NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Port in Progress

June 22, 2007

The hardest place to restore: East Row showed Urban Renewal's growing pains

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NEWBURYPORT -- The buildings were falling apart. Jack Bradshaw makes that perfectly clear.

"Oh God," Bradshaw said recently when asked about the condition of the block of buildings that became a major source of difficulty for members of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority during the mid-1970s in the second stage of the NRA's urban renewal period.

"Parcel 11" -- the block that stretches from what's now Abraham's Bagel Shop on Liberty Street and circles around Market Square to Souffles -- was the hardest place to develop, and one of the NRAs largest undertakings.

Known as the "Wein & Check block" after its owners, the appearance of the impressive brick Federal-period block would hardly be recognizable to Newburyporters of today.

"It was totally falling down," former NRA director Bradshaw recalled. "It was a fire trap."

The block that now houses a jeweler, bakery and florist among other specialty stores had gas pumps and an automobile repair shop with a second-floor parking garage.

"The pumps were right on the street," Bradshaw said. "You drove up to it on the sidewalk." The gas pumps were less than 50 yards from Bossy Gillis' gas station in Market Square.

By the time the NRA purchased the Wein & Check block, formally known as "East Row," in the early 1970s, the buildings were empty. The last tenant, Richdale's, had already relocated to its current spot on the corner of Pleasant and State streets.

During those years, Bradshaw got phone calls from police on an almost nightly basis, telling him that people had broken into the boarded-up block by removing the plywood and had started fires to keep warm, Bradshaw said. "It was easy to get into."

"Junk" filled the back area of the block-- including barrels of kerosene used for heating oil -- and rats had taken up residency.

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