Construction in Blubber Hollow. August Update

Little new to report this month. The new Senior Center Community Life Center at 401 Bridge Street has been done for two months and is awaiting its opening on Sept. 10. The original opening scheduled a week before on Sept 4, was rearranged once it was realized that the Massachusetts primary elections AND first day of school on the same day would overtax city services.

By now the building has stood vacant for two months, leading to the maintenance problems reported in last month’s update. Days after that post was published, the overgrown weeds in the parking lot were clipped and the graffiti on the back wall power-washed away, so perhaps someone out there is paying attention. Construction went much faster than anticipated (doesn’t happen often), finishing months early, and the already set move-in plans could not be adjusted accordingly.

Across Bridge Street the River Rock Residences, squeezed into a rock ledge between Boston and Goodhue Streets, are coming along smashingly. The intricate third floor roofline for the six town houses along Boston Street is taking considerable time to complete, so the prediction in last month’s update that they would be topped off by now fell short. Whether intended or not, the high gablefronts once all is done can only reflect the high gablefronts on houses all around Gallows Hill.000_0328

As to the apartments across the way, they have been topped off for several months now, and the multi-textured (brick and clapboard and paneled flatboard and shingled) and multi-dimensioned (bay window projections and roof dormers and parapets) and multi-hued facade is gradually taking shape. Highly reminiscent of the multi-textured and multi-dimensioned and multi-hued facades of Queen Anne style homes, the favorite of this blogger among all the architectural styles represented in Salem houses. 000_0329

Just as were Queen Anne homes a century ago, contemporary architecture is often derided for being, well, too busy. But again as with Queen Anne the daring, the exuberance, the sheer energy of contemporary architecture can only be admired. Especially when contrasted with the sober, lifeless and sterile modern architecture that preceded today’s contemporary aesthetic.

Ghost Signs of St. James

St. James Catholic Church may technically be in the McIntire District, not Gallows Hill, but for more than a century it was the Catholic Church for the Irish immigrants and descendants of Gallows Hill. Though the front of the church property faces homes of McIntire Yankees, its rear buts into Blubber Hollow. It has been argued on this blog that Blubber Hollow IS a part of Gallows Hill. Many old-timers recall St. James as the second Irish Catholic church in Salem, the first being the venerable Immaculate Conception church on Walnut St Hawthorne Boulevard downtown.

The large St James campus once bustled with activity across five buildings, but no more. The 1904 parochial school closed decades ago, A second life as the Federal Street public elementary school ended a decade ago. The long-vacant building is slated to conversion into mixed affordable and market rate apartments. The rectory across the street was converted last year into apartments; the former convent facing the former rectory is this year getting converted to luxury condos. The magnificent Romanesque 1892 church is little used, the Sunday mass drawing only a trickle of worshippers into the cavernous space. Only the former portable classroom building sandwiched between the church and the school gets any regular use in its new life as a small chapel.


Yet ghost signs of what the place once was still stand behind the campus. Behind the former convent and facing the Senior Center sits a large blue billboard  once meant to draw in passersby on Bridge St, the lettering so faded as to be unreadable. The ongoing condo conversion of the convent has removed the dense overgrowth that once covered the sign but has has yet to unearth the sign itself. The full bill of church activities on the sign is mostly no more.

A few steps up Bridge St, in the huge and mostly vacant parking lot behind the church and school properties, some bleached street signs are leftover from before Bridge St was widened and straightened in 1996. Apparently parking was once allowed along Bridge St but no more. With the road straightening these roadside signs now hang a dozen feet from the curb. They are not legible and so serve no purpose, yet they still stand along a utility pole that itself serves no purpose. The pole blocks several parking spaces, which would matter if the lot were ever filled with enough cars to be blocked. Instead construction vehicles permanently fill the spaces near the poles.


Bridge Street behind the St. James campus is scheduled for a complete overhaul: sidewalks that could actually be walked along, a lane for bicyclists on the way to the Salem Depot, some trees for shade, utility poles out of the way of cell phone distracted drivers, roadway raised above floodwater stage Though the grant for the work was awarded in mid-2016 here it is mid-2018 and no work has commenced. Get on it, guys.

Construction in Blubber Hollow. July Update

Of the two major construction projects in Gallows Hill, the mid-summer doldrums finds the Senior Center Community Life Center fully completed, as of the week of Independence Day, two months before the official opening on Sept. 4. Landscaping in long enough now for some plants to have shriveled in the heat. Parking lot empty long enough for the new retaining wall behind the Center to have been tagged by graffiti artists. In two places not just the one shown here. Leave a building alone too long this is to be expected. Medians left unattended long enough for ferocious weeds of mid-summer to have taken over, as evident in the photo.000_0325.jpg

So besides atrociously poor design there’s already the problem of poor maintenance. Minor hiccups compared to the 25 years to bring a new Senior Center to fruition. Welcome to Salem, Community Life Center.

The other big complaint, besides the mailed in architecture, is the immense amount of parking, 110 surface spaces for a building with at most a dozen employees and where most of the elderly “clients” already arrive at the existing Senior Center by shuttles and buses, NOT by personal vehicle. The huge expanse of parking can only encourage driving by the elderly, who are at an age when driving should be discouraged. An upcoming news report of a disoriented driver smashing into the wide front doors (not protected by stanchions, not yet anyway) is anticipated. Much better that some of the space had been set aside for bocce ball or shuffleboard courts.

In one nod to the future there is a bay for recharging electric vehicles, but a second nod, bays to lock bicycles, was omitted. Don’t argue that elderly can’t bicycle – look at any photo of Amsterdam streets to see the lie in that assertion.

Better things can be written about the River Rock Residences rising across the street on the former Flynn Tan site. 000_0323The frame of the apartment building is fully completed, roof sealed, and the delightful multi-hued facade (red brick, painted clapboard, shingled mansard facing) is beginning to appear. The brick-lined parapets soaring over the building will be especially appealing. The site next door, where the excavator in the photo is parked, once home to a small auto body shop and a smaller motorcycle repair shop, is getting cleared for construction of planned though yet not approved townhouses.

On the other side of the lot, the six original townhouses on Boston St are nearing completion, three floors done and the fourth getting raised into place. The design takes advantage of the troublesome topography (notice the immense retaining walls) of the site, burying the garages underneath so that what is actually four stories look likes just three when viewed from the street. The main apartment building also hides a parking garage underneath, so even though there is ample parking the pavement does not overwhelm the site, as it does across the way for the Senior Center.000_0324By next month the facade of the apartment building will be finished and the townhouses on Boston Street will be topped off. Already plumbing and electric and HVAC on the apartments are advanced enough that wallboard is getting rolled in and installed. At this rate the apartments will be open for viewing by Thanksgiving, the Boston St townhouses not long thereafter, the Goodhue St townhouses will have moved past just being a twinkle in an architect’s eye.