“No finer place for sure, downtown.”
Seeing double? Yes, you’re supposed to. The Sawyer Free Library addition was designed to mirror Cape Ann Museum as a balanced and nuanced architectural symmetry in deference to City Hall, and catalyst for a graceful center.
Sawyer Free Library has announced a public meeting January 11th for discussions of a new building. (See the flyer at the end of this post.)
City Hall may have some upcoming construction on the Dale Avenue side as well.
Both projects are largely in the name of accessibility of a physical nature. Can they be cost effective, worthy of our history and culture, protect our significant buildings, and address current and future needs? The following are some of the issues, local coverage, links to resources, and archival material for your interest.
HANDICAP PARKING SPACES BY CITY HALL- Do we have enough?
Although there are several new handicap parking spaces along Dale Avenue by City Hall, carving out the landscape on the left for more spots is in the cards because of grant money. Why? Several people told me that Dale Avenue parking spaces are hazardous for anyone exiting on the street. Although I do not want to minimize any pressing needs, I still ask, “Really?” Have we become so car dependent we would rather a thoroughfare here than the elegant streetscape we have (once a tree lined walk from the train station.) I was also told that it will increase visitation counts. It is an unfair advantage that historic sites with access to more funding (Monticello, Smithsonian, Colonial Williamsburg, and more) are better equipped to face these seemingly no-win situations. But there are creative retrofitting options for Gloucester, too. Universal design is about balance, not chasing funding sources at the expense of preservation and beauty, nor backwards planning.
NEW LIBRARY 2016. And 1973.
Before the current 2015-16 library outreach, the library hosted extensive visioning sessions throughout 2013. I went to a couple, and I was invited to take part in a focus group (on schools and the library.) A completely new library and jettisoning of the historic Saunders library building was not an expressed community value. What were some common discussion points? A strategy for digitization of historic archives and newspapers, more staff, more hours of operation (Sundays), better bathrooms, parking issues, air conditioning, electrical work, maintenance, security, maximizing technology/ content access with schools, ditto Cape Ann TV, and attendance (see this great video from Lisa Smith by kids for kids ) were some goals that were mentioned.
So it was a surprise to see the unveiling of new architectural renderings that did not showcase the Saunders house. It’s like the White House not featuring the White House. I think the Saunders house should be key and central to any building overhaul, not tossed aside. Providing universal access should preserve the intended awe factors if there are any, FOR EVERYBODY–such as the architectural details, proportion, welcoming entrance and unique heritage of a historic building. In this proposal, with Saunders severed there is zero physical access to the main event. What a missed opportunity. And for a library. What do you think?
Today’s paper mentioned that the Saunders house could be used for other purposes instead of the library. Why can’t that be the case and the library maintain its #1 asset? The downtown cultural district (which is not going forward in the same capacity) and other organizations could use the library meeting spaces. Do we really need to conjure up another stand alone endeavor?
Back in 1973, the Trustees of the Library began a fund drive for the new library addition; the city of Gloucester paid 2/3. As the Library’s General Chairman, Joe Garland led that campaign. Not surprising, the text of the brochure is a good read! The architect was Donald F. Monnell. (In 1971 Monnell was quoted in the papers speaking about the attributes of Central Grammar. One likes him more and more.) The population served was 27,000–nearly what it is today.
2016 Planning term and movement- “Scaling Up”
A quip about the concept of Scaling UP that I remember from a conference this past September at Peabody Essex Museum and hosted by Essex National Heritage was to “think about the farm not just a barn”; in this case a downtown, or an entire city and region. I like thinking this way in general–architecture and planning, art, and schools. But this conference pushed me to add overlays beyond my areas of expertise or focus like wildlife and waterways. Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts–there’s so much! Mayor Romeo Theken is committed to working together and feels that planning is important and broad. One example, see Gloucester Daily Times Dec 19, 2016 Officials: City to Prioritize Its (competing) Needs
There are several looming questions, evaluations, and decisions.
Every era has choices. The prior library expansion plans began well before 1972. Possibilities swirled as they do now. (Back then, Central Grammar was also in the news, may or may not have been razed, and possible uses favored senior housing, commercial development, an annex to City Hall, and a courthouse police station.) Today there are competing building needs and uses floated for properties as diverse as: the Cape Ann YMCA on Middle Street, the post office on Dale, the Gloucester Fire Department, police headquarters, St. Ann’s, and the elementary schools–and that’s just to name a few. Let’s celebrate enviable architectural strengths, and not fuss with buildings that should be venerated, unless it’s to help them be accessible and healthy. Let’s get the balance right.
HISTORY MAKING PLEA- Archives for all
The prohibitive costs of best practice historic preservation (ADA compliant, temperature and humidity controls, security, sustainability, in house scanning/OCR/audio transcription, etc) is impossible for all the worthy collections in town, and pits them as foes when vying for funds. Let’s flip that impediment on its head and make Gloucester a model for the state. Its treasures would be available worldwide if they were truly accessible –digitized.Two words may help accomplish this goal and free up cash for individual operations: shared overhead. It’s one hope I continue to stress–the need to share necessary resources for a state-of-the-art research and warehouse repository. This universal hub should be large enough to encompass any holdings not on view. There could be a smaller downtown central site combined with a larger off site location, such as at Blackburn. The list of sharing institutions could include and is by no means exhaustive: our municipal archives that date back to 1642; Cape Ann Museum; Sawyer Free Library; North Shore Art Association; Beauport; Hammond Castle; the Legion; Amvets and other social clubs; Sargent House; several places of worship; Gloucester Daily Times; Annisquam historical building collections; Lanesville; Magnolia’s historic collections; artists/writers estates; Veterans office; our schools; Isabel Babson Memorial Library, and perhaps businesses such as Cape Pond Ice and Gortons. The library plans don’t appear to retrofit their site(s) for this goal.
If incentives and policy supported neighborhood character over less generic construction
that would be wonderful. It’s not just Gloucester.
Community. Can we help people sign up and apply for disability parking status? The spots downtown are underused.
- Types of MA Disability Placards & Plates
- Apply for Massachusetts Disabled Parking
- Renew Handicap Placards & Plates
- Replace a MA Disability Permit
Can we establish volunteer shifts wherever accessibility is partial (Saunders house upstairs, easier access to parts of City Hall, elevator(s) upgrade, integrated design solutions, etc ) Helps with stairs if there are volunteers: http://www.garaventalift.com/en/products/wheelchair-lifts/portable-wheelchair-lifts/stair-trac.htm
- National treasure status National Trust for Historic Places
- NPS National Historic Landmarks program
- Massachusetts Historical Society
- National Parks Making historic properties accessible
- Whole Building Design Guide: https://www.wbdg.org/design-objectives/historic-preservation
- Sawyer Free public meeting flyer January 11th Public meeting:
Gloucester Daily Times
article by GDT Ray Lamont, Fate of historic building uncertain, January 3, 2017
Letter to the Editor, Library Plans Should be Shelved
Letter to the Editor, Preserving our Civic Center, Pru Fish
City of Gloucester housing programs: http://gloucester-ma.gov/index.aspx?NID=499
CHECK BACK IN MARCH, 2017 “The Housing Rehab Program will provide assistance to homeowners in need of emergency repairs, building/health code violation repairs, and/or other repairs in order to improve the safety, accessibility, and energy-efficiency of their home.” In the 1970s- program that reimbursed cost of paint for exteriors downtown (picture coming)