Armory arts center

South Portland's vacant landmark could be reborn as a cultural icon
By JEFF INGLIS  |  January 17, 2006

Armory photo 1 exteriorA 25,000-square-foot building sits on just shy of three acres at the foot of the south end of the Casco Bay Bridge. Vacant since 1996, the former South Portland armory remains in limbo. its owner, the moribund Museum of Glass and Ceramics, declared bankruptcy last year, before ever moving in.

Even a wealthy real-estate developer, Cape Elizabeth's Greg Boulos, a partner in the Boulos Company, one of Maine's largest development firms, last month withdrew an offer to buy the building. He had not expressed any specific plans for the building.

But the armory would be the perfect spot for a multi-disciplinary arts center, with room for a performance-and-exhibition space, soundproof rehearsal rooms, photo darkrooms, small offices for business activities, and ample parking.

All of those things are needed in greater Portland, and an arts-oriented developer was interested enough to want to tour the building after hearing the idea.


The building is in a landmark position at the entrance to South Portland, an area used to lots of traffic, where attracting more wouldn't be a real problem.

There is room for parking on the armory property, as well as on an adjoining lot owned by Central Maine Power (CMP).

John Carroll, CMP's manager of communications and company relations, said the company had been in talks with the museum about using some of CMP's land — a transmission corridor under high-tension power lines — as a parking area. Carroll said the company would be "open to" discussing a similar arrangement with another owner of the building.

But the real possibilities are inside.

The building's formal entryway, with three doors facing the bridge, is a beautiful space, with wood paneling and brick features reminiscent of government buildings of the early 1940s — when public spaces still sported some degree of grandeur in addition to cheap functionality.

Paint flakes and pieces of broken drop-ceiling tile crunch underfoot in the lobby, a bright space on a rainy day, even with no overhead lights.

Facing the entrance is a reception-style office, with a sliding glass window and side door. To the left is a large space with two offices and a storage area. To the right is a three-office suite with a storage room. (On the wall in one of this suite's offices is a phone jack labeled in red "Hot Line President.")

A hallway runs the width of the building, with small offices and what is now storage space off of it. With a little plumbing, the windowless storage rooms would be excellent — and roomy — darkrooms.

Upstairs is another pair of office suites, with funky skylights in the ceiling. Across the hall are two viewing galleries, long rooms with windows overlooking the building's star attraction: a full-size basketball court, 150 feet long and 100 feet wide, with a double-height ceiling complete with steel beams for rafters.

On each side of the ground-floor entrance to the court are storage areas or small offices.

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  Topics: News Features , Business, Tanja Hollander, Visual Arts,  More more >
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