On a Sunday in October, 2014, the building at 35 Fuller St. in Magnolia burned down. The journalistic facts of fire and street address would mean nothing to an outsider. But the building had been Doc Vieira’s pharmacy for many decades and still had much of that heritage: the size and layout, room dimensions, windows on the square, the marble ice cream counter. The occupant at the time of the fire, the Magnolia House of Pizza, had kept much of Doc’s heritage. And the approved, first proposal to rebuild resembled Doc’s in size and shape, with a modest increase in units. Many applauded that plan.
Oddly, it disappeared. Others followed, formal and informal, thrown together with little care, each more massive, each more profitable than the last, developers wanting to cram in as many units as possible. The latest plan is running into the headwinds of history, which is precisely what this out-of-town group is unaware of: heritage — the communal memory of what stood on that plot, the people who owned it, the sense of place and belonging it helped create. As William Faulkner, America’s poetic novelist, wrote: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
Development is necessary and good. Not to mention, inevitable. But care has to be factored into the ledger. Decorum and continuity have to be factored in. Development must be for and within community, not solely for developing private bank accounts. And change doesn’t have to trash the past. A good example of care is the new Magnolia Pier. A crew, cranes, a barge have been taking down the wooden planking and piles of the old pier, largely destroyed by storms in March of 2018. Like the old pier, the new structure will be timber, avoiding the pollution problems that non-biodegradable concrete presents. It will resemble, if not duplicate, its forerunner. It will belong.
Profit is not evil. It is a necessary, good, inevitable motive. Greed, on the other hand, is the third cardinal sin. The latest proposal for 35 Fuller St. seeks huge, sweeping changes on so many fronts that it goes beyond zoning relief; it seeks zoning re-write, a destruction of spirit in this corner of Gloucester.
Okay, spiritual location’s a pretty fuzzy concept. We live at real addresses, on real maps. But make no mistake, we also live within an attitude or atmosphere, a sense of place and belonging beyond the physical. Gloucester has attitude and atmosphere in abundance. Anyone who has lived in Gloucester, in any of its wards, knows this, feels this. Cram and scram does not contribute to sense of place in either Magnolia or its wider, wonderful city.
At this point you’re asking, “Doesn’t this guy write about poetry?” I do. And here it is, a few lines from my poem “Good Harbor, Home” about why Gloucester is worth protecting:
“What matters happens here! We,
each of us proud, elect, the people of Gloucester
by law and by luck neighbors in a great nation,
trust power for a term to others, themselves
strong in our common strength, democracy fast
to time and tide, a city’s lapstraked lives,
and so blessed, confident of grace and granite, bear
witness to America on the deep, abiding sea.”
John Ronan is a former poet laureate for the city of Gloucester and host of “The Writer’s Block” on Cape Ann TV.