Hiya from New Hampshire's historic seacoast region, where I actually do have a small red (cluttered) barn. Digging around in its metaphorical loft, you'll find a slew of original photos and writings reflecting life here as well as souvenirs of my long sojourns from my native Ohio all the way to the Pacific Northwest and points ricocheting back to the East Coast, where I now live. More and more, the postings also spring from my published novels. In between, I pitch in with the garden and trek along the Atlantic and in nearby mountains, as well as dance traditional Greek and New England folk style and sing in an outstanding chorus down in Boston. Stop by as often as you can and pipe up in the comments, which are often the best part of a post. Don't be shy. Now, how do you like your coffee? Or was that tea? And don't forget your bug spray.
It’s been like a downtown waiting to happen, if only the right neighbors moved in.
And now, actually, they are, thanks to the new Orpheum project and what’s happening at the old newspaper plant now dubbed Foster Place.
Historically, some dramatic fires shaped the street, too, removing an imposing city hall that included the largest auditorium in the state (“opera house,” as it was known) and a Baptist church. Mills across the street were also razed over time, making the entire scene airier.
I’ve been watching the renovation of the former newspaper plant downtown with special interest. Remember, I am a retired journalist.
To begin with, the existing edifice was highly problematic, beginning with the question of what to do with the former industrial pressroom and moving on to the way the structure had been expanded wily-nily over the decades. Apart from its first (modest) construction, the evolving building was never exactly what you’d call planned. Not with a long view.
Owned by one family for generations, the daily Foster’s Daily Democrat was headquartered on a prominent corner of Lower Square. In fact, the publisher and his family even lived in quarters in the flat-iron style building where traffic now curves from Central Avenue onto Washington Street and then Main as it winds around the historic mills and river.
The longest side of the plant, though, stands along Henry Law Avenue but has never interacted with it. Nope, it was just a concrete block wall with a few slits. Or fortress, meaning until recently, the street was largely a traffic siphon. But that’s changed now that the children’s museum on the other side draws thousands of families and school groups each year, as do free concerts in the small park. People actually stop and pay to park their vehicles along the street, and not because they have jobs nearby.
Again, with the city planner’s goal of making downtown both pedestrian- and family-friendly, the interface has been changing.
At last, a developer has realized that to make the old newspaper office viable to new tenants, big changes were needed. And finally, that’s happening. Naturally, it’s a multi-use approach.
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family members also realize they need to upgrade their restaurant, and that leads to an ambitious project to repurpose the building next door. It’s not that unlike what’s happening on Henry Law Avenue as the blank concrete block wall is opened to pedestrian traffic.
I’ve mentioned the deep revisions What’s Left underwent on its way to its current incarnation. Most of the work was done entirely on the computer, but a few rounds on paper helped, too. Here’s a sample from maybe Round Nine.
One of the basic bits of advice given to a writer is to envision your reader. It’s one that’s always troubled me, though. Could it be because I carry multiple identities as a writer? Poet, novelist, Quaker, retired journalist, with overlapping interests?
As a poet, I can’t describe the audience that shows up for a reading — the individuals seem to represent all types. Picture my readers? They could be anywhere in the subway car I’m riding!
OK, maybe it’s a younger, or at least more hip, crowd, but not entirely.
Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I was surprised by the relative importance of smaller urban areas in the Pacific Northwest. Look how quickly the population figures drop.
Looking at the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, here are the ten largest cities by metropolitan area population. These figures have mushroomed since I lived in the region four decades ago and even desert communities have been deemed desirable destinations for retirees. As for geographic perspective, remember that the Seattle standard statistical metropolitan area includes the wilderness of Mount Rainier National Park. Anyplace else have an active volcano?
Seattle, 3.9 million. Ranked 20th in the U.S. Feels more like Boston, Chicago, or Atlanta in its impact.
Portland, 2.4 million. Ranked 30th in the U.S.
Boise, Idaho, 730,426
Spokane, Washington, 559,891
Salem, Oregon, 432,102
Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, 379,611
Olympia, Washington, 286,419
Tri-Cities, Washington, 296,224
Bremerton, Washington, 269,805
Yakima, Washington, 251,446. The major metropolis for the middle third of a large state.
Note that six of the ten are west of the Cascade range. None are in the eastern half of Oregon.
Just to the north, Vancouver, British Columbia, has 2.4 million population, making it Canada’s third largest metropolis.
Fitting the new Orpheum into an essentially triangular site made for an interesting design challenge. Fitting into an existing downtown look and scale of size was another. And optimizing return on investment and budget was a third.
The footprint led to an interesting solution as well as an emerging new skyline.
The developer’s results look like two parallel buildings when seen from the west, as well as a long backdrop for the existing downtown when seen from the east.