McMansions of Witchcraft Heights. I. Disengaged.

Having explored several Overcooked Homes of Witchcraft Heights, a subcategory of McMansions, time to venture on to to the master category itself, the elusive McMansion of Witchcraft Heights.

The American McMansion has a popular web site dedicated to their silliness and offensiveness: McMansion Hell. Go there to learn more – you won’t regret leaving this page. Daunting is the competition with that blog, the author Kate Wagner having become an internationally famed architectural critic while still in school. McMansions in Salem are few and far between, Salem having come late to the late 20th century suburban Big Bang of sprawl. What few there are are almost exclusively in … wait for it … Witchcraft Heights.

A McMansion is not just a big house, and should not be confused with the elegant and classic Mansions common and beloved in Salem. A McMansion is distinguished from an ordinary Mansion by poor design and craftsmanship (“built big and … built cheap“), by a mish-mosh of architectural styles pasted together (“… a chaotic mix of individual styles”), and by failure to engage with the streetscape or landscape (“dominates rather than accentuates the environment”).

Of those three factors today’s example really only violates the third. But there’s a bonus – this house was just listed for sale (only $700K and 3,200 sqft , certifiably McMansion price and size territory) and so exterior and interior staged photos galore of the already vacant house are online for public consumption.

8 Almeda St

The street view shows that balance and symmetry are maintained. The garage massing on the right balances the great room massing on the left, the central front entryway is symmetrically placed in the front facade.

8 Almeda St 2

A closer street view, a lovely sunset (possibly photographer enhanced) accentuating the frame, shows that the Style is nothing special, possibly “contemporary colonial”, sans shutters. The suspicious Dormer Turret over the door is not the cap to a dreaded two-story “Lawyer Foyer“. Surrounding the front entryway with too much stone and concrete is all too characteristic of McMansions. C’mon a little shrubbery would break up the uninviting massing. The small garden spot by the garage containing nothing but a boulder (!) does not help.

8 Almeda St 3

A backyard view shows nothing but an huge expanse of grass (color touched green by the photographer to hide winter brown), a single lonely shrub in the corner, outstanding example of the McMansion Landscaping Aesthetic  It stands poles apart from ostentatiously landscaped and hardscaped front yard. Not even a patio or deck, nowhere to place the immense BBQ grill requisite of suburbia. The enclosed extension contains only for an extravagantly oversized hot tub, verging on swimming pool dimensions.

8 Almeda St 4

The interior foyer view shows indeed that there is no Lawyer Foyer so characteristic of McMansions, although there is minimal realtor staging (a single potted plant!).

8 Almeda St 5

The garage view. In transit-accessible Salem are four garages, two off the main house and two in a detached carriage house, absolutely essential? Goodness, there is a bus stop to Boston or to downtown Salem just steps away. Ostentatiousness has no bounds.

6&8 Almeda St

So far gets this McMansion gets middling but positive marks on design and style. Where it really passes into McMansion Hell territory is on engagement with its surroundings. First it is set way back on the heights, refusing to engage with its street, bristling with antipathy towards its neighbors. But nohow is the lack of engagement more evident than in this streetview with its neighbor. On one side is a vintage early 20th century side-porched Dutch colonial, engaged with the sidewalk and passersbys, exuberant garden commanding attention; on the other side, a distant emotionless McMansion. Nowhere is the difference more stark between “New” Witchcraft Heights vs. “Old” Gallows Hill.

Reasons for McMansion designation: 1) no engagement with street or neighborhood; 2) Sea of turf grass + single tree in back yard; 3) whopping two 2-car garages; 4) front access almost entirely pavement.

Close with an appropriate quote:

“…the McMansion is the ultimate form of the type of house-fussery. They are designed to impress others, to serve as material, architectural signifiers of the American aesthetic ideal of financial security and social success. They … create isolation (every space is demarcated and communal spaces are for once-a-year “entertainment” rather than day-to-day familial existence), anti-social sentiments (distance from city/town centers/neighbors, gated communities, hostile HOAs), and waste (the power bill, suburban sprawl, interior space wasted on empty architectural gestures, e.g. the great room or the lawyer foyer).” — Kate Wagner, McMansion Hell.





Overcooked Homes of Witchcraft Heights. IV.

To refresh, an Overcooked Home has been defined on this blog as a subcategory of McMansion House, a tract house “birthed as a conventional and modest split-level or raised ranch that has been expanded and added onto and rebuilt and rejiggered so that it graduates to McMansion status, ostentatious and tacky and soulless.”

A McMansion is not just a big house. A McMansion is distinguished from an ordinary Mansion by poor craftsmanship (“built big and … built cheap“), by a mish-mosh of architectural styles pasted together (“… a chaotic mix of individual styles”), and by failure to engage with the streetscape or landscape (“dominates rather than accentuates the environment”). Architectural principles like symmetry and balance and rhythm are excluded altogether.

Overcooked homes are especially common in the Witchcraft Heights neighborhood behind Gallows Hill, and non-existent elsewhere in Salem, for reasons speculated upon before. Previous examples were unquestionably ugly, little thought given to style or symmetry. Today’s example seems more demure, but close examination shows violations tilting it towards McMansion staus.

3 Gallows Circle

What began as a modest colonial has been expanded with a large extension out into the side of the lot (and another extension out the back not visible in Google StreetView). At first glance it would seem to have been birthed as a raised ranch, what with the massive too-big-by-half entry stairway (a minor quibble), but the front door at a level with the first floor, not between floors, marks it as suburban colonial.

There is symmetry and balance throughout the front facade, no windows off-centered as in previous examples, entryway prominant not invisible, roof lines and styles match. So far does not qualify as an Overcooked Home.

However, there are displeasing incongruities. Note the small paned sash windows throughout, meant as an homage to Federal style so prevalent in older parts of Salem. There is distressing inconsistency in their usage, as note six-over-six double, six-over-six single, eight-over-eight, even twelve-over-twelve (over the garage) sash windows. Even windows that should be functional and not stylish, the basement windows (three-over-three), and almost hilariously the garage door slit windows (three-over-three with arches), make the effort.

Now these cannot be real Federal style sash windows. They must be double-glazed sash windows that mimic traditional style using plastic muntins glued to the glass surface, giving the appearance of many smaller panes when each sash contains only one large double-glazed unit. At least give credit to trying to follow traditional style, though execution fails.

Staying with the windows, there are shutters only on the side extension, not on any windows on the main facade. What’s up with that? Tradition Colonial style requires shutters. Construction budget exceeded?

It takes a while to catch on, but the siding on the main facade, wide plank, clashes with the thin plank siding on the side extension and on the side walls. Did ya think nobody would notice? Again, construction budget exceeded?

So overall rating, not two thumbs down 👎👎 as with previous examples here of Overcooked Homes of Witchcraft Heights, but certainly not two thumbs up 👍👍 either. One of each 👍👎.




Dedication of Charlotte Forten Legacy Hall at SSU

On February 28,  the President and Faculty of Salem State University dedicated and opened the new Charlotte Forten Room in Meier Hall on Lafayette Street, in what until a few months ago was the President’s Office. There had been a Charlotte Forten Hall in the former university library, but that closed when the building was torn down after the opening of the new library. The saved artifacts were placed in the new more expansive room, explaining the subtitle of the program: Bringing Her Back Home.

Charlotte Forten Dedication Program

To those out of the know, the accomplishments of Charlotte Forten were many and deep – poet, essayist, teacher, journalist, activist, a co-founder of what eventually evolved into the NAACP. Her activism as both abolitionist and suffragette make the opening of the Legacy Room on the last day of Black History Month and the onset of Women’s History Month appropriate (though from conversations with faculty at the dedication the selected date was more serendipitous than planned).

Charlotte Forten Dedication Bookmark

What makes her legacy resonant in Salem: she was the first African-American graduate of Salem Normal School, in only its second graduating class, the institution that in 1932 became Salem Teachers College, in 1968 Salem State College, and eventually in 2010 Salem State University. The quote on the program bookmark above was from her journal when she moved as a 17-year-old from Philadelphia to Salem. Her position as a female college graduate in the mid-19th century was less than resonant, as Salem Normal School was women only, not going coeducational until 1898.

Epes School SAL_188

What makes her legacy resonant on Gallows Hill, and hence a recurrent entry on this blog, is that her first teaching position, 1856-58, was at Epes Grammar School on Gallows Hill. She was the first African American hired to teach white students in a Massachusetts public school. And possibly in the entire US; records are hazy. Another feather in the cap for progressive 19th century Salem, an abolitionist hotbed at the time. Gallows Hill at the time was flooding with Irish immigrants fleeing from the famine, working in Blubber Hollow tanneries that were then consolidating from tiny home shops. Charlotte Forten was the first American teacher for many children of those immigrants.

Even more remarkable, the Epes School (variously Eppes in records; mid-19th century orthography was more fluid), is still standing. There it is above, at 7 Aborn St Ct (also 21R Aborn St or 10 Bow St), in a vintage photograph taken for MACRIS in the mid-1970s looking from Bow St, obviously long after conversion to apartments (note bathroom windows on second floor; mid-19th century schools had outhouses, not plumbing).

7 Aborn St Ct

Epes School today, perspective from Aborn St Ct

Yet more remarkable, the Epes school is likely the oldest school building extant in Salem. Built in 1841, it exhibits the typical elements of early 19th century school design – four classrooms back-to-back, two up, two down; wood frame construction with clapboard siding; tiny schoolyard (the sprawling ball fields so typical of modern schools was a mid-20th century innovation); no frills uninterrupted facade. Such schools were not built to last; that one still remains on Gallows Hill seems almost miraculous.

13 Fowler St

Fowler St School today

Only one other school building of the vintage of the Epes School still stands, the Fowler St School in the McIntire District, now condos, which has the identical two-by-two structure of the Epes School, but for which an exact construction date cannot (yet) be pinpointed. Later 19th-century schools were constructed of more permanent brick and exhibited  more elaborate facades. Several of them still stand: Cogswell School on School St in North Salem (now condos); Phillips School facing the Salem Common (now affordable apartments), Bentley School in the former Polish district on the Waterfront (now luxury condos), Endicott School in Blubber Hollow (now family services).

The Charlotte Forten Room is free and open to the public during regular university hours.


A Plethora of Salem Libraries. III. North Branch.

As noted in earlier posts in this series, unbeknownst to most Salemites, there was a time, in the recent past, when Salem had four operating public libraries, the Main Branch in the old Bertram Mansion in the McIntire District still operating today, and three extinct outlying branches: East Branch, South Branch, and North Branch.

North Branch Library 1934-1977

The first iteration of the North Branch library opened in 1910, in a room located in the Cogswell School at School Street in North Salem.

5 School St

Former Cogswell School, home of North Branch Library 1910-1934

That school that is why School Street is today School Street. The Cogswell School, like so many other vintage schools in Salem, is now condos.

In the midst of the Depression the North Branch library was erected as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in only nine weeks, an incredible feat given the elegant structure of brick and fine wood that resulted. Records do not reveal how the lot was acquired, but during the Depression all types of real estate became available dirt cheap. Located at 176 North St, North Branch opened on May 17, 1934, the last of Salem’s three branch libraries to get its own building.

176 North St side view

Former North Branch Library today

And correspondingly the first of the three branch libraries to permanently close. Recurrent fiscal crises came to a head in the mid-1970’s, so citing the usual bugaboo of “low usage”, the City and Library Trustees made the mutual agreement to close the North Branch Library on Jan. 29, 1977. Much of what makes a community worth living in was lost:

“Thirty elderly residents who regularly attended the Tuesday morning film series will be forced to find transportation to the East Branch library… Two girl scout troops and one brownie group must relocate.” Librarian Miss Mabel Begley “recalled the days when North Branch was bustling with extension courses from Essex Aggie, courses on holiday decorations, Monday afternoon movies, and afternoon story hours for the children.” From North Salem loses its library, Salem Evening News, Sat Jan 29 1977.


The advertisement for sale of the building presaged what the building was to become:

“The building consists of two open rooms and a reception area on the first floor, with two more open rooms, a lavatory, and a utility room in the basement … with permission of the City Appeals Board a prospective purchaser might be able to adapt the building to professional use for doctors, lawyers, or real estate agents, or perhaps even for use as something like a branch bank.” From For Sale: one library, Salem Evening News, Sept 6 1977

Today the building is the home office of the Cabot Heritage Corporation, a wealth management company, so something like a bank, and the public face of Cabot Farms, a peculiar Salem institution. Cabot Farms, in North Salem along the Danvers River at the tip of Orne St, is the only private family estate still extant in Salem. Once family estates dotted the beach fronts of the North Shore’s Gold Coast, from Nahant up to Gloucester, but given the vicissitudes of business failures and economic depressions few remain. Cabot Farms has remained in the Lutts family since Grace and Carleton Lutts in 1941 astutely bought on the cheap “a 28-acre property that currently is home to roughly 30 members of the Lutts family.”

Cabot Farms Entrance

Gate on Orne St marks entrance to private Cabot Farms


What Salem Lost

What the loss of all three branch libraries in the space of a decade means for Salem today cannot be exaggerated. All their collections were crammed into the Main Branch, a out-of-date facility that is bursting at every seam, no empty shelf space, returns jammed onto carts that get pushed from side to side but never shelved. Dirty pipes exposed, ceiling holes gaping, restrooms unhygienic. Salem library, the busiest on the North Shore, is only a fraction of the size of tonier counterparts in Beverly, Danvers, even tiny Topsfield.

But it’s not just the space constraints. A library is more than a book depository. As this series of posts have noted, a library is also a gathering place, a classroom, a performance center, a cultural gallery, a community focus, a conference facility. With the loss of the branch libraries all those things vanished. The Main Branch library just has no extra rooms, so cannot have any activities that are common to libraries elsewhere.

Any solution is remote. Once gone a building can not be taken back. The Bertram Building has no place to expand, except by going up, which will never happen in height-averse Salem. Perhaps one of the dozens of empty properties now held by the Salem Redevelopment Authority or by the City of Salem could be converted to a new library, restoring some of what was lost. Don’t count on that happening soon.



A Plethora of Salem Libraries. II. South Branch.

As noted in an earlier post, unbeknownst to most Salemites, is that there was a time, in the recent past, when Salem had four operating public libraries, the Main Branch in the old Bertram Mansion in the McIntire District still operating today, and three extinct outlying branches: East Branch, South Branch, and North Branch.

South Branch Library 1913-1986

The first iteration of the South Branch library opened in 1910 in a room in the firehouse in The Point region of South Salem, in the triangle opposite St. Joseph’s Church on Lafayette St, now Lafayette Park. The firehouse room, being over a stable, was found “entirely unsuitable for library purposes”, and the library quickly moved to a room in the Browne School on nearby Ropes St. In the same year, thinking ahead, library trustees purchased a lot of land further south on Lafayette on the southwest corner of Ocean Ave, the former site of Ezekiel Hershey Derby‘s farmhouse.

Ezekiel Hersey Derby Farm 1800

Ezekiel Hershey Derby Farmhouse c. 1800

Boston architect Clarence H. Blackall designed a striking Neoclassical building, and the new South Branch library opened to the public on April 11, 1913. South Branch was the first branch of Salem’s library system to occupy its own quarters. The timing of the opening was fortuitous, as the Great Salem Fire a year later on June 25 1914 wiped out the entire Point neighborhood, including the Browne School and to the everlasting chagrin of Salem firefighters, the firehouse itself. A replacement firehouse was eventually built deeper into South Salem at 64 Loring Ave, which still operates today.

From Salem Evening News Thursday Apr 10 1913:
“This beautiful new building, which is the first branch of the public library to occupy its own quarters, is ideal in its appointments and is the forerunner of what the trustees of the library hope to duplicate in the other sections of the city eventually … The lighting is ideal. The reading room is provided with seven large windows, the stack section has six, while over the librarian’s desk is a skylight of prism glass. This makes the place as light as the proverbial day.”

The good feelings lasted a considerable time but alas were not forever. Citing low usage, at the end of 1984 Library trustees voted to shut down the South Branch public library at the end of January 1985. Protests by the affected community kept the South Branch library a while longer than planned, but eventually the South Branch Library closed forever in June of 1986, the second of three branch libraries to close. The closing of the East Branch library followed it by a year; the closing of North Branch preceded it by almost a decade. Holdings were transferred to the Main Branch library on Essex St in the McIntire District.

Unlike the East Branch, which languished empty and unsold for nearly a decade after its closing and finally sold at fire sale pricing, the South Branch sold quickly. Today the beautiful edifice is a posh spa and salon, with prices more apt for Newbury Street than South Salem. Photos inside and out show that the elegance of the building remains. How could Salem give away such a jewel?

South Branch library today

Former South Branch Library, Ocean Ave side

290 Lafayette St

Former South Branch Library, Lafayette Ave side

The proceeds from the quick sale were used to defray repair costs at the Main Branch library, which decades later is still in dire need of repair, although Salem has run out of spare libraries to sell.



A Plethora of Salem Libraries. I. East Branch.

Unbeknownst to most Salemites, even old-timers like this blog reporter, is that there was a time, in the recent past, when Salem had four operating public libraries, the Main Branch in the old Bertram Mansion in the McIntire District still operating today, and three extinct outlying branches: East Branch, South Branch, and North Branch.

East Branch Library 1910-1987

The first quarters of the East Branch was the “wardroom” inside the Phillips School at 77 Washington Square South, also 86 Essex St on the back side, facing the Salem Common. And no, no more idea than anyone else what is a “wardroom”. Quarters were cramped, the facility doubling as the school library, at a time when schools did not have libraries or librarians. The building still stands, now converted to affordable family housing operated by the Salem Housing Authority.

Phillips School Today

Former Phillips School today

And the hordes of passionate fans of the silly Hocus Pocus Disney movie know it as Jacob Bailey High School where Max first met Alison and where the three Sanderson witches get locked into a kiln, only to escape as spirits through the chimney and resume havoc upon forthright children of Salem. The movie was filmed in 1992 just after the Phillips School closed for good, but before it was converted into affordable housing, perhaps the most elegant affordable housing around.

77 Washington Sq - Hocus Pocus

Phillips School in Hocus Pocus

In 1924 rehabilitation of the Phillips School pushed the East Branch library out temporarily, returning on Jan 12, 1925 to “a large well-lighted and attractive room in the newly renovated Phillips School”.

In 1962 the Bentley School on upper Essex St, built in 1869, was replaced by the new Bentley Elementary School on Memorial Drive on Salem Neck, recently repurposed as the Bentley Academy Charter School. No longer needed as a school, the building was acquired from the City of Salem and converted into a new East Branch library, opening on August 10, 1964 at 50½ Essex St. (Half addresses are another commonplace curiosity of Salem, to be contemplated in future posts). And by conversion, we mean wholescale revamping.

Bentley School pre-library

East Branch Library Building pre-1962

The top two floors of what was an elegant Second Empire building were lopped off, mansard roof and all, leaving a squat and unappealing flat box of a building. The front door was moved to an uninviting side alley such that passersby could not readily find the entrance.

50 Essex St

East Branch Library Building today

“Twelve years ago it was a three-story red brick school house…Today it is a bustling modern one-story library.” (Salem Evening News, 10/20/76).

The East Branch Library flourished for another quarter century,  more than a book depository, serving as a center for the Polish immigrant community around it.

“For many years the library has maintained a ‘Polish Collection’ … The concept of a library has changed through the years, from a repository of books to an active community resource with books, records, paperbacks, films, art and programs … Now the rooms of the library ring with the sounds of preschool story corners, after-school films, wycinanki demonstrations [n.b. a form of decorative paper art], Marx Brothers films, handicraft workshops, business discussion and seminars for women.” (Salem Evening News, 10/20/76).

But the slap-dash conversion eventually caught up. The roof leaked prodigiously, and lacking funds to cover extensive repairs, in February 1987 the trustees of the Salem Public Library decided to close the East Branch library., the last of threed branch libraries to close. With its closing a hole was ripped into the community fabric. All holdings were moved to the Main Branch in the McIntire District, and the building was put up for sale.

The story from there gets weirder and sadder. An original listing of the building at $190K drew no bidders. For a while in the early 90’s there was a quixotic attempt to convert it to a planetarium. When that fell through, the building was relisted at $96K and again drew no bidders. In serious decay now, infested by vermin and inhabited by homeless, the city finally accepted a sale in 1996 at the rock-bottom price of $32K, to a local developer who converted the building in 1997 to, what else, condominiums. Twenty years later the condos there now appraise at half million each. Ouch.

One contemporary curiosity is that Congressman Seth Moulton resides, since May 2017, in the former East Branch library, in a unit facing Forrester Street. Wonder if he’s aware of the immense history.






Charlotte Forten Dedication

Charlotte Forten, the first African-American graduate of the Salem Normal School, the predecessor of Salem State University, had a long and remarkable career as abolitionist, suffragette, teacher, poet, writer, and more. What brings her to the attention of this blog is that her first teaching assignment after graduating in 1856 was at the Epes Grammar School on Aborn Street Court on Gallows Hill, the school itself long gone but the building still extant, now apartments.

Charlotte Forten Dedication

In honor of this illustrious alumnae SSU long had a Charlotte Forten Hall in the library. With the building of the new university library that room was closed, its historical artifacts packed away into storage. After absence of a few years, SSU is restoring The Charlotte Forten Legacy Room in a dedication ceremony on February 28, the last day of Black History Month. The ceremony is open to the public, but prior registration is required.

On display will be images, photos and artifacts of Charlotte Forten’s legacy. Perhaps there will even be images of her time spent teaching on Gallows Hill.


Gallows Hill Distillery Opens

From the annals of C’mon Really!? arrives this report of the opening of the Gallows Hill Distillery, not in Salem MA, which would have some perverse justification, but in of all places, Allentown PA. Which makes about much sense as a Billy Joel themed karaoke bar in Salem MA.Gallows Hill Spirits Co

There is some justification:

“In 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts, my eight-times great grandfather was accused and arrested for witchcraft,” [owner Bob] Piano explained. “He was later hanged on Gallows Hill on Sept. 22, 1692.”

Explaining why “Behind the bar will be a replica of the 17th century house of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges of the trials.”

Now Sept. 22 was the last and busiest of the execution dates in 1692, with eight unjustly accused hanged but only one male, Samuel Wardwell, who “is the eight-times great-grandfather to American actor Scott Foley and to American author Anne Greenwood Brown.” So Mr. Piano has competition in the descendants game. That wikipedia line would seem to have been contributed by Mr. Piano himself.

Samuel Wardwell was a common carpenter with a penchant for predictions. He often claimed the ability to read the future in tea leaves and made a practice of predicting the genders of the towns’ unborn children. After several of these predictions came to pass, he became known as the Soothsayer of Andover. These were dangerous times to behave in such a manner.

Spirits puns continue with the naming of the fine spirits obtainable at the Gallows Hill Distillery, which include Soothsayer VodkaMoonstone Rune pictured above, and even Tituba’s Silver.

Might there be other common products that brand with the Gallows Hill name? A cursory Google search finds disappointingly few. There is expectedly enough a Gallows Hill Brewing Co. offering “all natural & interesting beer of exceptional quality to discerning palettes” but that is even further afield in Cape Town South Africa, with no discernable connection to Salem MA. Of course there are many potboiler dime novels that abscond the Gallows Hill name, a homemade Gallows Hill recording to be found on YouTube, and of course the “top rated” but still kitschy Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre in downtown Salem.

But that’s it. What, no Gallows Hill dark roasted coffee, no Gallows Hill heavy metal album, no Gallows Hill tattoo and piercing parlor, no Gallows Hill winery. C’mon, the opportunities are endless. 😉


McIntire Privilege. VII. No Go Zone for Affordable Housing.

After a long hiatus a return to the theme of McIntire Privilege. To those new to this blog, McIntire Privilege is the thesis that residents of the McIntire District of Salem gain benefits, to the detriment other neighborhoods in Salem, without ever being conscious of said benefits.

Now this one is perhaps splitting hairs, but when researching another planned post could not help but notice that there did not seem to be any affordable housing within the McIntire District. So this intrepid blog reporter went and mapped all the affordable housing properties in Salem onto the Salem Chamber of Commerce street map. The graph below shows the result.

Affordable Housing Salem

The most common type is Elderly Housing, most of them managed by the Salem Housing Authority, and sprinkled throughout Salem though prevalent downtown. Though Elderly Housing is the kind of low income housing that neighbors don’t whinge about so much, there is not a unit to be found within the boundaries of the McIntire District demarqued by the dashed gold line. The closest is the J. Michael Ruane Residence, mostly SRO (Single Resident Occupancy), at 3 Broad St on Mill Hill just outside the conventional limits of the McIntire District.

Low Income Family housing of various types (for qualified veterans, for qualified handicapped, or just generic low income family) is also scattered throughout all neighborhoods of Salem, just not within the McIntire District. SRO (i.e. the “undesirables”) properties are few in Salem but naturally enough none cross the boundaries of the McIntire District. Finally, the three mixed low-income / workforce high-rise properties, managed not by the City of Salem but by independent property management firms, keep their distance from the McIntire District.

Salem has a remarkable number of affordable housing properties, almost 30 distributed somewhat evenly throughout all neighborhoods in Salem – Downtown, Gallows Hill, The Point naturally, Mill Hill, West, South and North Salem, as well as both Neck neighborhoods. Even the Common. But not the McIntire District.

It was a bit distressing to note six properties along a half-mile stretch of the Boston St corridor in Gallows Hill, the biggest concentration outside of downtown, even more than the three properties in The Point, which as a low status area would have been expected to be chock full of affordable housing properties. Kudos to the Salem Housing Authority for spreading the burden around. As a long-term resident of Gallows Hill this blogger was unaware that he lived within hailing distance of so much affordable housing. Which just goes to show how well managed are these properties. More kudos to the Salem Housing Authority.

High income exclusive neighborhoods find ways to keep out affordable housing, and it might be that such methods are why affordable housing does not traverse the McIntire District, which prides itself on its exclusivity. Yet the Washington Square neighborhood around the Salem Common is just as exclusive as the McIntire District, but it is home to the handsome yet low income Phillips House family units at 77 Washington Sq. East.84-86-88 Essex St SHADon’t know how it has been done, but somehow the McIntire District has managed to keep out all forms of affordable housing. Could the explanation be…McIntire Privilege?



The FlynnTan Tannery in Blubber Hollow

A feature article on the North Shore in National Geographic nearly 40 years past (April 1979) prominently featured operations at the FlynnTan tannery. The sweat, the steam,  the stink, the dankness almost leaps out of the photo.

FlynnTan factory
The date of the photo in 1979 seems off, as the FlynnTan plant suffered a major fire, reputedly arson, in Aug 1976 that destroyed its oldest building, a late 19th century brick building on Boston St. supposedly the birthplace of American Shoe Machinery Corp, a firm that still exists. With half the plant gone, leather manufacturing continued fitfully in the remaining large 4-story wooden building on the other side of the site along Goodhue St. So the photo could have been taken before the 1976 fire and saved for the early 1979 article, or maybe it is contemporary with the article and illustrates the tedious non-automated processes in leather manufacturing still existent even in late 20th century. There is no mention of North Shore tanneries in the National Geographic article besides this sole photo, so why the magazine editors included it is a puzzle.

Either way, tanneries in Salem were doomed, even before the fire kicked FlynnTan in the gut. The remaining half of the plant puttered on for another decade before closing for good in 1988 upon declaration of bankruptcy. The plant degraded further, home to vagrants and druggies, taxes unpaid, fires common, before an EPA cleanup in 1998 cleared the way for demolition of the old wood building in late 1999, leaving a runt of a brick building along Boston St standing, the gold FlynnTan logo atop the chimney tower visible to travelers into Salem a long ways down the Boston St entryway. In the new century legal proceedings dragged on for years before the City of Salem finally took possession.

FlynnTan Fire

Salem Firefighters respond to fire at runt of FlynnTan plant. Again

Even then redevelopment was snake bit. The first idea was to rebuild as mixed light manufacturing, but that proposal went nowhere before the first developer handed off  the site to the next applicant. The next plan was to build a large medical clinic, taking advantage of proximity to the North Shore Medical Center, but that floated balloon deflated when it was realized that the half-dozen other medical clinics closer to NSMC were already more than Salem needed. Finally the last plan, years having passed, was for a mixture of townhouses and an apartment building with first floor retail, now under construction.

FlynnTan Development 2

FlynnTan Town Houses along Boston St under construction in Blubber Hollow

FlynnTan Development 1

FlynnTan Apartment along Goodhue St under construction in Blubber Hollow

John Flynn started his leather business in 1920, bringing his three sons and daughter into business with him. It remained a Flynn family business until the end in 1988. The original plant employed a mere 18 persons making 100 dozen skins a day, expanding to a peak of 300 persons in the wartime boom of 1945. The plant initially produced leather for men’s slippers and sweat bands for the hat trade, switching after WWII to produce sheepskins and lambskins for the shoe industry, especially shoe linings.

FlynnTan Jacket

During WWII FlynnTan expanded into cowhide leather to produce Air Force products, such as bombardier jackets, still seen on the internet under the FlynnTan logo.FlynnTan Jacket label