Ruining my dream of fabulous wealth

By David Grima | Feb 15, 2014

Observant readers will notice I didn’t write my piece of nonsense last week. The truth is I could not find anything to write it on. All loose scraps of paper in the South End were frozen solidly to the ground, and that was the end of it.

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What shall we talk about this week? I was at the 'Keag store for breakfast on Sunday as usual, and found several pages of signatures on a petition to dissolve the RSU 13 school board on account of general dysfunctionality, etc. We will have to see how that all works out. Meanwhile, there is this business of the idea to build a hotel in the South End on Ocean Street.

The piece of land which is proposed for this new venture has an interesting history. You can go to the Farnsworth and look at a fairly amateur but quite interesting 19th century panoramic painting of the entire waterfront, which shows the site of the hotel being used for turning limerock into building plaster. This was our big industry at the time, and it involved several lime kilns on the spot and elsewhere along the harbor which billowed smoke into the primeval atmosphere. These kilns were dismantled in the early part of the 20th century, and a bridge which was part of the railroad system that fed the kilns was relocated to the public landing, and is still there as the major part of the pedestrian route out to the floats behind the harbormaster’s building.

In later years the spread of land now occupied by Boston Financial was part of the sprawling Rackliffe & Witham Lobster plant. In the 1950s Dean Fisher bought it to open his snowplow factory because the people of Camden were tired of his electrical welding gear interfering with their television reception. The site of the proposed hotel was eventually used as outdoor storage for stacks of new yellow Fisher plows after the Holmes sardine packing plant on that spot burned flat one frozen January night in the 1980s. And believe it or not, in its early days the Island Institute (now so grand on Main Street) was based at this place, in a scruffy little house that always looked like it was going to fall down.

In the early part of this century when I came to inhabit the South End myself, the view down Pacific Street was still blocked at the end by the sight of plows and a large metal storage building, and we thought nothing of it. Then in 2000 or 2001 (as I think I remember) the MBNA credit card business bought the entire chunk and built what is there today: the office building and its parking lot on Water Street, the gazebo and parking lot on Ocean Street, the boardwalk along the harbor, the yacht basin, and what we now call Archer’s which was first imagined as a boathouse and which lent that name to the first bar and restaurant that went in there. I think that’s a reasonable review of the history of land-use at the Place in Question.

Which is also to say that it has only been about 13 years since anybody first imagined this neck of the woods as scenic and desirable.

I always assumed MBNA designed the offices on Water Street to be sold and eventually converted into a hotel. Just look at the view! But this is not exactly what happened, as Boston Financial moved in and as far as we can tell it seems likely to stay a while. But the idea that a hotel would some day occupy that approximate site has been on my mind for more than a decade, and therefore it is no surprise to me that Stuart Smith Enterprises has finally developed a plan for that sort of thing. Remember that when Stuart bought the old Van Baalen (or Nautica, or Breakwater Marketplace) building at 91 Camden St., he first intended to convert it into a hotel before changing his mind and leasing it for commercial, public and University purposes. Now his original plan has found a new venue, here on Ocean Street.

If you are not in the habit of going up to Camden, (and I know several old-timey Rocklanders who still cannot summon up the nerve to do so) then why not take a trip there (you can wear a fake beard if you want) and look at the hotel that now occupies part of the waterfront there. For such a sizeable building it fits in remarkably well, and those of us who knew Camden before it was built around 2009 (I have to depend on the moth-eaten archives in my head when I quote all these dates) have a hard time thinking what the spot looked like before. This effect is essentially what is now also planned for the South End.

Of course this is not the only hotel project being dangled before the Great Rockland Public at this time. The Lyman-Morse site where the old Hollydachs pet store used to be is also now being pitched to the city planning board as a hotel at the gateway to the South End. Who knew our humble neighborhood would turn out so popular?

As a South End person more or less, what do I think of the Ocean Street hotel idea? Part of me is quite miffed. After all I had hoped that one day the concrete towers I inhabit at the foot of Mechanic Street would be turned into a Howard Johnson. I have to admit this idea now seems unlikely to blossom, and my fortune seems unlikely to materialize. Of course, the fact that I don’t technically own these fine towers where I live with the Four Seagulls of the Apocalypse might have something to do with that. More than likely I would be tossed out as a squatter and public heath problem. So Stuart is ruining my dream of fabulous wealth, but I must admit it was a pretty thin sort of dream to begin with, no doubt partly influenced by some of the clouds of medicinal smoke that waft over my tower from certain houses in the neighborhood that I will not mention.

Having got over my disappointment, I find I have no objection to the construction of the hotel. It might look rather spectacular. I realize some people might lose their view of the water, and I expect to hear from their militia at some point. But for most of the past two centuries the view of the water has been unavailable anyway, and a hotel in some form or other has been long on my mind. And if the neighbors’ view is seriously degraded, they should apply for and should receive a tax reduction. None of us can count on keeping a view we do not own. Look at me and my foolish situation.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at davidgrima@ymail.com.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Donna Hurley | Feb 15, 2014 13:17

Brilliant!



Posted by: William Pease | Feb 15, 2014 11:25

Every time I read one of your columns, Mr. Grima, I realize I have a grin on my face. Thanks for that, sir.

Bill Pease, Lancaster, PA (but a Rocklander still at heart)



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