GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 17, 2013

New life in old bank

Developer polishes off downtown landmark

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — The former Gloucester Safe Deposit & Trust Co. building on the corner of Main and Duncan Streets, once the financial guiding light for downtown Gloucester, is shining again.

An overhaul is nearly completed that is turn the old bank into space housing an art gallery, a jewelry store, two apartments on the second floor and a third-floor penthouse.

The building was previously owned by William Thibeault, who purchased the building in 2010 for a sum of $625,000. But in January of this year, Ken Hecht of Hecht Company Inc. bought the property for $850,000 and put its redevelopment on the fast track .

Construction crews were still busy Monday at the building at 189 Main St., where they have been for the past six months or so, while Hecht has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the building.

The building was first built as a bank in 1880 and measures 8,657 square feet altogether, according to assessing records. George and Joanne Laventis, who owned the building in the 1970s, also lived on the third floor of the structure, which once housed business offices.

“He’s kind of a guy who buys and sells, and we buy and develop,” Hecht said of Thibeault.

From thick vault doors vaults and old wooden paneling to nightly deposit boxes, traces from the old bank building are still present.

On the first floor lies the newly opened Trident Gallery, where director Matthew Swift houses 12 artists. What was once an old bank vault in the back of the gallery holds a handful of paintings and pictures on display.

Swift said he became familiar with the building during the remolding phase, parts of the original building are still securely exposed behind glass in the gallery; he was enthusiastic to learn about the history of the building, how long the trust lasted and how they operate.

“Nobody’s ever going to move this vault,” he said standing in his gallery; he even found a newspaper crumpled up in one of the walls from the late 1800s. The gallery, which opened at the end of August, houses a number of local artists and photographers.

“I’m encouraging this to be a place where people can talk about art and be comfortable,” he said.

Also on the first floor will be Blue River Diamonds, which plans to open in November, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

This will be the second Blue River Diamonds, the other shop is in the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers.

The plan is to have the jeweler and the cases directly across from the large windows that face Duncan Street.

Hecht said finding businesses to sublet the historic building was more of a “that makes sense” process than just finding a jeweler or artist to rent out the space.

Many old aspects of the bank, including vaults their complex doors will be just one part of the security measures for the diamond store.

The basement is currently filled with construction equipment, but it too has many aspects that date back to the banking days. Hecht envisioned a wine cellar in what was once a small part of a bank vault, it’s thick metal doors still intact; metal gates and nightly deposit boxes are still in place.

Hecht said he had ideas for developing that area, too, but nothing was concrete yet; he said the bank history would all be preserved, nothing would be going to waste.

“It was fishermen, bars, and banks; that was Gloucester,” he said.

On the back of the building facing Rogers Street, he envisioned a large changing sign that would promote local businesses, but said he has not started that permitting process yet.

The building is one of the staples of Main Street, it is the first previously vacant building to see new life on Main Street. Just a block or two away is the still empty Empire building, while the Common Crow plans to move into the restaurant previously called Cameron’s.

Gloucester Safe Deposit & Trust Co. was built in the era where schooners sailed the Western Atlantic and fishermen provided an ever-growing economic boost to the city.

Preserving the historical aspects were an important part in rehabilitating the building, but there was much work to be done.

From sprinkler systems to the building code and general aesthetics, some portions of the upper apartments on the second and third floors had to be changed.

The second floor houses two apartments, measuring 1,215 square feet and 930 square feet.

The apartments have historical aspects still in place such as wooden molding and doorways; an old mail slot and wide window are still in place in one of the apartment doors. New pieces that were put in were made to look historic, nearly indistinguishable from the earlier pieces.

“That’s the way we wanted it,” he said.

From the way light enters the large windows on the upper floors to storage space to the views of Pleasant Street and the Gloucester harbor and everything in between, the developer had a hands on process in planning the two apartments. He said some have expressed interest in buying them outright, but for now they will be rented.

Hecht and his family have lived at the construction site that is their new home for about one month, they previously relocated to Gloucester last year.

“Thirty years ago it may have been considered futuristic,” Hecht joked of the apartment’s old design.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.