The industrial buildings along the North River were placed on the Most Endangered List in 2000 due to the constant threat of demolition and replacement with a variety of unsympathetic buildings. Since that time, four of the industrial buildings have been demolished.
Most recently demolished (2012) were Bonfanti Leather building and the Salem Suede factory that abutted the North River on Flint and Mason Streets. While these buildings had many environmental and structural safety issues, they were important artifacts of Salem’s past. How the buildings and their sites are reused should be carefully considered.
Several remaining buildings that form part of the Salem Oil & Grease site at the corner of Mason and Goodhue Streets are slated to be demolished. However, one will be saved as part of the proposed housing/commercial project. 60 Grove Streets designated for commercial reuse though it the level of preservation and rehabilitation of the exterior has not yet been clearly defined.
A handsome brick commercial building at 50 Grove Street adjacent to Salem Oil & Grease is currently in vibrant use as the Moose Hall and for several local businesses. 28 Goodhue was demolished several years ago, construction is starting in Spring 2013 on the project that will replace the building.
History and Significance The North River has been a center of commerce since Salem’s earliest days. Before it was successively filled in in the 19th and 20th centuries, the North River was navigable and served as a location for loading and unloading goods from the late 18th century into the 19th century. “Blubber Hollow” at the bend of the river where it flows from Peabody into Salem was the site of early rendering of whale blubber, and later became Salem Oil & Grease. Tanneries lined the North River and some remained active into the 1990′s.
History and Description of Threat The buildings along the North River were placed on the list at a time when they had no regulatory protections. In 2004 a former industrial building at 2 Water Street was demolished after the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a variance to build condominiums on the site. 28 Goodhue Street, one of Salem’s last remaining timber frame factories from the turn of the century, was lost to demolition in 2005 for a project that is yet to be built. Bonfanti Leather at 69 Mason Street is the last remaining building where reuse might be considered. A large development is planned for the site and the adjacent Salem Suede site.
In 2004 and 2005 Historic Salem participated with the City and other community groups in drafting the North River Canal Corridor Neighborhood Master Plan which supports the reuse of the buildings and the construction of similarly scaled projects along the corridor. This plan calls for mixed use throughout the area. The North River Canal Corridor Zoning was completed in 2005. It includes provisions for density bonuses for reuse of historic buildings as well as for affordable housing. Unfortunately the first real proposal for the corridor, presented as Riverview LLC, may prove that even zoning regulations provide no protection to this area. The plan would demolish the Bonfanti Building on Mason Street and use the adjacent Salem Suede site on Flint Street and replace them with place 130 apartments and 300 parking spaces.
This plan was approved by several city boards in 2007, although it had twice the density allowed under the NRCC zoning. ZBA approval of this project meant that incentives built into the NRCC ordinance such as a density bonus where not needed and the master plan intent would not be followed. Neighborhood groups appealed the ZBA decision but were unsuccessful.
Progress and Setbacks While historic buildings on the North River remain largely unprotected, the North River Canal Corridor (NRCC) Neighborhood Master Plan, along with the Zoning ordinance enacted in 2005, supports their reuse. Historic Salem successfully worked with members of the NRCC citizens committee and the City Council to ensure that a density bonus provision was included in the zoning ordinance to provide an incentive for developers to re-use historic buildings. The current boundaries of the NRCC do not include several older industrial buildings that might benefit from extension of the boundaries in the future.
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Founded in 1944, Historic Salem Inc. is dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings and sites.