Yesterday’s beautiful weather drew me out of the Superior Courthouse for a downtown walk at lunchtime. The highlight of the walk down Gorham Street was reaching the intersection of Middlesex and Central where the pedestrian crossing light now works after several months of being out of action. With a very wide road and traffic coming from multiple directions, having the crossing light is crucial to pedestrian safety. Old habits die hard, however, so some walkers I saw strolled right out into the street without waiting for the white light and some drivers coming up Central from Merrimack and turning right onto Middlesex cut off pedestrians properly crossing despite the very prominent “Yield to pedestrians crossing” sign. Still, it’s a huge improvement over what was there just a week ago.
Continuing down the west side of Central Street, I noted the papered-over windows of the former Ray Robinson’s sandwich shop (which served which I thought was the finest French Toast in Lowell) and wondered how long it will be until the space is occupied by a new tenant.
Across Central Street, the Appleton Bank Building is shaping up nicely. Purchased in 2013 by 17 RJC LLC for $940,000, at least twice that and more has been spent renovating the inside of the building for the new tenant, Element Care, which will provide “all-inclusive” care for adults. With an aging population, the need for those types of services will only increase and perhaps having such a large, comprehensive facility right in the neighborhood might make moving into downtown condominiums and apartments more attractive to downsizing baby boomers thinking about their long term health care needs. (Element Care plans to open in mid-September). Constructed in the early eighteenth century, the Appleton Bank Building was covered by a dark gray aluminum screen in the 1970s to make it look “modern” by covering up all of the historic architectural details that we find so attractive and desirable today.
My lunch choice was Fuse Bistro in the old central fire station at Palmer and Middle Streets. The night before I was researching my upcoming Lowell Walk on city monuments (this Saturday, August 29, 2015 at 10 am from the National Park Visitor Center on Market Street) and came across a 1966 editorial supporting the construction of the JFK Civic Center alongside City Hall. One of the main reasons given for the new facility was the decrepit condition of the Palmer Street Fire Station. The Civic Center was built and the fire department moved there although in keeping with the theme of lousy architecture of the 1970s, that building now needs to be replaced while City Hall and the Library, both built in the 1890s, continue standing tall alongside of it.
The Palmer Street Fire Station has had an interesting history post-closure. It stayed vacant for a while and then the upper floors were converted to office space. At one point, the lower floor where the fire wagons and then fire trucks once sat, opened as an indoor farmer’s market. That was a great concept but it soon proved to be unviable and closed. After years past, the first floor reopened as Café Paradiso, a popular spot run by a brother and sister who had a similar business in Boston’s North End, but the brother died suddenly at a young age and Paradiso closed. Eventually Fuse Bistro took over the space and from the crowd that filled the place at lunchtime yesterday, seems to be doing well. The fish and chips I ordered was excellent.
Walking back to the courthouse I chose a route that took me through the Hamilton Canal District. Once you cut through the Market Mills Courtyard next to the National Park Visitor Center, you emerge onto a very nice walking path on the eastern side of the Merrimack Canal. That’s the canal that runs alongside Dutton Street. The western side of it has trolley tracks and then Dutton Street with no sidewalk on the side of Dutton. The planners, I believe, want people to walk on the inside of the canal. It’s a great place to walk and is certainly picturesque during the day, but I’ve never been there after dark so I don’t know how safe it would feel to a lone walker. Up near the Swamp Locks, where the trolley line ends (for now) and the National Park canal boats launch, there is an unnamed walkway/roadway that cuts over to Jackson Street and then Middlesex. This takes you through the heart of the Hamilton Canal District, past 110 Canal Place (the UMass Lowell Innovation Center) and the site of the new Judicial Center (which has yet to break ground) to Jackson Street.
Zig-zagging up a couple of small side streets, you eventually cross Middlesex and Appleton and get to South Street which takes you past the South Common and up to the back of the Gorham Street Apartments, built by the Coalition for a Better Acre on the site that once held St. Peter’s Church. These apartments are scheduled to officially open in mid-September though from the outside, they seem complete and very impressive.
So Thursday’s walk was good. The weather was fantastic, the food was very good, and no real pedestrian complaints to report.