I had a fascinating discussion with Chuck Griffin of the architectural firm, Engelbrecht and Griffin (EGA), who has lovingly restored the old Newburyport Jail (Gaol). He was aware of the Downtown Group’s efforts and was hoping they would correct the elevated walkway on Inn Street instead of patching it up.
According to the Daily News’ Port in Progress book, the massive brick silos were never intended. The original design was for light steel walkways that would not detract from the historic buildings but provide easy access to upstairs apartments without taking away retail space with internal stairways.
Restoration Design Trust of Portsmouth, NH had the original design. Unfortunately, steel prices had skyrocketed at that time and coupled with long delays, Inn Street would have been over-budget and unfinished for a long time. In desperation, Jack Bradshaw of the NRA had Tim Anderson of the Boston-based firm Anderson, Notter Associates, come up with an alternative. They proposed cement walkways and brick stairs.
Regrettably, even as the Daily News predicted in an editorial on January 22nd, 1975, the new design would detract from the historic downtown, encourage vandalism and crime as the ‘silos’ would be hidden places and be used as public bathrooms which they closely resembled. Sure enough, as the decades have passed, the police have had to press heavily in Inn Street with loitering, crime and vandalism and the constant problem of trash and urine.
Mr. Griffin has promised that he will contact the major players for the Downtown Group and encourage them to use this opportunity to re-design Inn Street. He proposed that light stairways be installed; one at the Phoenix Room and one over near the northeast corner. This would radically re-open the area, re-emphasize the aesthetic and historic structures and add access to some of the businesses that are hidden by the heavy brick and cement.
He feared that after their worthy restoration, vandalism would simply return and undue their efforts.
I know they are limited to what bids and donations they take in but for their work to truly improve the situation on Inn Street, it may be the absolutely necessary thing to achieve.
By correcting the design mistakes of the past, they can truly leave a positive impact that will last for decades and encourage more businesses and even more important, foot traffic down Inn Street. The businesses that abut the pedestrian walkway and the City’s police would certainly appreciate such an improvement.