This summer saw not one, not two, but seven major rehabilitations of vintage homes along Federal Street, from downtown through the McIntire District. Now Federal St is not in the Gallows Hill neighborhood but it does empty onto Boston Street, the main street of Gallows Hill, so gets honorary consideration by this blog. And this post is antecedent to a planned post on rehabs in Gallows Hill.
Now one or even two rehabs in a year would be something for somnolent Salem, but seven along one street! To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant this Thanksgiving weekend, that would be a movement. And the number rises to eight if an upcoming rehab a block off Federal Street (River St) is included in the tally.
Let’s start at the top in downtown with 55-57 Federal Street, a side-by-side duplex in the Federal style built in 1836. It underwent a back-to-the-studs renovation this summer and three new apartments are put up for rent this autumn. Next to it, and connected to it by an enclosed bridge, is 59 Federal Street, a single family house in Greek Revival style. It too underwent a back-to-the-studs renovation this summer by the same contractor / developer, and the resulting luxury duplex 2 bdrm 2 bath apartment is now listed for rent at only $2750. Both buildings once saw use as law offices, the courthouses being across the street, and explaining the bridge between the buildings. Conversion back to residences brings desired 24/7 life into downtown.
Proceeding down Federal Street crossing North Street into the McIntire District next up is 88-90 Federal Street, a large long-abandoned mansion in classic Italianate style. Listed as built in 1887 it complements the coeval Italianate Superior courthouse on Federal Street downtown, built 1861 but not given its Italianate tower and adornments until 1891. A back-to-the-studs conversion into luxury condos is nearly complete, and the condos will be listed soon.
Further down Federal Street on the same side is a side-by-side duplex in Federal style (six bays across two central doors) at 128-130. Google street view does not present the house well. Unlike the other Federal Street renovations this property was NOT back-to-the-studs, but did get new hardwood floors, new appliances, new paint, and such, and the six units rapidly returned to the rental market.
Next up are two conversions of buildings in the large St. James Catholic Church complex, the former rectory at 161 Federal Street, and the former convent at 162 Federal Street, which housed the nuns teaching at the St. James School next door. Though St. James is in the McIntire District, there were few Catholics in the WASP-y district, and the church actually serviced the large Irish Catholic immigrant population of the adjoining Gallows Hill and Blubber Hollow neighborhoods.
The conversion of the rectory, built in 1890 in what looks like imitation Federal style though others consider it (weak) Italianate, into four apartments was just completed and the apartments newly listed. The conversion was aided by Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits requested by the Salem Historical Commission.
Unbeknownst to many the rectory was the sight of recent notorious history. The first priest molestation of children brought to public attention, by St James priest Father Joseph Birmingham, took place in this building in the mid-60’s. A powerful scene in the movie Hand of God documenting the scandal has victim Paul Cultrera now an adult looking up at the rectory and noting that the molestation took place in the 3rd floor corner room. Will whoever gets that unit be aware of the notoriety? Given the proclivity of Historic Salem to put plaques on any building even faintly historical, perhaps a plaque to commemorate the scandal is appropriate.
The conversion of the larger 1878 convent, in more readily discernible Italianate style with Mansard roof, across the street into condos only began this autumn and units will not be available until Spring 2018. The conversion includes taming the long abandoned and overgrown backyard stretching all the way to Bridge St into parking and gardens, blending that property with the
Senior Center ahem Community Life Center going up next door on Bridge St.
Last up is the conversion of 2 Griffin Place into three condos. Despite the address it is not a separate street at all but an alley to the rear of 165 Federal Street. It has no discernible architectural style at all besides “boxy building”. Its position behind the rectory and same date of construction (1890) makes it possible that this building was once the carriage house for the rectory, before an early 20th-century conversion to apartments, followed by an early 21st century abandonment.
23 River Street Foreclosure
As a bonus there is the coming rehab one block off Federal St of a two-family at 23 River Street. Despite the prestigious River St address the property is actually on downscale Bridge St, next to an auto repair shop at 331 Bridge St, and across Bridge St from the mysteriously maintained Blubber Hollow Planters. The reported construction date of 1800 cannot possible be correct, as Bridge Street was under the North River in 1800, and besides the style just screams early 20th century double-decker, with an ill-considered later enclosure of the front porches and addition of unbecoming aluminum siding. Deadline for bids was November 9, so shortly it will be seen what is to become of this foreclosed property. This is not to be a gentle rehab, as the home was last occupied by a serious hoarder, but several full dumpsters later the property is empty and ready for new doors, new windows, new flooring, new everything. Though there remains an arbor in surprisingly good condition in the backyard worthwhile to retain.
All this rehabilitation and renovation and restoration along Federal Street beggars the obvious question: why now, in 2017? Excepting 128-130 Federal these properties lay fallow for years, decades for some. Perhaps all this activity coming together bodes well for the Salem economy, and promises addition of more housing to come. Likely not a harbinger of a real estate crash as in 2008, as that crash was due to excessive new construction and criminal mortgage financing, not excessive renovation. Most likely all the simultaneous activity on one street is a fortunate coincidence.
Still, Salem, as does the entire Boston metropolitan area, desperately needs new housing of all types. The recent conversions and updates alleviate that need by introducing some 22 new housing units, but renovation can only update existing units, not produce new ones. At some point soon, massive numbers of new units will be demanded. The piddling amount of new building started in 2017 is not enough.