ROCKLAND, Maine ― A downtown property owner who plans to demolish part of a 60-something-year-old building that once housed a Sears department store refutes the idea it has enough historic relevance to preserve.
Crystal Darling, the owner of 279 Main St., told city councilors Monday night she plans to tear a large portion of the 15,000-square foot building down to construct a parking lot because it would be easier to manage.
National retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. constructed the building in the mid-1950s after a fire in 1952 destroyed the buildings on the block, including The Rockland Hotel, which once stood at the address.
The site is currently home to Park Street Grille and the Midcoast Music Academy, among other tenants.
Councilors could temporarily spare the site from the wrecking ball if they pass a six-month moratorium on demolition within the downtown district. It would give the city’s historic preservation committee time to review the historical merits and architectural significance of buildings worth preserving.
“I think every once in a while a building is on the chopping block and it makes us realize how sad it is to lose something,” Rockland Historical Society Curator Ann Morris said.
The Sears building was the first in New England to be built using tilt-up construction, according to Morris, which entails lifting prefabricated concrete walls into place with cranes. Because of this unique method of construction, Morris has included the property on a draft list of historically significant downtown buildings that she said should require extra review if ever slated for demolition.
Darling’s late partner Frank Ferraiolo purchased the building in the mid-1990s when Sears closed. They updated it with a new brick facade and arched windows.
Since the building looks nothing like it did during its time as a Sears department store, Darling isn’t sure it rises to the level of being historic enough to preserve.
“When we bought it it was all boarded up, with aluminum casing windows that we replaced,” Darling said. “The way it looks now has only been there for 25 years.”
Darling said she doesn’t think of it as a historical site.
“If it was still the old Rockland Hotel then, yes, I would think that,” she said. “But it was a department store. It was a Sears.”
Darling projects to spend about $175,000 to tear down the building and construct a parking lot. She estimates that it would cost about the same amount to make needed repairs to the building, though she hasn’t looked into the full scope of repairs.
A parking lot with long-term leased spaces would be “less tedious” to manage than a large building with multiple tenants, Darling said.
While councilors have acknowledged Darling’s right to demolish the property, some are concerned about the impact a parking lot at the prominent intersection would have on the aesthetics of downtown.
“If what is going to be there is a chain link fence, I think that would be very disappointing.” Morris said.