WHALE Going Back To Its Roots in New Bedford Neighborhoods

By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — The Waterfront Historic Area League, known as WHALE, is going back to its roots as it marks its 46th year.
WHALE plans to return to focusing on New Bedford and tackling a neighborhood at a time, much like how the organization functioned decades ago when it became involved in saving the waterfront historic district.
That rundown district became transformed over time into one of the city’s jewels to include the Whaling Museum, National Park District, Seamen’s Bethel, restaurants and other places of interest along cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks and lit at night by old-fashioned lighting.
“We are getting back to basics, what WHALE was created to do,” said Lisa Sughrue, executive director. “Forty-six years later, people forget. We will be doing what WHALE does best: historic preservation in a neighborhood.”
Ms. Sughrue’s comments came Wednesday, the day after WHALE’s annual meeting and several days after it conducted a meeting for residents in the Washington Square neighborhood where it plans to turn its focus.
In recent years, WHALE had devoted some of its attention to doing projects that could be considered one-offs — a single house or building by itself, often in communities outside New Bedford.
Peter Hawes, WHALE president, told about 70 people attending the annual meeting Tuesday evening at the Wamsutta Club that, by saving historic buildings and neighborhoods, the organization is part of the “green movement” because it is, in effect, recycling and reusing.
Mr. Hawes said WHALE’s work in New Bedford is as important as ever, given the difficult economic climate in which many homes are being foreclosed and abandoned. At present, there are more than 400 houses vacant or abandoned, he said.
Mr. Hawes noted that WHALE will see an example of its and others’ efforts Friday when the Corson Building is dedicated at the New Bedford Whaling Historic National Park. The Corson Building comprises two structures built in 1875 and 1884 that were ravaged by fire in 1997. After the fire, WHALE and others kept the buildings from being demolished and led the effort to restore them.
During the annual meeting, Ms. Sughrue praised the city’s role working with WHALE and especially the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
Matthew A. Morrissey, NBEDC executive director, told the meeting its takes “extraordinary resources” to save old buildings — including political and financial resources. He called the historic buildings an important part of the “fabric of the community” and said “that which is unique has economic value.” Mr. Morrissey also talked about using tax credits for historic buildings, something the NBEDC and WHALE have partnered on successfully.
WHALE conducted a meeting for Washington Square residents Saturday at Gomes School that attracted about 70 people, 50 of whom were from the neighborhood, Ms. Sughrue said. To bring people out for the meeting, Ward 4 Councilor Bruce Duarte Jr. and Ms. Sughrue went door to door, passing out fliers in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
Ms. Sughrue said the area has “amazing architecture and character” and those present strongly supported “historic preservation.” Among topics discussed was placing a moratorium on demolition in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood was the scene of one of WHALE’s disappointments when a Queen Anne-style home at 1 Washington Square it hoped to restore was destroyed by arson in January before the project could get under way.
At the Tuesday meeting, WHALE also elected officers and directors, including Peter Hawes, president; Lyn Keith, first vice president; Joyce D. Lopes, second vice president; Mathew Insana, treasurer; and directors Scott Costa, Peter DeWalt, Keri Cox, Lyn Keith, Nick Francis, Danielle Poyant McCue and Kit Wise.
Contact Joe Cohen at jcohen@s-t.com
May 15, 2008
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