We’ve previously written in this column about what urban planners call gateways, the areas travelers pass through when they enter a city, and how gateways influence the public’s perception of the community as a whole. The abandoned gas station that long stood at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Riverside Street, first profiled here in 2008 and since razed, was a prime example of the problem dumps at gateways pose. Another old Mobil — on Riverside, across from the Exit 48 Turnpike plaza — was profiled here last May and is still besmirching the character of Portland and Westbrook.
Now we have twin dumps at the southern gateway into Portland: 161 and 165 York St. These are two of the first buildings many thousands of motorists see everyday when they enter town via the Casco Bay Bridge.
Earlier this year, someone wrote “DEMO,” in large letters with red spray paint, on the facades of both homes. Curiously, there’s no record at City Hall of any demolition permits, or code violations, for these properties. And we can probably rule out the possibility this is the work of a graffiti tagger with no artistic skill and an unfortunate nickname. (Several actual taggers have since added their marks to the original defacement.)
The one with the mauve-colored asbestos siding is 161 York. Several windows in its eastern wall were busted out and have been covered with plastic that billows in the wind. The windows that remain have yellow, or yellowed, curtains that look like they would disintegrate into dust if touched. A peek inside revealed a pile of furniture and a Gordian knot of cords and wires. Like many dumps we’ve observed over the years, this place has an incongruously new DirecTV satellite dish perched on the roof, leading one to wonder if the cable provider’s fees are so onerous (or its content so captivatingly entertaining) that unsuspecting subscribers neglect to pay the mortgage or perform routine maintenance on their home.
The yards of both properties are cluttered with junk: a bathtub, a wheelchair. The yard in back of the white-sided house next door (numbered 165, but considered 163 York St. in city records) is a veritable orchard, but since no one’s bothered to pick the fruit of its trees, it’s now a minefield of rotten apples. Saplings are sprouting in its leaf-choked gutters, and the miniature Christmas tree visible in the front bay window would make even Charlie Brown weep. Behind the back patio door is a yet sadder scene: moldy furniture; damp, ratty carpet; old toys; a giant, vintage TV set that may date to the black-and-white era; and animal turds.
Until April of this year, both houses were owned by separate members of the same family. I was unable to reach any of the previous owners, and county records reveal a long and tangled history of tax liens and refinanced mortgages, indicative of financial strife, so I’ll decline to name them here.
In September, both properties were sold to York Street Redevelopment LLC. I would like to identify the person or persons behind this company, but none are named in the LLC’s certificate of formation, the sole document on file at present, and the LLC’s registered agent, local attorney David Perkins, did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
Perhaps the mysterious redeveloper is still trying to figure out how to anonymously apply for a demo permit.
— Patrick Banks