to put a medical building on the property and replace its once-gorgeous gardens with a parking lot. The century-and-a-half-old cottage would be moved.
Instead, inspection records show the place continued be a neighborhood nuisance, the subject of the usual complaints about trash and broken windows. The last inspection report, filed in June of 2011, was for a pre-demolition inspection. Sure enough, the site is now an empty lot full of weeds, and still owned by the same LLC.
97 Cumberland Ave., Portland
When Guerin investigated the circumstances surrounding the decrepit house that once stood near the corner of Cumberland and Washington avenues, she got what she called “a nice surprise for a dump hunter accustomed to being either ignored or threatened by owners of derelict properties”: someone willing to explain what’s going on.
Turns out that was just the first of several pleasant surprises associated with this otherwise dreadful place.
The three-story, single-family home that sat on this lot, set back about 100 feet off Cumberland, behind the 7-Eleven on Washington, had been vacant for five or six years before a guy named John Edwards bought it in 2006, for $92,500. Four years later, the windows were still boarded up, there was trash all over the yard, and the façade was a “patchwork of mint green siding and dark chocolate wood,” Guerin wrote.
Edwards said he’d replaced the roof and was preparing to replace the siding. “I love houses and I bought it because I felt sorry for it,” he told us at the time. “I promise it will be beautiful again eventually.”
There will be something beautiful there eventually, but it won’t be that house. Edwards sold the property in March of 2013 and the dump was demolished later that year. The buyers: Pete Dugas and his wife, Dr. Anastasia “Annie” Antonacos. Hey, my editor said when I turned in my draft, I know them, and they’re great people!
Antonacos, who has a doctorate in piano performance from Indiana University in Bloomington, is a highly accomplished solo pianist who’s performed classical and chamber music all over the world. Dugas plays organ in the jazz-funk trio Micromassé and handles keyboard duties for the popular ’80s cover band The Awesome.
Dugas said the couple plans to build a five-unit building on the now-vacant lot, and is working with the Belfast-based design and architectural firm GO Logic (pronounced “geo logic”) to make the solar-powered units super energy-efficient, in accordance with the Passivhaus standards established by the Passivhaus Institute, in Germany.
So, you’re thinking, these meticulously designed, futuristic eco-dwellings will be sold as condos for upwards of $900 per square foot? No, Dugas said. The couple plans to rent them as apartments, live in one of them themselves, and they’re more interested in having good, responsible tenants than squeezing renters for every spare dime of disposable income.
How awesome is that?
The couple’s plans were delayed for a year or so by the need to get a zoning ordinance changed in response to access and siting issues, but that’s recently been resolved and construction is expected to begin in the coming months.
While investigating this property, I noticed a dump next door, at 93R (rear) Cumberland Ave. This house looks worse than the one Guerin wrote about, and according to Dugas, it is, since in addition to its boarded-up windows and trash-strewn weed yard, the foundation has failed.
But again, a pleasant surprise: Dugas said a woman recently bought the place and plans to tear it down and replace it with a new single-family home later this year.
9 Amerescoggin Rd., Falmouth
Swanky Falmouth Foreside is not the kind of neighborhood where one expects to encounter a dump, and indeed, dump hunter Guerin had to look hard to spot this house — that is, she had to peer through a jungle of overgrown vegetation to get a peek at the damaged domicile behind it. “Leaf litter and weeds smother the driveway, and bamboo-like plants have grown to head-height in the backyard,” she wrote in September 2010. “The area around the house is a modern-day archeological site: broken vases filled with beans, prescription bottles containing crumbling pills … A large motorboat in the yard collects rain and dead leaves, its cushions embroidered with moss.”
The property’s owner, Jayne Kimball, had passed away, and the house remained vacant for years while her estate was being settled. The winter before Guerin showed up, a tree had fallen onto the already challenged structure.
A couple finally bought the place in June of 2014, for a quarter-million bucks (a steal in that ’hood), and the jungle has since been cleared. The rehab job is almost done, but wasn’t quite finished last month, as I could tell by the fact the manufacturer’s decals were still on the windows and the driveway hasn’t yet been paved with gold. (Kidding, about that gold part.)
16 Mechanic St., Portland
Unlike Falmouth Foreside, dumps in Bayside were a dime a dozen in 2010. (That’s more like 30 cents a dozen these days, when adjusted for inflation and gentrification.) But this three-unit building on Mechanic Street still stuck out like a sore thumb along a block of owner-occupied, well-maintained residential properties.
Neighbors called the place “the sketchy stoop,” having witnessed drug deals, passed-out drunks and public fornication there, even in broad daylight. A pile of human feces had only recently been removed from the front steps when we visited five years ago, and raging parties regularly generated police calls, though the property had not yet been officially deemed a “disorderly house” by city officials, a distinction — attained by properties with eight complaints in one month — that allows the city to take legal action to clean the place up.
A bank ultimately took care of business — the property was foreclosed upon not long after it was profiled in these pages — and the absentee landlord (some dude from Saco) was eventually replaced by a new owner who’s erased all traces of its sketchy past.
Bonus: The long-vacant lot next door, at the corner of Cumberland Avenue, where a developer from Washington D.C. once proposed to build a 12-story tower, was finally filled last year with the completion of Avesta Housing’s 57-unit “healthy living” project, a mix of mostly affordable apartments and market-rate units. Neighbors complained about the lack of on-site parking, but hey, it’s better than poop on the stoop.
91 Holm Ave., Portland (and 87 India St. and 268 Spring St., Portland)
Before the exploits of a certain politically connected fat-cat financier were chronicled in this publication three years ago (see “Donald Sussman’s Dumps,” January 2012), the record for Most Dumps Owned By a Single Person Whom We Cannot Directly Contact for Comment was held by Betty A. Pomroy, who had three.
The first one we heard about was a vacant Cape on Holm Avenue, off outer Brighton Ave. It was tough to decide which structure was in worse shape: the house, with its caved-in roof and crumbling back porch, or the garage, a rickety box filled with rusty bathtubs and sinks. Neighbors told us in 2010 that the residence hadn’t been occupied for several years and wasn’t in good shape even when people did live there.
Guerin’s search for Pomroy, who had an unlisted phone number and a P.O. box in Westbrook, led her to a two-unit building on the corner of India and Federal streets, at the base of Munjoy Hill (about a block from Sussman’s little slum on Hampshire Street). This place, also vacant, was routinely targeted by taggers. A slightly more talented graffiti artist spray-painted frightening black trees on the plywood covering the front windows.
Pomroy had been spotted by people in the neighborhood hauling furniture into this place, but a Federal Street resident said no one had lived there for about 20 years. He asked us not to publish his name for fear Pomroy would “flip out” on him.
Pomroy’s third vacant Portland property was on Spring Street, in the West End. It looked better than the others from the outside, but a peek inside revealed the sad detritus of abandonment: “a teapot, a broom, old mail,” Guerin wrote.
Not much has changed since then. The bathroom fixtures that filled the garage on Holm Ave. have been hauled away (perhaps to India Street), but on a recent visit we found a dirty old doll and a beat-up suitcase there. The garage’s roof is a thriving ecosystem of moss and plant life, and the property’s file in the city inspections office continues to be stuffed with fresh reports documenting trash, unsecured doors and other violations.
The most notable new development at the India Street dump is the fact somebody spray-painted “NO PISSING” on a wooden fence around back, where a short, obviously unused driveway off Federal Street provides an ideal place to do exactly that.
And the three-family residence on Spring Street is still home to zero families. The wooden front staircase is very close to the point at which one would dare not stand upon it, and a rusty old lawnmower is half buried in leaves around the side of the building.
Like Guerin, I was unable to reach Pomroy, whose property tax bills are now sent to a P.O. box in Freeport. But a Google search did turn up a photo of her, in a Press Herald feature called Flashback published on March 16, 2010. Simply described as a resident of Portland, she’s at RiRa, the Irish pub on Commercial Street, watching some Irish dancers perform. Pomroy looks vaguely psychotic, her face frozen in a toothy smile, blue eyes gleaming beneath blond brows and white hair. She’s wearing a brown cable-knit sweater over a green shirt, and if you look closely you can spot some sort of Celtic cross dangling over the sweater’s neck. The pint glass of brown beer she’s holding looks to be about a sip shy of full.
Former Village Cafe site, Portland
Around the corner from Pomroy’s India Street property (practically within pissing distance, really) there was a large vacant lot whose appearance was so crummy for so long that we deemed it a dump even without the presence of any structures. Bounded by Middle, Newbury, Hancock and India streets, this desolate block was once the site of the Village Cafe, a beloved Italian family restaurant that succumbed to changing tastes and shifting demographics in this once proudly working-class part of town populated by Italian and Jewish immigrants.
“The days of large restaurants — with over 500 seats — are gone by,” owner John Reali told us in a 2006 interview. “The chains are coming into town. They seat 150 or 180.” (Yes, and with about 100 percent less character. But we digress.)
Real estate developers based in Boston bought the property for $3 million in 2007 and unveiled plans for as many as 176 luxury condos on the site (as well as a restaurant seating — you guessed it — between 150 and 200 people). But the project sputtered during the Great Recession, leaving a weedy, chain-link fenced lot littered with construction debris and the occasional stray piece of furniture.
In early 2012, the developers announced they were moving forward, but the condos would be market-rate apartments, instead. Yet when this phase of the project was completed earlier this year, we learned that the units are condos after all (86 of them, in five-story buildings with 79 subterranean parking spots). The second phase of the development, dubbed 113 Newbury, will contain nearly 40 more luxury condos, at prices starting at $340,000 for one-bedrooms. It’s expected to be finished later this year.
When the Bay House project was in flux three years ago, the City Council gave the developers a tax break estimated to be worth about $2 million over the next 20 years. The Press Herald reported that as a condition of the deal, the developers would have to convert one of the Bay House buildings into apartments if the units didn’t sell as condos.
“That, however, has not been a problem,” reporter Randy Billings observed in a September 2013 article, in which he also noted that a top-floor condo at the Bay House had already been sold for a cool $825,000.
As of this writing, the Bay House’s restaurant space is still empty, and the Village Cafe is still gone.