Historic Preservation Board Recommends Changes to St. Lawrence Proposed New Theater; Neighborhood Meeting 12/10, 5:30 pm, EECS.

Architect David Lloyd; Executive Director Deirde Nice; Development Director, Julia Kirby; Architect Kevin Gough

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,230)

The one subject that most of the parties at tonight’s Historic Preservation Board meeiting could agree upon was that the proposed plans to rebuild the sanctuary section of the St. Lawrence Arts Center remains a work-in-progress that needs  refining before the Board can approve it.  The St. Lawrence, formerly a Congregational Church on the Hill, participated in a workshop requesting feedback on its modern design concept for the proposed addition.  The St. Lawrence is located at 76  Congress Street.

The sanctuary portion of the St. Lawrence was demolished back in 2008.  It’s condition had deterioated so severly that the demolition was necessary for safety in the area.   Two years later, the St. Lawrence came up with its first design for the replacement.  The intent was to duplicate the original architecture; 19th century Gothic-style.  The cost would have come in at about $17 million. Funders directed Diedre Nice, executive director, to reduce the cost of the building to closer to $7 million.  With that instruction,  she turned to architect David Lloyd, Architype Architects,  who drew up a  plan for a contemporary building and presented it to the workshop.

The proposed theater currently plans for 450 seats; a size needed for sustainability of itself and the adjoining parish theater.  Above the theater would be the Promenade Room – a room  that could be used during intermissions for patrons.  The ground floor would contain a lobby for mingling as well.  On the exterior would be a perforated surface, giving light to the exterior. 

However, the massive size of the building with no “moving” parts was the source of most of the discussion by the Board and during  the public comment.  While the Board is open to contemporary designs, it must be compatible with its surroundings   Board member Martha Burke said:  “This building is way too high.  It does not have architectural interest with other buldings in the area.  It needs more detail.  It’s over scale.”

Three people from the Hill attended the meeting and voiced strong opposition to the proposal.  Cliff Gallant, columnist for the “Portland Daily Sun”, at times emotional, objected to the style of the building and threatened a  “backlash” from the neighborhood.  Vana Carmona said:  “:This flies in the face of most of the character we came here for.  It is not compatible with the neighborhood.” Ralph Carmona said:  “It looks like a Macy’s or Walmart building.  It does not fit with the neighborhood.”  The one person testifying in support of the proposal was Jenny Scheu, an architect who lives nearby.  She called it a “thrilliing building and a great gift to the neighborhood.  It’s a fantastic building.”

“We are going back to the drawing board,” said architect David Lloyd at the end of a lengthy workshop.

 Friends of the St. Lawrence is hosting a meeting  on Monday, Dcember 10, 2012, at 5:30 pm at the East End Community School, Community Room.  The school is located at 195 North Street. For more information, please contact Julia Kirby, at 775-1248 or by email, julia.kirby@stlawrencearts.org