TEXT BY BRIAN KEVIN
ABOVE The clock atop the tower on Forest Avenue’s Odd Fellows Block had its motor repaired and faces restored in 2016. Photographed by Jamie Walter.
Back in summer 2019, the Portland Historic Preservation Board recommended 17 buildings along busy Forest Avenue for designation as individual landmarks under the city’s historic preservation ordinance. The buildings ran the gamut, from a 1907 firehouse to the 1953 Oakhurst Dairy plant to a row of more than a half dozen former auto showrooms, most built in the 1920s. Plenty of neighbors cheered, as did the Friends of Woodfords Corner neighborhood association and the nonprofit Greater Portland Landmarks.
Opposed, however, were the owners of most of the nominated properties, at least 10 of whom piped up at workshops and council meetings to say they didn’t consider their buildings historic, thanks, and could do without the extra red tape they feared the designation would confer.
In the end, the city council designated five new landmarks, clustered around the five-way junction at Woodfords Corner, a onetime trolley stop in the city of Deering, which was annexed by Portland in 1899. Included are the 1897 Odd Fellows Block and the 1916 Chapman Block, complementary brick “flatiron” buildings overlooking the intersection. The four-faced clock atop the Odd Fellows Block, resting on Doric columns some 90 feet above the street, underwent a $60,000 restoration in 2016. It faces one of Portland’s few remaining mid-century modern structures, another new landmark and home to neighborhood restaurant staple Woodford Food & Beverage. The 1964 building, with its distinctive roofline formed by three angular overhangs, was long the headquarters of the Valle’s Steak House chain. Also designated at Woodfords Corner: a 1915 storefront that had been an A&P grocery and a 1917 auto dealership — the only one that ended up a landmark on the street once known as Portland’s Auto Row.
ABOVE 1) The Munjoy Block, on Munjoy Hill, was built in 1887 by one David Murdock, whom census records describe as a “soda manufacturer.” Photograph courtesy of Greater Portland Landmarks. 2) The mid-century building that houses Woodford Food & Beverage began as a sandwich shop before spending decades as the headquarters of a restaurant chain. Photographed by Jamie Walter.
OLD AS THE HILL
In February, Portland’s city council narrowly defeated a long-studied and much-debated proposal to designate a historic district encompassing nearly half the houses in the city’s increasingly chi-chi Munjoy Hill neighborhood. Architecturally, advocates acknowledged, the Hill is a bit of a hodgepodge — unlike, say, the city’s Deering Street Historic District, a comparatively uniform Victorian ward showing off the work of notable 19th-century architects. But the neighborhood’s motley character, supporters argued, testifies to its historic significance as a bastion of working-class and immigrant communities. Some hoped that constraints on demolition could prevent further development of glitzy new condos. Then, in mid-April, the city council reconsidered the proposal and reversed its earlier decision, approving the historic district by a single vote.
But even before the about-face, back in February, the council designated five new individual landmarks outside the new historic district. Among them is a three-story Italianate known as the Munjoy Block. With its projecting bays, ornamental window surrounds, and corniced parapet, it’s one of the Hill’s earliest and most striking apartment buildings, built in 1887, during a housing boom in the decades that followed Portland’s Great Fire. Also protected is a snug dormered Cape known as the Henry Rowe House, built around 1849 and one of the Hill’s oldest surviving homes. It’s named for an Irish- born architect who designed Gothic-inspired homes all across Portland (though not this one, in which he was only a brief tenant). At the neighborhood’s edge, another Irish immigrant, a stevedore named William Parks, occupied yet another small Cape. Now a landmark, the 1863 William Parks House stands out for being charmingly modest on a street peppered with mod condos.