In January 2008, days before WHALE’s Board was set to take a vote to acquire and rehabilitate the magnificent Queen Anne located at One Washington Square, the abandoned historic property was lost to arson. An icon of the historic Washington Square neighborhood, WHALE heard neighbors’ pleas to “bring back our house”. Since WHALE had sufficient documentation of the house, WHALE began plans to reconstruct One Washington Square.
Washington Square residents have chartered their own course and, as a result, are going to get what they want – their house back. Thanks to a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the City of New Bedford and the efforts of WHALE, the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE, residents of the Washington Square neighborhood in the South End of New Bedford will be getting back an iconic property, the Queen Anne home located at One Washington Square. The majestic Queen Anne was stolen from the neighborhood on January 20, 2008 by arsonists when a three alarm fire spread rapidly through the 126-year old wooden structure, ravaging the building and resulting in a complete demolition of the structure the following day.
“The arson fire at One Washington Square was a tragedy for the neighborhood and the city,” noted New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. “We cannot let arsonists destroy our neighborhoods. We heard the residents of the Washington Square neighborhood loud and clear and responded appropriately by issuing an RFP for the reconstruction of the magnificent architectural building that was taken from us. Future generations of New Bedford citizens will appreciate this reconstruction of a New Bedford landmark.”
Four months after the fire, Washington Square residents gathered on a sunny, Saturday morning in May 2008 for a neighborhood meeting coordinated by WHALE to plan the future of their neighborhood. They expressed their concerns and ideas about open space, safety, streets
and sidewalks, as well as historic preservation, resulting in the development of the Washington Square Gateway Neighborhood Action Plan, of which the reconstruction of One Washington Square tops the list for historic preservation goals for the neighborhood. “We agree with WHALE and the residents”, added Mayor Lang. “that One Washington Square was an iconic property that stood at a critical point in this neighborhood – a gateway to the County Street Corridor. It was one of the finest examples of Queen Anne architecture we have in New Bedford. Nothing else belongs on that triangle.”
And, the residents want it back. Manuela Cormier, a resident of County Street across from the lot at One Washington Square is ecstatic that the house is going to be reconstructed. “This is wonderful. It is so good for the neighborhood, for the city. We can’t wait to have our house back.”
WHALE Executive Director Lisa Bergson states “WHALE is pleased to answer the call of the residents of the Washington Square neighborhood. One Washington Square was a wonderful Queen Anne property and WHALE was excited about taking on another ‘impossible’ project that would address blight and neglect in our neighborhoods. That is the mission of our Neighborhood Restoration Program and the core reason WHALE was created some 47 years ago.”
Bergson noted that the fire occurred right before WHALE was set to take ownership of the abandoned house and begin a full restoration. “We were as devastated by the fire and subsequent demolition as the residents and neighbors were” continued Bergson, “because here was an architecturally significant, abandoned building in a historic neighborhood that was going to be saved, going to be new again and, then, it was gone. But, like so many other WHALE projects ravaged by fire like the Sundial Building, the Corson Building, the Rodman
Candleworks Building, or the McCullough Building, WHALE can bring it back because we have a host of evidence to support an accurate reconstruction.” Prior to the fire, WHALE commissioned detailed measured drawings of the structure, collected historical photographs, historical research, and contemporary photographs of the exterior and the interior.
Jan DaSilva, Preservation Specialist at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park confirmed that reconstruction can be a treatment according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and is appropriate in this case. “Reconstruction is a viable tool in any preservation organization’s toolkit” noted DaSilva, “It is never the first tool used. It is only used as a last resort when no other option is available as is the case here with One Washington Square. WHALE should be commended for taking on such a daunting task in this neighborhood.”
WHALE plans on working with a combination of private contractors and students from the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School to reconstruct One Washington Square. “This is a great opportunity to expose our next generation of craftsmen to historic preservation, build a model ‘green’ home,” noted Bergson, “and get them involved in a meaningful, community project.”
WHALE has already received significant donations of expertise to make this project happen including donated architectural, engineering, planning, legal, and real estate services. Christopher “Kit” Wise of Wise, Surma, Jones Architects and a WHALE Board member is donating all the architectural services for the project. “I am honored to play a key role in bringing this iconic property back for this neighborhood,” noted Wise, “and I am looking forward to working with the students from Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech on this project. It will be a great
hands-on learning experience they will not forget.” Wise is quick to note the extensive benefits to the neighborhood that drew him to volunteer his services for this project. “One Washington Square is an amazing architectural gem and will be, when it is completed, one of the finest multi-family, affordable residence in the entire city and a wonderful compliment to this historic neighborhood.”
“Whenever WHALE has taken on a project that no one else would tackle,” noted Bergson, “the business community and the community at large have always responded with donations of product and expertise as well as vital financial support because they understood that historic preservation revitalizes and strengthens our neighborhoods.”
The local Pella Windows distributor is the perfect example. Pella Windows has donated $25,000 in windows for the reconstruction of One Washington Square (Click HERE for more details).
“Preservation makes a difference and has a long-lasting, positive impact,” added Bergson. “You only have to walk the cobblestoned streets of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, go to the Zeiterion Theatre, or the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum to see the proof for yourself.”
Planning for the project is well underway. A groundbreaking for the project is scheduled for the spring. For more information on the project call WHALE at 508-997-1776 or to view the Washington Square Gateway Neighborhood Action Plan go to www.waterfrontleague.org/projects.htm. The Plan was funded with a Community Development Block Grant through the City of New Bedford.