Who Cares?

"Portsmouth isn't St Louis, San Francisco, Boston or Newburyport," Dorothy Vaughan said. "It has its own flavor, as distinct as strawberry is from chocolate and vanilla."

“Portsmouth isn’t St Louis, San Francisco, Boston or Newburyport,” Dorothy Vaughan said. “It has its own flavor, as distinct as strawberry is from chocolate and vanilla.”  Copyright Clare Kittredge photo, all rights reserved

SHE FOUGHT FOR PORTSMOUTH LIKE A TIGER

For years, Portsmouth’s “little old lady in tennis shoes” kept a hawk eye on the city’s land use boards—especially the Historic District Commission, on which she sat for 10 years until the incredible age of 88! She held city officials’ feet to the fire, and made lots of enemies along the way. But with her knack for the pithy soundbite, the late city librarian made a career of touting Portsmouth’s “flavor.”

“Portsmouth isn’t St. Louis, San Francisco, Boston or Newburyport,” Dorothy Vaughan told anyone who would listen, well into her eighties. “It has its own flavor, as distinct as strawberry is from chocolate and vanilla.” But this rare “flavor” was so fragile, she warned, that it had to be fiercely protected to make sure Portsmouth did not become “Main Street, USA.”

What’s happening to Portsmouth now would have Dorothy Vaughan rolling over in her grave.

Press Room founder Jay Smith, the self-effacing benefactor widely credited with saving the Music Hall behind the scenes from being carved up into condos

Press Room founder Jay Smith, the self-effacing benefactor widely credited with saving the Music Hall behind the scenes from being carved up into condos

SELF-EFFACING MUSIC HALL SAVIOR, ARTS LOVER, HDC-MEMBER STOOD UP FOR PORTSMOUTH 

Jay Smith would be rolling over in his grave at what’s happening to Portsmouth. No kidding!

A former reporter who founded the Press Room in 1976, the former HDC-member loved the arts and live music and cared intensely about protecting Portsmouth’s character. He prized the beauty, the aged patina, soft colors, textures and quirky angles of the funky old city and fought to protect it from being stamped out by inappropriate new development. Without fanfare or asking for any recognition– totally behind-the-scenes– Smith put his considerable wealth on the line to save the Music Hall from being carved up into condos. Because he was generous and because he cared.

With his chiseled features and caustic wit, the perennially jean-clad bon vivant was well-known around Portsmouth for his laid back personal style. He decked out his local pub with typewriters. A painting of a nude lounged over the bar. A huge mock-up of a Dec. 5, 1933 front page of the New York Times with a banner headline proclaiming the repeal of prohibition hung from the Press Room’s worn brick walls. (Still does).Although Smith let all his friends (and his chief accountant) know that he planned to leave his wealth to the Music Hall, there was widespread consternation when he died intestate in what seemed like a freak health emergency a few years back. A pocket park on State Street was created in his memory, but his absence left a hole.

HOW TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN TO SAVE PORTSMOUTH’S FLAVOR

Some local folks who support our efforts have offered to pitch in a little financially to help us out. But trying to rescue Portsmouth’s flavor is a BIG job, and we’re on a shoestring budget while other interests in the mix appear to be powerful and well-funded. So we need your help.

We’ve set up a mechanism for contributing to the campaign to Save Portsmouth Now! Donations can be sent to Portsmouth Now!, PO Box 815, Portsmouth, NH 03802. And we have incorporated as a New Hampshire nonprofit. Checks can be made out to Portsmouth Now!. We have opened a special account to segregate all funds for this project.

If ever there was a David and Goliath effort, this is it! That means that NO donation is too small. 
As an HDC-member, Dorothy Vaughan fought to have to Foye Building (shown here in back) restored with as much old brick as possible when its near-collapse in Market Square almost brought down the Athenaeum

As an HDC-member, Dorothy Vaughan fought to have to Foye Building (shown here in back) restored with as much old brick as possible when its near-collapse in Market Square almost brought down the Athenaeum

(Shown here is the back of the Foye Building, after its near-collapse in Market Square during a 1980’s basement construction project very nearly pulled down the Athenaeum. Dorothy Vaughan, then on the HDC, and other like-minded HDC-members, fought tooth and nail to have it restored with old brick, resulting in a restoration that most people agree benefited the whole city.

By contrast, quite another HDC let the Martingale, the waterfront’s second-oldest building, get torn down when new construction weakened it and replaced by a larger new building. Although historians say Portsmouth’s early 1800’s brick buildings are among the city’s most valuable possessions, the former Carter’s Antiques building at 173-5 Market St has been in danger of being “enveloped” on two sides by new brick. But the ZBA recently overturned the HDC’s approval of a huge modern addition to the aged building’s waterfront side after many residents and abutters objected that it would utterly transform its antique appearance and forever change the character of Ceres Street.

What would Dorothy Vaughan be saying about that?

Save Portsmouth Now!

3 thoughts on “Who Cares?

  1. Duncan MacCallum

    The appeals of the HDC’s decisions on the 111 Maplewood Avenue project and the 173-175 Market Street project (the Carter’s Antiques building) were filed on time this past Friday, December 6, 2013.

    I am advised by the clerk of the Planning Department that the probable date on which those appeals will be heard is Tuesday, January 21, 2014. They will be heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment at its regular monthly meeting. It would be extremely helpful if we had a big turnout at that meeting to oppose these projects. If you would like to see these projects stopped, please mark that date on your calendar and plan to attend and speak against them.

    A matter of considerable significance in these appeals is the fact that the legal standard for review of the HDC’s decisions by the ZBA is what is known as “de novo review,” which means that the ZBA is supposed to look at the evidence afresh, and the HDC’s findings and conclusions are not entitled to any deference. Perhaps I would not go so far as to say that the ZBA is required to start all over again from scratch, and certainly as a practical matter I am sure that its members will not do so, but the HDC’s decisions are not entitled to any presumption of correctness, and the ZBA is not bound by any of the latter’s findings. I may be forced to work a bit to impress this fact upon the ZBA members, but that is, in fact, the correct legal standard.

    The significance of this fact is that there is a real possibility that the HDC’s decisions can be overturned if there is enough public opposition to these projects. Mind you, there have been plenty of occasions on which the ZBA has been impervious to public opinion before, and I can’t make any guarantees, but if at least four voting members of the ZBA have doubts about the appropriateness of these projects it will be a lot easier for those members to vote against them if there is a large turnout voicing opposition to them and giving cogent reasons for that opposition than if only a few residents show up to oppose them.

    Accordingly, please save that date on your calendar.

    Duncan MacCallum

    Reply
  2. Kate Mallen

    I am a native & a long-time neighborhood activist for The Frank Jones Neighborhood Association.

    This week’s article in the Herald made me think that I should look into and perhaps join your organization. Although I dont live near downtown I have always been deeply concerned with the developments there. Developers are not our friends. Right now my neighborhood’s quality of life is threatened by a big shot car dealer from Massachusetts – Ernie Boch. He wants to build a dealership that is way too big for the land adjacent to our homes. We have organized ourselves. Would Portsmouth Now! be able to give us some pointers? Thx, Kate Mallen

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