Adding to a center of gravity downtown

The new Orpheum as seen through a pocket parking lot on Central Avenue. It was mostly more parking, of a private sort, and a warehouse.

Although Dover is a third larger than Portsmouth only 12 miles downstream, its downtown has never had the same heft. Rather than clustering around the harbor like Portsmouth, Dover’s has fronted a spine along Central Avenue, with Washington Street as the only major crossing – one that until recently ended abruptly at the loop in the river.

Now that’s changing, a result of the scale of the new Orpheum complex a block to the west.

While the new multi-use building can look overpowering, it’s actually tucked in very nicely with the existing surroundings. It complements the height of the former Masonic hall to the east, rather than rising above it, and touches on a hardware store, the post office, a bank, district court, former high school now turned into a community center, public library, and city hall – mostly in what had been a parking lot, which did nothing to hold the elements together, at least for regular people on foot.

I’m not enthralled with its façade, but I’ll acknowledge the desire to fit in, something I saw impressively in Baltimore’s modest row house neighborhoods. What I do admire is the way this promises to function in a vibrant community.

For one thing, it tries to look like several buildings rather than one, to avoid an overpowering monotony. For me, the result looks somewhat hectic, but we’ll see how it actually plays out.

The arch window, by the way, pays homage to the appearance of the old Orpheum movie house that sat on one corner.

The corner of Washington and Locust streets, facing the old Masonic temple.


As seen from the back of the post office and Citizens Bank.


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