Manchester Oblique on NHPR

/ Saturday, October 29, 2011 /

On Thursday, NHPR's Brady Carlson talked with me about Manchester Oblique. You can listen to the segment online here.

Help Webster Elementary map potential Peregrine Falcon nests

/ Tuesday, October 25, 2011 /

It's not uncommon for smaller critters to make their homes within our houses, office buildings and other artificial structures —often to the distaste of the owners— but in Manchester there is one place where a larger set of animals are welcomed. A top the Brady Sullivan building at 1750 Elm St. resided a family of nesting Peregrine Falcons until June this year. The falcons have nested on the 13th floor of the building five years in a row and biologists have tagged each chic to study the length of their lifecycle.

Female at 1750 Feb 2011 via Spectra Access
Helen Dalbeck of Amoskeag Fishways is piloting an urban wildlife series with the 5th grade class of Webster Elementary School in Manchester. The series is focusing on the Peregrine Falcon and where else they might nest in the city. She has extended a challenge to the Manchester Oblique readership to help out and send in pictures of any buildings in the city that are either 8+ stories tall or 80+ feet tall (church steeples and alike included), along with their addresses (coordinates are also welcome), so the class may build a comprehensive map of other potential Peregrine Falcons nesting sites. 

If you have quick few minutes and would like to help out, snap a quick photo of a tall building and send the photo and address to manchesteroblique at gmail dot com. I will post all of the photos here with the proper credits.

It's an interesting, natural, reuse of space that no one had intended. It would be amazing to see the tops of entire buildings dedicated to becoming bird sanctuaries, giving rare and endangered species another place to nest. You could even build enclosed observations areas where people and employees could come to eat lunch and watch these beautiful animals. Clients on a tour of the facility would stop and watch the birds-of-prey nesting before them, adding an extra wistful and warm element to their trip.

Manchester's stillborn college campus

/ Thursday, October 20, 2011 /

In the northwest corner of Manchester lies a large plot of undeveloped land, the last barren parcel in the city that isn't a swamp or park. The Hackethill area is a mix of woodlands and protected wetlands that is a beautiful piece of space, and meandering through it are long abandoned roads, parking lots and sewer systems of a stillborn project that has spanned almost 40 years now.

In the 1960s, the University of New Hampshire opened a new branch of the University called Merrimack Valley College off of Hackethill Road. A large building, called French Hall, was constructed with all the necessary classrooms and administration offices. The college had minor success and a few years later the 830 acres of land behind French Hall were purchased with the idea of building a true campus in Manchester.

A map of the future development.
The development as it currently looks via Google Maps.
The development was slow moving, as things with universities tend to be, and eventually in the early 80s, a road was paved leading into the property. Parking lots were built, sewer lines laid and electricity was even run through out the entire development, powering only the street lamps that pepper the narrow roads and parking areas. In 1986, UNH Manchester opened a branch in the millyard and there were classes both on the "hill" and the "mill," respectively. In 1998, the university opted to consolidate their two Manchester campuses and sold back the land and French Hall to the city. French Hall has since been sold to the tech company, JPSA Laser. Since the late 90s, the campus that never was has sat deteriorating against the encroaching forest and elements.

The largest of the abandoned parking lots.

One of the many broken street lamps that fleck the parking lots and roads.
Weeds, grass and full grown trees sprout from every crevice in the pavement. Mold and moss cover sidewalks that never saw the hurried footfalls of students running to their next class. Fire hydrants sit rusting and storm drains choking with leaves. The sights are a little eerie, almost post-apocalyptic, but the land itself is beautiful. It's a reminder that in only a few short decades the Earth can easily take back what we have built. I couldn't imagine what the place might look like 100 years from now if no one decided to develop it. The city could make it a free form park and archeologists could study the deterioration of modern infrastructures and see how our civilization might survive a millennium.

A barely visible piece of sidewalk.

Sadly, the land was too valuable for such an endeavor and the city sold it to Danais Realty earlier this year for $2.8 million, which plans to develop it as the Northwest Business Park at Hackett Hill. It should be noted that there is a small group of people protesting the development, as several areas of the land are protected nature preserves. You can read more about their effort here.

More photos after the jump.

Central High School pt. 3 (The James and Burns buildings)

/ Sunday, October 2, 2011 /
The James building.

You can find the first post about Central High School's Classical building here and the second post about the Practical Arts building here.

By the late 50s, Central high school was bulging at the seams with students again, riding the wave of the post-war baby boom. In 1960, the city made a shocking decision to build an entirely new school and Memorial High School was born on Manchester's south side among the numerous post-war style, single family homes behind South Willow St. In a big-picture way, it's important to recognize that this was when Manchester's commerce began seeping from downtown to South Willow St. changing the a major dynamic of life in the city.

There was a question of which Central students would remain and which would move to the new high school. The school board drew a line from Auburn that followed the east-bound rail line down to Valley St. and divided the east half of the city. The line has since represented the unofficial boundary between the inner city and the southern side of Manchester.

A student zoning map for Central, West and Memorial high schools.

Despite Memorial's construction, Central was still suffering from overcrowding and maintenance issues. A negative report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 1963 cited a laundry list of complaints about the school, mainly that the buildings were "ancient" with antiquated facilities and the school relied almost completely on a homegrown faculty and staff. The report was a catalyst for much debate and the city argued whether or not to build an entirely new school. A piece of land was prospected in the Wellington Road area for a large high school but in the end the city decided to make piecemeal with the addition of the James building.

The intersection at Concord and Ash street was closed off and the James building, along with grass courtyard, were built over the roads. Despite the new building and yard, students and faculty would often arrive in the morning to find tire tracks stretching the length of the where Concord street had been.

A satellite view of Central High School via Google Maps. The red path highlight where Concord and Ash streets used to intersect prior to the James building's construction. 

The James building presents a skeletal and utilitarian look, a style called "International" that was popular between the 40s and 80s. It was connected to the Classical building by a series of walkways and housed a completely new oil-fired steam heating system. Several other renovations took place, including the roofing over of the ruined observatory and many of the school's facilities were shuffled around. It wasn't until the 80s that Central would replace the grass courtyard with concrete, a decision I'm usually sad to see, but in this case praise, as it links the school together nicely.

Almost 40 years later, stemming a rising enrollment again, the Burns building (named after William Burns, a principal of Central for 25 years and the author of the text I've pulling most of this research from) was built along the East end of the school, connecting at the Classical and James building junction. The project cost $30 million and was coupled with the construction of an underground parking garage. The facade of the Burns building embodies a mish-mash futurist and international style architecture.

The Burns building built in 2003.

Looking from one building to the other, you can trace a lengthy segment of Manchester's history and the zeitgeists of the times. The Classical building was built in a time of economic prosperity and the city needed a school it could be proud of, the result was a truly unique looking building of several combined styles. The Practical Arts building straddled the modern era with its bland brick and flat design, while still clinging to post-revolutionary America's ancient Greek love affair with its neo-classical columns. The James building is a true product of more latter-day city government attitudes of get'er done cheap and quick. And the Burns building with its alien, shiny stainless-steel facade yells that the city is looking to the future again with a certain sense of pride, ready align itself with the children's and community's best interests.

It would be wonderful to see a drafting teacher at Central teach a rigorous course in architecture, giving students pattern books to draw from and simple buildings to copy into 45 degree angle sketches. On the Monday dawning the last fortnight of school, the students would arrive at their drafting classroom to find all of their slanted, drawing desks missing. The teacher would walk them out of the school, on a warm spring day, into the sunny court yard. There the desks would sit. "Pick a building. You have two weeks to measure it and draw it. This is your final and it counts for 20% of your grade," the instructor would say.

Sadly, the Manchester school system no longer teaches drafting.

Special thanks to Mike Hennessy, a history teacher at Central High School, who lent me the William Burns text, "Sesquicentennial History: Manchester High School - Central 1846-1996" and the Manchester Historical Association's help in answering my questions.
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