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Port in Progress

May 4, 2007

"The roofs were rotting and the walls were bulging"

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The bowling alley on Water Street had been a downtown gathering point for decades. But in 1975 there was no reason to spare the rundown and shuttered building.

"Some of these places ... the roofs were rotting and the walls were bulging," said Chris Snow, who restored the alley.

By the time the building the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority acquired the building in the late 1960s, it had been abandoned for years and had a tree growing out of the second floor, according to former NRA Director Jack Bradshaw. The area had been declining for years -- Josiah Welch remembered coming back to the city in the 1950s after serving in the military and barely recognizing downtown.

"It looked like war-torn Europe in Market Square," Welch said.

Snow had moved to Newburyport in 1952, and found the environment to be a "major culture shock" to a boy who had been growing up in Boston and Brookline. But he still hung around downtown before it was revitalized, even delivering the Daily News to merchants and residents in the area.

The first wave of renovation in the early 1970s had revitalized Inn Street, where Snow had helped restore one of the parcels. But a recession had slowed development by the mid-1970s to the point where "everything had collapsed," Snow said.

But the old bowling alley building had potential. In the heart of Market Square, it has an unusual feature -- it towers over the street because the highest point on its roof faces the square, and its long roof pitches off to the side. Most other buildings in the downtown are aligned just the opposite -- their roofs pitch toward the street, and massive firewalls that extend above the roofline stand between each unit.

The old bowling alley's unusual feature offers a possible clue to the building's origin. It may be one of the only downtown buildings that predates 1811, when a great fire swept through downtown Newburyport, destroying most buildings. When the downtown was rebuilt, fire safety codes changed the look and alignment of downtown buildings.

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