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  #1  
Old Posted Sep 4, 2013, 11:34 PM
Smuttynose1 Smuttynose1 is offline
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City that won't die - Lowell, Mass. (Downtown/Mill Complexes)

Lowell, Massachusetts


(The Hamilton and Counting House Mills)

Lowell is the fourth largest city in Massachusetts. It is the oldest industrial city in the United States and as late as 1890 was larger than several cities now far its superior including Atlanta, Portland and Los Angeles.

According to the 2012 Census estimates, 108,522 people call the city home and its now growing. Lowell brought us Jack Kerouac, the Lowell Mill girls, and the first urban National Park, but it endures largely negative perceptions today, many emanating from the 80s and early 90s when nearly all the city's old mill building were abandoned and the city generated the infamous "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell" documentary. A co-worker recently joked that Lowell's slogan is "Thank God for Lawrence" (Lawrence being a very depressed city just upriver).

The happier Lowell story - of historic mill renovation and re-use projects -doesn't get told enough. Thanks to Thundertubs epic 2009 Lowell photo set (available here), below are some dramatic transformations in the space of just four years. The first five photos are from the Hamilton Canal District, which has been a major redevelopment focus.

Appleton Mills 2009
CREDIT: Thundertubs


2013


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
It's amazing to me that this is the same building as above. Now being marketed as office space.


The rear of the building sits on a canal. Mill ruins have been stabilized and kinda preserved, though they looked far cooler in 09.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013


From a higher perspective


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
The narrow little mill in the foreground has not been restored yet, though there are plans to convert it to housing. Part of the Hamilton Mill behind it has been converted into the Lowell Community Health Center.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
The state has promised to build a courthouse here in place of the old cold storage buildings, demolished in 2009, though for now it remains a depressing vacant lot.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
Now an appliance store.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
This gem of a building was restored into the permanent home of the Lowell Arts League thanks in large part to the work of volunteers. There's already a waiting list for studio space.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
The mill ruins were replaced with an office building. Part of the mill's foundation and its water turbines were preserved in the building's basement which opens for some special events.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
Public housing on right appears to have been turned into a church parking lot. I'm not sure if that's progress or not.


2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013
All of the public housing in the Acre neighborhood appears to have been brought back to functionality, as in people were living there and there are no more boarded up windows. The buildings themselves do not appear to have been changed too significantly. Some streetscape improvements have been made.




Thanks to Google StreetView, we can see some more recent changes
2012 - Lawrence Mills


2013
The old stable and blacksmith shop of the Lawrence Mills complex is being converted to housing




Then there's the faster changes. Below is Father Morissette Blvd., a major arterial road built in the 1960's as an unhappy gift of urban renewal.

SUNDAY


THURSDAY
In a four day span, the city knocked out a traffic lane, built a bike lane and parking strip. This has been at least somewhat controversial. A parking garage security guard I met kept complaining about it.


To be sure, much of Lowell hasn't changed all that dramatically...

2009
Credit Thundertubs


2013


And a quick tour

The Merrimack River flows through Lowell. A part of the riverfront has been turned into the Vandenberg Esplanade, a narrow band of green space maintained by the state. UMass Lowell also operates a boathouse there.





The River is diverted at Pawtucket Falls to power the city's massive canal system.







The different locks and gate houses associated with Lowell's 5.6 mile canal system have been well preserved.

















DOWNTOWN CORE

Middle Street - An awesome little street

























Dutton St. Corridor





This is Lowell's oldest remaining tavern. Kerouac is said to have frequented it


Merrimack Street

























Sterling Street




Jackson Street








Prescott Street


John Street





Market Street











Central Street Corridor

















Old Post Office, now Juvenile Court


Once a train depot, now part of Community College


The Mills

Lowell has a ridiculous amount of mills. Even after losing a bunch through urban renewal projects in the 60s, a large number of them remain standing. There are 9 major mill complexes in varying states of repair downtown - the Market, Hamilton, Wannalancit, Lawrence, Merrimack, Appleton, Western Canal, Massachusetts and Boott Mill Complexes. In the 80s, the city and National Park Service set a goal of renovating and returning to use the vacant mill space of Lowell. In 1997, they were 36% of the way there. Today they're about 89% of the way there.

Market Mills - Most of the buildings are now renovated. The boiler house is now essentially ruins and a small mill ancillary building looks in rougher shape. Everything else looks good.





















Hamilton Mills - Maybe 40% renovated. Two mills have been converted to loft condominiums. There are firm plans to convert another, one of the oldest mills still standing, to housing. A small part of the largest mill in the complex has been converted to the Lowell Community Health Center. The rest of the building looks in rough shape.





You can see exactly where the renovated section begins here.








I'm not what sure this building was, but it's located directly across the street from the complex.


Boott Mills
Parts of this complex were lost to urban renewal, but the core riverfront buildings have been preserved as well as some rowhouses. A significant section is now being converted from manufacturing to housing and offices.











Wannalancit Mills - Entirely renovated. There's a brewery here as well as mostly offices.













Lawrence Mills
A big chunk of this complex was lost to a huge fire in the 1980s. The rest of the buildings have been or are being converted to loft condominiums. In some ways, the fire helped in that it gave the area a lot of nicely maintained green space to enjoy on the riverfront, which is somewhat rare in Lowell.















While this project is still a work in progress, it looks like they're doing a beautiful job restoring it.






Merrimack Mills
This huge complex was pretty much entirely demolished in the 1960s. One small building is now Cobblestone's Restaurant and the ruins of another line a parking lot. The Tsongas Arena now occupies part of this area.





Damn you Urban Renewal


Western Canal/Dutton Street Mills On the periphery of Downtown, this complex is a mix of renovation and decay. The largest mills have been converted to housing and studio space for artists. The others are in very different states of repair, many surrounded by really old cars.





















Massachusetts Mills - Half renovated. Three major buildings have been retrofitted into housing. Three other buildings are barely standing. Unfortunately I didn't get any very good pictures of this area. This building is part of the complex.



The unrenovated portions of the complex, located right where the Concord River meets the Merrimack, look much like they did in 09 if not worse.
Credit: Thundertubs


Appleton Mills
Thanks to the recent Hamilton Canal District work, this complex has been beautifully restored. But the overall redevelopment project is very much a work in progress.



Lowell is hoping to extend a trolley line from the city's commuter rail station downtown and to the UMass Lowell campus. At the moment, tracks only extend over this bridge completed last year as part of the redevelopment project.


Two ambitious guys are converted this mill into a hipster-centric development, featuring offices for startups, artist studios, an English manor style lounge and library, restaurant, and an independent theater (Source)



Alright, this thread is over. I'm trying to cobble one together focused on the neighborhoods, which are a bit rougher around the edges, for next week.

From the Acre Neighborhood...


Thanks for viewing.

Last edited by Smuttynose1; Sep 4, 2013 at 11:49 PM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Sep 4, 2013, 11:51 PM
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Awesome thread!
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  #3  
Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 12:39 AM
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WOW! What a beautiful, thoughtful repurposing of these buildings!

Once they complete this restoration, this is going to be something to see.

awesome, comprehensive thread, thanks!
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 1:42 AM
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Some pretty impressive renovations going on there. Great to see!
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 1:53 AM
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Awesome.
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  #6  
Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 1:54 AM
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Great photo tour.

Lowell looks better than it has at anytime in my life. Remembering the way the place looked in the 1980s, I could never have imagined it would come so far back from the edge!
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 1:55 AM
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Very nice to see the changes that have been occurring in recent years. Thanks for putting this thread together!
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 1:55 AM
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Thanks for the tour. Does Lowell blend into the Boston metro, or does it feel like a separate city? I imagine it's kind of like Detroit/Pontiac or Chicago/Joliet, but as old as that region is, maybe there are different dynamics. Does Lowell claim any suburbs of its own?
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 2:59 AM
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Fantastic set, thanks for sharing!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fflint View Post
Great photo tour.

Lowell looks better than it has at anytime in my life. Remembering the way the place looked in the 1980s, I could never have imagined it would come so far back from the edge!
My thoughts exactly. The last time I was in Lowell was for an 8th grade field trip to the Mills, 1996 I believe. I don't recognize anything I've seen in these pics!

Quote:
Originally Posted by STLgasm
Thanks for the tour. Does Lowell blend into the Boston metro, or does it feel like a separate city? I imagine it's kind of like Detroit/Pontiac or Chicago/Joliet, but as old as that region is, maybe there are different dynamics. Does Lowell claim any suburbs of its own?
The Detroit/Pontiac Chicago/Joliet comparison is apt I think. Lowell was entirely independent from Boston during its early and boom years; the Merrimack Valley mill cities were more of their own "metro" until the early 20th century. Nashua-Lowell-Lawrence-Haverhill were basically the same city a few miles apart, strung along the falls of the Merrimack. Boston never had mills. Dracut and Chemlsford are historic Lowell suburbs, but nowadays everything in Eastern Mass is Boston.


full sized image

Lowell is the dense blue blob in the top-left of this map. Lawrence is right to its east, on the edge of the map.

Last edited by Shawn; Sep 11, 2013 at 8:59 AM.
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 3:41 AM
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Excellent tour of the area! Thanks for sharing.
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 5:53 AM
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GREAT in-depth tour
amazing looking city
Wanted to visit before, now I must!
THANKS
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 10:46 AM
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fascinating transformations and real lessons here for other cities.
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 11:08 AM
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Thanks for the visual, Shawn!
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 2:05 PM
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holy cow. this city has terrific bones.
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Old Posted Sep 5, 2013, 2:23 PM
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Whoa! Amazing thread. Lowell's a well-preserved old city. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Posted Sep 6, 2013, 1:22 AM
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God damn this city has changed from when I was a kid
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Old Posted Sep 6, 2013, 12:20 PM
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It's very heartening to see such a wonderful change in the city from when I visited briefly about a decade ago. Thanks for all the work to put this thread together.
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Old Posted Sep 6, 2013, 12:55 PM
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Amazing. I absolutely love those old mill buildings. I recall visiting Lowell in the late seventies and early eighties: grim times for Lowell (and Massachusetts, in general).

Biddeford/Saco in Maine also have a huge collection of similar mill buildings:
Video Link
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Old Posted Sep 6, 2013, 1:07 PM
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Nice! Lowell could be a model for cities like Detroit and Flint.
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Old Posted Sep 6, 2013, 1:09 PM
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Michigan needs its own version of the "Massachusetts Miracle"
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