Tucked between Franklin Arterial and the Portland Food Co-op the brick apartment building at 96 Federal Street has witnessed countless changes since it was built in 1867. Originally two stories tall and later topped by a third story, the building housed generations of European immigrant families.
Unfortunately, heavy use throughout the 19th and 20th centuries took its toll; the building fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned after the City of Portland condemned the rear porch. Enter Dan Black, and Max and Mariah Monks, who purchased the building in 2015. They acknowledged it was in extremely poor condition. Waves of insensitive attempts at remodeling had removed or shifted several -load-bearing interior walls – including around the central staircase - causing floor joists to sag and crack. Major water infiltration had also ruined the original flooring and damaged portions of historic plasterwork beyond repair.
Nevertheless, the new owners saw potential, and quickly developed rehabilitation plans for all 6 apartments. With help from Maine Preservation and Greater Portland Landmarks, they worked with Portland’s Historic Preservation Board, Planning Board, and City Council to expand the recently-approved, India Street Historic District to include 96 Federal. With the local historic designation secured, and the expert advice of Maine Preservation’s Christopher Closs, the project became eligible for state and federal historic tax credits.
Several structural changes were required to stabilize the building, including construction of an interior, concrete retaining wall to buttress the original field-stone foundation. In addition to sistering and re-fastening most of the existing floor and roof framing, the entire structure also had to be jacked up and metal support joists installed to correct a 14” sag in the center of the building. While new electrical, plumbing and sprinkler systems were required, and the rear porches had to be completely reconstructed, craftsmen were able to remove and restore the original windows, and preserve existing interior wood finishes.
The extensive stabilization necessary to rehabilitate this building brought together key public and private partners and illustrates the tremendous impact a small project can have on a historic neighborhood. The restoration of 96 Federal in the rapidly changing India Street Neighborhood, provided much-needed affordable rental housing downtown while also serving as a catalyst for further neighborhood investment.