NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 29, 2013

Hoping for a whale of a rescue in Salisbury

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY — Saving the whales has taken on new meaning in town since a life-long Salisbury Beach enthusiast has made it his mission to rescue the old whale sculpture that’s rested for about half a century at the former miniature golf course on Beach Road.

Salisbury has been part of Jason Rivera’s life ever since the 35-year-old was born. His family has a house on Atlantic Avenue, and although Rivera lives in Newburyport, he heads down Beach Road to visit his parents and Salisbury Beach several times a week.

“I can remember the giant whale that sits in the (former) miniature golf course (once known as) Nat’s Fun Park,” Rivera said. “To me, that whale always symbolized the entry point into Salisbury Beach ... I don’t want to see it demolished with the new construction.”

The whale is located at 191 Beach Road, on land that once held Kartland, a small amusement park and miniature golf course. Although its definitely seen better days, it has a legacy of providing fun for tens of thousands of kids over the decades.

Once owned by the Goldman family, the 13-acre site that holds the whale was approved in 2007 for a 210-unit residential housing development. Sold twice since then — first to Federated Companies — the current owner is a Portsmouth, N.H., company that purchased the property from Federated for $2.5 million in late December 2012. Incorporated as 191 Beach Realty, LLC, the nature of the business of the company was listed as “Apartment Complex.”

The 2007 plan called for a seven-building complex, arranged in an oval around the site, including a clubhouse and pool. The garden-style condo or apartment buildings would have parking on the ground floor, with housing above, plus additional spaces in the parking lot to service the 66 one-bedroom and 144 bedroom units.

But nowhere on that site plan was there mention of finding room for a sculpted whale. And this is no guppy we’re talking about here. This is one big, admittedly fake, Cetacea.

According to The Daily News’ investigation, the whale hails from the 1960s. It’s hollow and was formed by chicken wire embedded in the ground, then covered with a sprayed concrete product known as shotcrete, tradenamed “gunite.” Shotcrete is sometimes used to cover the sides of swimming pools.

But time and the elements haven’t been kind. The whale’s upturned tail has broken off the body. Moving the hollow structure, which appears rotted, might not be possible. It could very well collapse in on itself or disintegrate.

But that’s not deterring Rivera.

“The whale is in a state of disrepair, but we are hoping that we can find a few good souls who can help us save a life,” Rivera said. “I tend to be quite passionate about old artifacts and cultural items. I live in a house from 1850, own a car from 1953 and just hate to see items go by the wayside simply because they’re old.”

Rivera believes the whale can be fixed, if only he can get permission from its owners, craftsmen, some cash and a new home for it. Needed first is permission, then the heavy equipment and people to move it, if that’s feasible, and a place to put it while it’s being repaired. Rivera estimates he’ll need to raise about $10,000.

After contacting the Salisbury Beach Betterment Association about his campaign to save this whale, Rivera said the SBBA sent over a contractor to take a look. But the diagnosis wasn’t good.

“They said it was unrepairable,” Rivera said, who added he wants a second opinion.

“I’ve spent my entire life finding ways to fix things a lot worse off than this whale. Like my 160-year-old house and 60-year-old car.”

The town of Salisbury isn’t really involved, said Town Manager Neil Harrington, because the whale is a privately owned structure on private property.

“But if a group of citizens wants to save the whale and move it to a piece of private property, that’s fine,” Harrington added.

As far as where to put this model of one of nature’s largest marine mammals, Rivera has his eye on a piece of real estate owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns Salisbury Beach. Not far from the town’s skate park, the land connects with Salisbury Beach State Reservation, where Rivera worked for six years.

“It can be the new mascot of the beach and welcome families for years to come,” he said.

If that’s not possible, Rivera would love to hear from a private property owner who’d like to offer the whale new digs. Rivera is hoping a heavy construction company might donate or discount the cost of moving the whale, and others who’d like to contribute cash or time to the project.

Those interested in helping to make this whale of a dream a reality should contact Rivera at j.w.rivera@outlook.com.