One thing is almost always true in this business, and that is that the most interesting nuggets of any story generally are the ones preceded by the words, “You probably shouldn’t print this but …”
Such was the little tidbit that Teresa Wong let fly as she led me through the dark, narrow hallways of her home and ceramics studio at 268 Main St. in Bangor.
“It’s just speculation,” she said. “I don’t know for sure, but I’m thinking that it may well have served as a house of ill repute at one time.”
It was just one of many tantalizing bits of information she revealed during my personal impromptu tour of Smith’s Ceramics and the building that will be torn down soon as part of a road relocation project that will connect Route 1A directly to Summer Street.
A demolition date has not yet been set, and it’s possible the building will be used for fire training, she said, because “it has a lot of nooks and crannies that would be good for that kind of training.”
That’s an understatement.
Wong’s house-of-ill-repute theory is based largely on the layout of the rambling old building. Doors located where doors have no business being, for example.
On a city map dated 1875 the building was listed as an international bus station. When Wong’s grandparents bought it in 1947 it was a boardinghouse, which her grandmother continued to operate.
Today the doors that line both sides of the hallways, upstairs and down, still have the original numbers on them, numbers made of what appears to be old leather and tacked on with tiny, old nails.
Wong’s father, Duane Lane, was raised in the house before he entered the Army. As a military kid who moved all over the world, Wong always considered her grandmother’s Bangor boardinghouse her true home.
“This was Mr. Goupee’s room,” she said as she led me into room No. 1. “Mr. Goupee never married. He was a single man and a railroad worker. He stayed here until I was in junior high.”
“He was of the Brewer Goupees, and oh yes,” she tossed off as an aside as we continued to make our way through the maze of chipped plaster and clutter covered in ceramic dust, “Mr. Goupee sort of still lives here.”
Well, his ghost does anyway, she said.
“There are a lot of spirits here,” she continued, adding that she recently had a ghost hunter group from Ellsworth visit the building.
Lights go on and off at will, she said. Items sometimes spin randomly in the middle of the ceramics worktable in the middle of the room that now serves as the ceramics classroom.
A presence dubbed “Jeffery” takes refuge in a 2-foot-tall wooden statue and sometimes tosses his small hat across the room, which has been witnessed by several friends and family members who attested to the phenomenon on Thursday.
Then there is Charlie. Wong remembers Charlie as a tall, dark-haired man who lived in the attic.
Charlie was a painter, she said as she led me up the curvy staircase to the attic and into the small alcove that was his room.
There are holes in the plaster of the windowless room and dust covers the layers of worn linoleum on the floor, but one thing is very clear. Charlie indeed was a painter.
A neat pattern of small orange strokes of paint encircles the small bare bulb that illuminates the room as if in an attempt to broaden the expanse of light.
Hand-painted wavelike strokes border the ceiling, and on one wall a mural features huge snow-covered mountains casting a shadow over a Swiss-style ski lodge. Period cars line the parking lot, and skiers hike the hills nearby with their skis tossed across their backs.
The mural is signed “Charles Russell” and is dated 1960.
“I don’t know whatever happened to Charlie,” Wong said.
She doesn’t think there is any way to salvage the artwork, which is painted directly on the old plastered wall.
She does, however, plan to salvage the ornate wooden fireplace in what probably served as the dining room or parlor. The fireplace is adorned with a series of old tiles depicting scenes from the plays of William Shakespeare.
Wong’s grandmother Irene Smith was a “pack rat” and so are Wong and her husband, Steve, who moved into the building in 2001.
Her grandmother started the ceramics business there in 1955. Wong worked there since the 1970s, and she and her husband have continued to operate the business since.
There’s a bunch of history and a whole lot of stuff packed into the building.
“When we moved in here I found a great big box filled with used sheets of tinfoil in the Christmas closet in the attic that my grandmother had saved for some reason,” Wong said.
Last year the state began the process of taking the building by eminent domain, she said, but paid them a fair price and is helping with their relocation expenses.
While emotional for her, Wong said the relocation of the business to the former Thompson Printing building in Brewer will allow the couple to expand.
“I’m very excited in many ways, but I sigh other times at the memories that are here,” she said this week.
The new business will be called The Creative Art Center, and a grand opening is set for noon Sunday, Feb. 14, with a big Chinese New Year party, food and a traditional Chinese lion dance.
“What about Mr. Goupee?” I asked.
“I think the spirits that are personally connected to me will follow us to Brewer,” she said. “Mr. Goupee, I think, will stay right here on Main Street.