A dump is a dump, but a beautiful dump is a real stumper.
At first glance, 251 State St. looks like the quintessential historic Portland house: a tall, narrow, brick structure with two double-bay windows and a cascading slate stairway that greets you on the sidewalk.
But upon closer inspection, the symptoms of neglect become apparent. Behind the front door there’s a month’s worth of yellowed mail and a dilapidated interior beyond. The crudely boarded windows and sagging molding detract from an otherwise stately façade.
Built in 1850, the house is an architectural gem — now more like a diamond in the rough — with its eclectic composition of Italianate and Colonial Revival styles. One charming feature is a small, stained-glass window depicting a windmill, curiously nestled on the second story on the building’s backside.
“The building exudes a proud architectural character,” said local architect Christopher Delano. Delano was commissioned by the property’s owners to draft renovation plans two years ago, plans that include a fourth story for two additional residential units. The addition would be distinctly modern in aesthetic and material, an effort to complement, yet not compete with, the other architectural styles. Originally the home of one family, the renovated building would have six sizable living areas.
Portland’s historic preservation manager, Deb Andrews, endorsed Delano’s plans, calling them “beautiful and well done.” But the vacant, gutted house has sat empty ever since, gradually slipping into decay, its hardwood floors and detailed moldings at risk of passing beyond the point of repair.
The problem? You guessed it: the economy.
“There’s just not enough money in the pot right now,” said Delano.
“I love historic properties and that’s why I’m doing this,” said Louise Murphy, principal of Sea Otter LLC, which owns the property. “But it’s not easy.” Murphy cited bank-loan horror stories, the high cost of renovating to historic-preservation standards, and the dismal housing market as black holes in the “constellation of issues that are hindering progress.”
Delano, who’s familiar with Murphy’s past work reviving historic properties, is confident Sea Otter will eventually rescue this one, but said Murphy will wait until she can “do it right” and return 251 State St. to its former stateliness.
In the meantime, Mr. Mailman, just move along.
— Cotton Estes