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West End Views

I love the West End of Portland.  It’s architecturally significant and varied and every architectural style in America in play between 1870 and 1920 is on display there.  The Old Port section of Portland is beautiful too.  I’d take either of those neighborhoods out for dinner and drinks.  

But, for my money, if you want to see the real beauties in Portland, the big party is right downtown, and it’s all contained within three blocks.  Here’s Monument Square, right in the center of town.  That’s Athena.  Say hello, and now just look up and look around. 

a statue in front of a tall building

Across the street are Portland’s “skyscrapers,” two elegantly appointed modern buildings that were the height of style and modernity when they were built 1910 and 1924.  They are Portland’s first tall buildings with newly invented steel infrastructures. 
a large building
Check out the art deco detail on both these gems.  Check out the funny name on the one on the left, the Time and Temperature Building (originally the Chapman Building), so named because the sign on the roof flashes the time and temperature.  If it’s too hot or too cold, or if you’re late for something, you can go in there and complain.  I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but you can try.

a large clock mounted to the side of a building

a tall building in a city

Answering these buildings’ “modern” charms are the buildings across the street, on the square.  Spin around and look almost anywhere else.  There is a riot of brick across the street from “the skyscrapers,” all different colors of brick, installed at all different angles – arches, lentils, pediments, Corinthian columns, windows of all sizes, and intricate stonework galore. it’s a multi course meal all laid out at once on one table for building geeks.

a large brick building with a windowa tall brown brick building next to a windowa group of people in front of a buildinga large brick buildinga tall brown brick building next to a windowa store in a brick buildinga clock on the side of a building

“You’re big,” these buildings say to the “skyscrapers” across the street, “but we’re expressive, and from a time at the turn of 20th century when people were giddy with the coming of the modern world and no small detail was ever overlooked.”  

It’s in the bricks.   You only have to look up, and look close.

There’s a similar conversation going on just a few feet up the road.   486 Congress Street (built 1877) is having a revealing conversation with Longfellow House (built 1786) who sits just across the street.  Longfellow House (property of the Maine Historical Society) is the first brick building on the peninsula, built of inflammable material in response to a devastating attack by the British during the Revolutionary War.  It’s a solid little number, but downright primitive in terms of brickwork compared to its elegant across-the street 1877 neighbor.

a tall brick building

a house covered in snow in front of a brick building

Now move up the street, just a few more feet, past the beautiful, intricately bricked,  and wonderfully named “Beaver Block” (built in 1885) to reach the crescendo. 

a close up of a logo  

If you’re looking at a giant elegant grey stone building, home to the Maine College of Art and Design, you’ve arrived; this is the Porteous Building.  It was built in 1904 and is one of the great examples in America of a Chicago school building (the technology coming out of Chicago allowed for giant windows) in a Renaissance Revival style, with beautiful Beaux Arts details.  For years it was home to Maine’s largest department store.  Imagine those giant windows lit up with Christmas displays.  It’s a remarkable and beautiful building that rewards staring at it for a very long time.     

a large building

a store front of a window

And it’s having its own interesting conversation too.  Across the street is Mechanic’s Hall built in 1857.  It’s classicism, detail, and intricate stone work easily make it one of the most beautiful old buildings in town.

a group of people standing in front of a buildinga sign above a door

In 1815, the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association was formed to support Maine’s creative community: blacksmiths, coopers, artists, innovators, inventors, and the like.  This is their communal gathering space with a lending library at its center that is often open to the public.  Ask to see the ballroom.That’s Archimedes up there in that arch over the window at the Mechanic’s Hall.  He’s looking around thinking “we’ve come a long ways from that open air Greek Temple we built up on a hill in Athens so many years ago.  This Portland, Maine place is just packed with things to look at……….and I hardly have to move.” 

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Written by Portland Tour Guide – Ross

a man standing in front of a building

Referred to by his family as a “fuzzy foreigner”, Ross grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, fell in love with a woman from Boston, and has been in Maine raising his family for over 20 years now. He loves Maine and loves his job as a tour guide, both for the interaction with new people it affords him (don’t be surprised to get as many questions as you ask) and the constant exploration he is always making of the many intricate and fascinating links between his adopted state and his homeland.



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