Construction in Blubber Hollow. June Update.

That’s it. Gave it a chance but Time to vote two thumbs down. The facade of the new Senior Center on Bridge Street is complete. Three shades of soporific beige is the best that could be had? Box windows that look like they were cut from poster board? In the words of humorist David Sedaris: “designed by a ten-year-old with a ruler, that’s how basic it is.”000_0322The flat ranch house design, utterly foreign to Salem, resembles nothing so much as a service station, like the Speedway further up Blubber Hollow on North St. Let’s see…flat roof, check; racing stripe around the roof line, check; ornamentation absent, check; uninspired entryway, check; flat unappealing facade, check.Speedway 86 North St

Was it mentioned just how…insipid…is the color scheme.

A defining tenet of contemporary architecture is that any design must in some way echo / reflect / evoke / respect (you select the verb) its surroundings. When a building is planted in an area brimming with epic 18th and 19th century homes then upholding that tenet should not be so difficult.

The bland ranch style evokes nothing of the history and culture of the surroundings. Unless it was designed to evoke the bland warehouses that once dotted the industrial area. Two remaining such warehouses face the senior center on the other side of Bridge St and the North River. If so, the plan was to evoke… a warehouse? Even the Public Storage rental building visible behind in the photo was designed to resemble residential units in the neighborhood, what with red brick facade and lintels over fake windows, and that IS a warehouse.

The Senior Center was 25 frustrating years in the making. Perhaps the designers threw in the towel just out of sheer exhaustion. Moderately justifiable if so, but still no excuse.

As to construction update, this unassuming Senior Center is completed apart from some remaining punch list items, and is scheduled to open September 4, the day after Labor Day. The same day as Massachusetts State primary elections and the start of school for many places. As is there wasn’t enough to attend to already that day.

Flynn Tan Apartments Gets its Name

On the other side of Bridge Street, shoehorned into the ridge between Goodhue and Boston Streets where the Flynn Tan factory once rested, the apartments under construction got their formal name – River Rock Residences – and their formal address – 70 Boston St. Perhaps it was too much to hope for a call out to the former use of the site. Tannery Ridge could have been evocative.


Unlike the Senior Center down the street, this apartment building does deliberately evoke its surroundings. The parapets at the end of the roofs evoke the Georgian-style apartment building at 65 Boston St, badly damaged in the Great Salem Fire of 1914 but rebuilt. The mansard style windows on the top floor with the curved lintels are meant to evoke three outstanding Second Empire apartment buildings at 67, 73, and 87 Boston Street. Hard to believe that the Second Empire apartment at 73 Boston St is low income housing operated by the Salem Housing Authority.

As far as construction update, the apartment building portion of River Rock Residences is topped off, the roof complete, the windows in place, plumbing and electrical contractors toiling. The framing of the townhouses portion is up to the second of three floors and will be complete before July is out. Scheduled opening is Spring 2019, but construction is proceeding so rapidly that an opening by New Year’s is not out of the question. Applications for housing are now being considered on the River Rock Residences web site.