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An Evening at the Opera
Gloucester group aims for architecture revival

By John Laidler, Globe Correspondent, 9/14/2003

They help tell the story of Gloucester and of architectural eras come and gone.

But many of the city's old buildings are in need of care and attention. Now some local residents want to do their part to see them preserved.

A group plans to raise money to support the restoration and maintenance of historic properties in Gloucester that are owned by public or
nonprofit entities.

Known as Architectural Preservation, the group's initiative has been adopted by the Gloucester Fund as one of its programs. The fund is a
three-year-old nonprofit that helps other groups in the city raise money for different needs.

''There are a number of buildings that are worth offering a helping hand to,'' said Ed Touchette, a local artist and author and one of the residents who organized Architectural Preservation.

The group's first venture is to help the city's Unitarian Universalist  congregation raise money for the ongoing restoration of its  two-century-old Middle Street church, the Independent Christian Church,
Unitarian Universalist (known in the city as the Universalist Church).

On Oct. 11, Architectural Preservation is sponsoring an opera to benefit the church restoration. The event will be held at the church from 7-9
p.m., followed by a reception at the nearby American Legion hall. In addition to Touchette, founders of the group include Helen Anne Lind, a graphic designer and mixed media artist; Ann Margaret Ferrante, an attorney; and Brent ''Ringo'' Tarr, an electrical contractor who is treasurer of the Gloucester Fund. The four friends, who have been assisted by another resident, Cathy Slifer, said the idea of starting an architectural preservation initiative came to them when
they were looking for ways to help the church with its restoration. They had agreed to work on the project after Ferrante, who lives a few doors down from the church, was asked by members of the congregation if she could assist with their fund-raising.

''We saw the potential of expanding this beyond the Universalist Church to include other buildings in the city that continually need updating, renovations, and upkeep, and that the Gloucester Fund is a great tool to distribute that money,'' Touchette said.

Beginning with the opera, the group plans to make its fund-raising events arts-oriented. Members say it is a way to reflect what they see as the important role architecture plays in Gloucester's rich artistic tradition.

The city's old buildings provide a ''real sense of place,'' something that has helped make Gloucester attractive to generations of artists, said Touchette, who features old Gloucester buildings in his paintings as well as in a just-published novel, ''In A Place Li
ke No Others.''

Lind said the group sees an opportunity not only to raise money for preservation projects, but to ''encourage more participation and
awareness in the arts and in architectural preservation, a general concern for the history of the city and its absolute beauty.''

Ferrante said the founders of the group are notmembers of the Universalist Church. She said they are raising dollars not to support the ''religious aspects of the church,'' but to preserve a building of significance to the city's history.

''We saw it as a project that was important to Gloucester,'' she said.

According to Patricia Poore, chairwoman of the Universalist Church's restoration project, the building was erected in 1805 by a Universalist congregation led by John Murray. In the 1770s, Murray became the first American Universalist pastor, and the congregation the first Universalist congregation in America.

The congregation made history on another front when it successfully sued in the state's highest court to fight taxes levied by the local
Calvinist parish, according to Poore. She said the court ruling contributed to the principle of separation of church and state that was
later incorporated in the Bill of Rights.

The building was long a significant fixture in the city, Poore said, noting that until City Hall was built in 1872, it was the tallest building in Gloucester.

The building is also important as a surviving example of Federal era, Palladian-style architecture, said Poore, who formerly published Old-House Journal, a magazine about restoring old buildings. She continues to publish Old-House Interiors, a magazine about period

According to Poore, her congregation has raised about $720,000 of the $1.5 million it needs for the project. The money raised to date has enabled it to complete a first phase of the work, which has included restoration of the tower, the slate roof, and the front facade, as well as replacement of windows and doors.

Work that remains includes restoration of the other three facades, renovations to the balcony, and updating of mechanical systems.

''It will be wonderful,'' Poore said of receiving fund-raising assistance from Architectual Preservation, noting, ''They can bring in people we haven't touched yet.''

Poore said the program can also benefit other projects, observing that in the Middle Street area alone, there are several historic buildings -- including City Hall and the Sawyer Free Library -- with restoration needs.

Architectural Preservation's organizers are considering art auctions, art shows, and workshops for future fund-raising events.

''For everyone involved,'' Ferrante said, ''Gloucester is their home and it's worth preserving.''