George S. Hunt Block (660 Congress St.), Portland

The George S. Hunt Block at 660 Congress Street is a designated landmark in a local historic district, and a contributing building to one of Maine’s national historic districts. Built in 1886 and designed by noted Portland architect Francis Fassett and his associate Frederick Thompson, it is a prominent example of the once-popular Queen Anne style.

In 2011, the previous owner abandoned plans to rehabilitate the building in the wake of a destructive fire. They had demolished the building's interiors at the behest of their engineer, leaving only the historic facade and roof, which had been severely damaged by the blaze and suffered from the effects of years of deferred maintenance.

A complete transformation began in December 2011 when 660 Congress was purchased by, Kenn Guimond, who served as both the developer and general contractor. His contributions to the project were singular. Not only did he meet and exceed the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation of the exterior, but his commitment to design excellence underscored a respect for the quality and history of the original building. Where others might have seen an opportunity for shortcuts, he chose to pursue a thoughtful rehabilitation, with a spirit of integrity and attention to detail that honored the spirit of 19th-century building practices.

Guimond’s initial challenge was to envision the interiors without any existing documentation reflecting their original design. Guimond returned to what remained of the building, the historical facade, and traced the silhouette of the mansard roof with gently curving walls. At the ceiling, the expansive volume of the roof is revealed with dramatic light coffers that bring light into the spaces through skylights and hidden architectural lighting.

In other areas, fragments of history such as arched doorways, fireplaces and brickwork were left untouched. The new residential entrance features a blackened steel stair with solid white oak treads, fabricated by a local Maine welder. Many of the improvements are hidden from view, such as new HVAC and utilities, code compliant structural work, and upgraded environmental and life safety systems. The facade was the most important historical aspect of the project and was meticulously rehabilitated. New copper roofs were installed, and unsightly downspouts were returned to their original concealed brick pockets. The pressed tin frieze and dentil ornamentation were carefully restored on site, and rotted wood storefront window frames were replaced in kind. This was accomplished on a logistically complicated site with limited private property available for staging.

The team approached the $2M redesign with a vision to revitalize the landmarked facade and modernize the building’s interior, allowing the spaces to flow fluidly together. The result is a building aware of the past, but not bound to it. The 7,500 square foot structure was completed in 2016, and includes a pair of two-bedroom apartments, and a light filled commercial space on the ground floor with a spacious basement retail space.

The time and effort invested in the rehabilitation has created a building in dialogue with its own history, reflecting the commitment to design shared by the people involved in its past and present.

Westbrook Seminary Building, Alumni Hall, Portland

Built in 1833 in the Federal style, the Seminary Building was the first structure built for Westbrook Seminary, a progressive, co-educational school founded by the Kennebec Association of Universalists. The iconic bell tower was relocated from Portland’s 1825 Market House. A rear annex built circa 1894 in the Colonial Revival style was later moved and converted to use as a chapel.  The Seminary Building was renamed Alumni Hall in 1894 and remains the primary focal point of the campus to this day.

Over the last century, Westbrook Seminary underwent various name changes, finally merging with the University of New England’s Portland campus.  Alumni Hall was renovated in 1938 and again in 1987, and interior alterations created a chapel, theater, chemistry labs and art and music studios, resulting in a patchwork of modifications from different periods.  In the 1980’s, exterior brick walls were painted purple, the original windows were replaced and the fine belfry dome sheathed in asphalt shingles.

By 2014, the once proud structure suffered from significant water damage, a non-compliant exterior fire escape, and mechanical, plumbing, safety and accessibility deficiencies in both the original building and the chapel addition.

Trustees at UNE voted to bring back Alumni Hall, initiating a comprehensive interior/exterior renovation.  The scope of work included restoring the exterior as it appeared between 1868 and 1910, when it was painted white and had twelve-over-twelve double-hung windows with operable shutters. Structural deficiencies of the rear annex warranted demolition and the construction of a replica structure that incorporates the original massing, brick base, window pattern and large interior space with vaulted beadboard ceiling.  The original interior stair retained with only slight modifications, and the general central hallway layout was respected. New interior doors and casings were crafted based upon historic remnants, and pendant light fixtures were reintroduced based on historic photographs of the interior.

Outside, masons repaired cracks in the stone and repointed the facades. Other teams repairing and replicated decorative woodwork including the cupola, the eaves and the entry surround, and reclad the belfry – this time, not in asphalt but copper. They replaced windows with appropriate reproductions and reintroduced operable wooden shutters. Finally, the courtyard between Alumni Hall and McArthur Gymnasium was modified to better fit the landscape and to introduce an ADA accessible entry to the new elevator lobby.

At a reopening ceremony last June--182 years to the day after the building opened to welcome its first class of students--Westbrook College alumni were the first to tour the completed interior and view historic portraits, paintings and a beautifully restored 1950’s era mural decorating corridor walls of the restored heart of the campus.  Alumni Hall will now serve as the crossroads of administration and student life, providing executive office space on the second floor, classroom and event space on the first floor, and a comfortable student lounge at the lower level.

After sitting vacant for over a decade, the centerpiece of UNE’s Portland campus and its historic green have now been restored to their original grandeur, achieving President Ripich’s goal of bringing Alumni Hall building back to its rightful place as the center of student life.

Rosa True School, Portland

The Rosa True building, a neighborhood landmark significant for its association with the development of Portland’s Spring Street Historic District, was originally constructed in 1844 as a relatively modest, T-shaped Greek Revival style schoolhouse. In the ensuing decades a 2-story addition was added to the rear, In the 1920s the school was renamed the Rosa E. True School in honor of its long-time principal. But the well-used building gradually fell into disrepair. Finally—in 1972—Portland’s longest serving public school building in continuous use was closed. Greater Portland Landmarks secured a revolving loan to help save and convert the property, and a low-income apartment building opened here in 1992. 

Unfortunately, conditions at the apartment building also deteriorated over time. Much of the building envelope was in great need of attention and the entire property suffered from years of deferred maintenance. When its non-profit owner transitioned out of the housing ownership business, the Rosa True building’s future was in doubt.

Enter developer Kevin Bunker, who led the effort to save the neglected structure while increasing the efficiency of the space.  Bunker convinced state officials that the former school was an important resource worth saving.  And City officials soon agreed, offering to defer the existing debt on the project. So did state entities, with Maine Housing providing resources beyond their traditional program offerings.

On the exterior, most of the building was repointed and the original windows and doors repaired.  On the interior, the two historic main staircases were preserved along with feature beadboard wainscoting in the corridors, historic door casings and picture rails. To complement the collection of apartments created in the 1990s, the project team added two new units in a daylight basement----and managed to rehab the basement level while most units above remained occupied!

With one modified unit that’s ADA accessible and historic fabric in place throughout the structure, the Rosa True building stands as an example of a creative, thoughtful rehabilitation that expands affordable housing stock at a time when Portland faces pressing affordability challenges. Kevin Bunker says, “Our aim was to save the building while increasing the efficiency…This was a relatively small project but [an] 1844 school… is worth preserving.”