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.
While Dover’s downtown has traditionally run along the north-south spine of Central Avenue and its historic mill complex, new construction is giving more emphasis to the Chestnut-Locust street route a block to the west. Here’s how the view is changing.
When St. Charles Roman Catholic Church on Central Avenue was razed and replaced by the new Bradley Commons, I wondered what would happen to the part of its trashy parking lot fronting Park Street. It was a vacuous hole, especially for pedestrians. No longer. Here’s what the Community Action Partners have put up in its place, with a large open garage at its back.
Side streets can add an important dimension to a downtown’s allure, providing more options to explore within a few blocks’ stroll. Most of Dover’s pedestrian attraction has been along Central Avenue, but the new Orpheum is adding muscle to the Washington Street intersection at Lower Square.
Three blocks to the north, just off Upper Square, this complex is filling in a former parking lot beside the railroad tracks, with the potential of doubling the retail appeal for strollers on the block of Third Street.