On March 23, 1987 a 9-alarm blaze ripped through the Lawrence Mills Complex adjacent to the Ouellette (Aiken St.) Bridge.
Two-hundred firefighters from 17 communities fought the inferno, fueled by fuel tanks and old textiles. Five firefighters were hospitalized.
When the smoke cleared, 300,000 of the site’s 800,000 square feet of mill space was gone, amounting to nearly $10 million in damages.
What had been, in its heyday of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s a complex that had employed 5,000 people, had become a blight.
State Rep. Tom Golden recalls there being a movement afoot following the fire to “just level it, clear it and knock it all down,” a movement halted by historic preservationists, like Peter Aucella, who had a larger vision.
Before . . .
After . . .
Tuesday afternoon, city and state officials gathered at the site to cut the ribbon on the latest restoration – the Residences @ Perkins Park, 47 market-rate one and two bedroom luxury apartments.
The project, developed by Mira Development and Charter Environmental, joins their initial development the 183-unit Lofts at Perkins Park in the former Hub Hoisery and McQuade buildings (opened in 2009), as well as a 370-space parking garage, in bringing life back to that section of the neighborhood.
In addition to the Residences @ Perkins Park, the mill complex’s iconic administration building is currently being renovated and will be leased to UMass Lowell’s Office of Advancement.
“We thank you for never giving up on this project,” Golden said to Bob Delhome, of Mira, and his team, adding that not even he, the most optimistic guy in town could have imagined what the site would become.
Mayor Patrick Murphy, who recently returned from the Mayors Institute on City design conference in Charleston, South Carolina said “Any mayor who attended would find themselves lucky to find a project like this in their downtown and close to the waterfront.”
While it was a day of celebration, there was an aura of sadness as well, because one of the keys to the redevelopment, Ed Walsh Jr. of Walsh Construction was not there to see the project through. Walsh, 52, died unexpectedly in January.
“Ed loved the city and would have loved this today,” said Delhome. “He was passionate about the city on many levels.”
Walsh’s wife Mary and father Ed Walsh Sr. were in attendance and participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Delhome praised the city’s government including City Manager Bernie Lynch. Assistant City Manager and Director of the Department of Planning and Development Adam Baacke, the Historic Board, the Development Services Department, and the Department of Public Works, as well as the Lowell National Historical Park in making the project a reality and making the process as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Lynch returned the compliment, saying Delhome, Walsh Jr., their team were a pleasure to work with.
“Lowell is really a city on the move, you can see that here today,” Lynch said, adding his only regret about the project is that the administration building is being leased to UMass Lowell.
“I was hoping it would be made available as a City Manager residence,” quipped Lynch, who is planning to move into the city’s downtown.
- Mary and Ed Walsh Sr. cut the ribbon.