Brick South, Portland

With the arrival of railroads in the 19th century, Portland became a booming transportation hub for people and freight. In 1886, the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad developed rail facilities at Thompson’s Point where the first railroad repair shops were constructed. Destroyed by fire just a few years later, a 25,000-square foot Machine Shop was rebuilt in 1904 and leased by Maine Central Railroad. During World War II, the government took over the property, and the building was used to store steel for Liberty Ships then under construction. Over the next 60 years, a series of owners proposed several development projects, but none ever got off the ground.

In 2009 Forefront Partners, purchased the property, undertaking the long process of transforming the one-time industrial site into Portland’s most dynamic new district. They re-named the old Maine Central Railroad Machine Shop Brick South. It’s one of just two buildings surviving from the railroad era.

Forefront Partners' goal was to transform the historic Machine Shop into a multi-use event venue, and to preserve the grand vistas and stately character of the space while adding the amenities essential for large, catered events. Care was taken during the development process to preserve the historic and architectural character of the building. Structural reinforcement, roof replacement and a new system of underground utility lines are just a few of the many improvements the machine shop required. In May 2017, the building became the first LEED Core and Shell Gold project in Portland.

Today, Brick South offers an experience unparalleled in southern Maine, celebrating Portland's rich history and serving as a versatile venue for weddings and trade shows, fundraisers and a variety of festivals. Last year, the Maine Flower Show brought over 16,000 visitors to the site over a three-day period and this fall the building was the site of Maine Preservation’s Annual Gala.

Brick South—a reminder of the city’s railroad heyday-- is on the fast track to becoming a star on the Portland Scene.  

Schlotterbeck & Foss Building, Portland

The Schlotterbeck & Foss Company was first incorporated in February 1892 as a premiere food and pharmaceuticals manufacturing facility in downtown Portland. The company’s 1927 home on Preble Street is significant as the only major Art Deco-style building designed by John Calvin Stevens and John Howard Stevens, and as one of the few surviving commercial buildings designed by the firm.

Structurally, the facility made use of then- new technology for supporting a large masonry building on filled land with composite wood and concrete pilings. It remained essentially unaltered from the time of its construction, but bore several examples of wear and tear. When ownership transferred to John Anton, Tom Watson and Brian Bush with a goal of rehabilitating the structure for residential use, Sutherland Conservation & Consulting prepared a nomination for inclusion on the National Register to make the building eligible for historic tax credits. Once funding was secured, rehabilitation processes with Goduti/Thomas Architects began, starting with masonry repairs to the cast stone and brick exterior, replacement of single-glazed windows with matching insulated windows, and installation of efficient modern mechanical systems.

The primary entrance on Preble Street was retained and restored for use by offices that now fill the first floor. The existing south entrance was expanded to provide access to both offices and residential units. Original stairs in the building were retained and a new, modern elevator installed. Residential units are located throughout the building and feature open plans with partial-height partition walls. Historic brick and concrete walls, floors, ceilings, and structural columns remain exposed, expressing the industrial character of the spaces.

The result of the project was the creation of 55 housing units in addition to first-floor office space. Taken together, they represent a vibrant new addition to Portland’s post-industrial Bayside neighborhood.

The Francis Hotel, Portland

The Mellen E. Bolster House on Congress Street in Portland was designed by Francis Fassett in 1881 and built as a single-family residence for a wealthy dry goods purveyor. Fassett was one of the premier local architects of his time, and is credited with many outstanding Victorian –era residences built in Portland after the Great Fire of 1866. His influence is instantly recognizable in the West End, where prized mansions designed by Fassett or his protégé, John Calvin Stevens remain standing. The Bolster House is one of the rare properties on which the two architects collaborated.

Hay & Peabody Funeral Home purchased the Bolster House in the early 1900s and installed the beautiful Seth Thomas clock still visible out front. In the ensuing years, the funeral home moved out and the once-grand mansion deteriorated. After standing vacant for over a decade, new owners Nate, Tony and Jake DeLois and Jeff Harder purchased it in 2015 and initiated plans to convert the single-family residence into a 15-room hotel and spa with a 49-seat restaurant. The hotel is now named The Francis, in honor of one of its designers, and the restaurant is called Bolster, Snow & Co.

Conditions in the building prior to development were less than ideal. The gas, electric and water services, along with modes of access and fire safety systems, all needed attention and updating. Windows were in poor condition and required major refurbishment, and some of the floors were unusable due to water damage and years of wear and tear. Luckily, some historic features were reasonably well-preserved; a good portion of the original wood flooring was covered in carpet and needed only refinishing. One of the first things guests now notice is the beautifully restored front doors’ stained-glass windows, and the wow factor continues in the lobby with simple furnishings that allow the fireplace mantle and inlaid floors to shine.

The scope of work included refurbishing all historic features, modernizing building systems, installing an ADA compliant elevator and carving out spaces for 15 hotel rooms and a modern restaurant. One of the biggest challenges involved plumbing: the building previously had 3 restrooms. Today it has 18.  

On the exterior, a major concern was the deterioration of the rear brick wall and the roof of the former garage. The roof needed to be reinforced and replaced and the brick needed to be stabilized. Fortunately, a good portion of the wall could be dismantled and re-bricked. The revitalized garage became a ground floor suite for the hotel that became instantly popular among guests.

Long vacant, this treasure on Congress Street is now available to the entire community. Over twenty jobs have been created. The Bramhall Square neighborhood, which is experiencing a renaissance fuelled by entrepreneurs who’ve opened Tandem Bakery, Bramhall Pub, The Roma, and Trattoria, is even stronger. And Maine’s largest city can offer visitors a small, charming hotel that celebrates the region’s mercantile past.

Grand Trunk Railway Company Building, Portland

For years it stood alone at the corner of India and Commercial streets—the all but forgotten Grand Trunk Railway Company Building, constructed in 1903. Once an outbuilding for the sprawling 1901 Grand Trunk Railroad Station, the three-story Company Building was all that remained after the station complex was thoughtlessly demolished beginning in 1961.

But decades later, there was good news for the fortunate survivor. In 2016, seeing an ideal location for a suite of corporate office, Gorham Savings Bank purchased the building and initiated a rehabilitation project using historic tax credits.

The building was constructed of red brick trimmed with granite and highly decorative brick details, with pressed copper enlivening the roof cornice. On the interior, historic finishes survived in many locations, including bead board wainscoting, molded window and door casings with corner blocks, and wood flooring likely associated with the original structure. Still, years of roof leaks likely associated with a third-story constructed in the 1930s had caused extensive structural damage and deterioration of plasterwork. Additionally, several original transom windows had been blocked, and nearly every other original window replaced without attention to historic character

Gorham Savings and its many development partners, including Developers Collaborative and Archetype Architects, repointed all the exterior brick while unblocking all second-floor window openings. New wood windows were fabricated, along with exterior storms, once again providing stunning views of Portland’s waterfront. Inside, the team encountered structural inconsistencies that required replacement of key structural elements. As interior work progressed, 1980s suspended ceilings were removed and historic finishes like plaster walls and ceilings, bead board wainscoting and wood trim restored. Teams also removed the decorative copper cornice around the edge of the roof and completely reframed the structure. Now, with the original copper, back in place, the cornice should endure for another century. 

Without Gorham’s intervention and dedication, this vestige of Maine’s transportation history could have deteriorated beyond repair. Instead, it has become the bank’s busy, new downtown Portland office—with 23 staffers working onsite. The first floor currently holds a retail area along with an interactive teller machine, allowing customers to video bank with tellers at other locations. The second floor is occupied by Gorham Savings’ marketing and business banking staff, while the third floor holds executive offices and a board room.

The main station may have been lost, but The Grand Trunk Railway Building endures, and has become yet another tax credit success story at the edge of the city’s Old Port.