A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Civic Center (From Hell) That Never Was

Hi. I'm Patrick Banks, and I'll be contributing to this blog from time to time. Thanks, Christian! Anyway, take a look at the picture below:
That's Deering Street, from the corner of State looking toward the Eastland Park Hotel. Thomas Brackett "Czar" Reed used to live right on this corner. A lovely chunk of Portland, is it not? Much lovelier than, say, the Cumberland County Civic Center. Amazingly enough, this neighborhood almost ended up becoming just that. 40 years ago urban renewal (actually removal) was the still the "new black" for urban planners all across the land. Portland's planners were no exception and they hired the firm of Victor Gruen (father of the modern suburban shopping mall) & Associates to draw up a plan for a new Portland.

Gruen's plan for Portland - titled Patterns for Progress - was pretty grim. Among other mad schemes, Gruen's firm envisioned a ring road around downtown, tunnels under Monument Square, a pedestrian mall along Congress Street, an orgy of demolition, and plenty of parking garages.

Then there was the civic center. Gruen and his minions actually wanted to plop a gigantic civic/convention center right on top of the blocks bounded by State, Congress, High, and Cumberland (and bisected by Deering). Not everything on that site would have been paved over - The State Theater and the Portlander Motor Hotel (today's USM dorm) would have been integrated into the complex, and the Baptist Church on the corner of High and Deering would have been allowed to stand as well. Everything else in this huge tract of land, however, would have been S.O.L. How on Earth did Gruen's minions come up with such a crappy idea? Crack cocaine wasn't invented until at least a decade later, so they couldn't have been smoking that. PCP, maybe? In any case, they were out of their friggin' minds.

Fortunately their version of the civic center never came to pass. (I'm not entirely sure why. I think it had something with Portland being totally broke. Yay poverty!) So next time you're in the neighborhood, give thanks to it's continued existence by eating dinner at Uncle Billy's, grabbing a 40 from Joe's, and heading over to a show at Geno's. Try doing anything like that on the median strip of the Franklin Arterial.

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