Salem Rehabs Abandoned Home, Gets it Back on the Market

Ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrates “win-win” for Salem neighbors and Mayor Driscoll

By Shelley A. Sackett

All photos by Shelley A. Sackett

Salem Gazette

The neighbors of 28 Jackson Street had much to celebrate on August 26 when City of Salem’s Mayor Kimberley Driscoll cut the ribbon to commemorate the completion of the City’s first home rehabilitation undertaken through the Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI).

“We were all so embarrassed for so many years when this was the first thing people would see when they turned down to our street,” said Carol Michaud who lives on adjacent Francis Street.

“We’re ecstatic,” echoed Mary L’Heureux, who has lived on Francis Street for 46 years. “[Mayor] Kim [Driscoll] came through.”

From left, neighbors Janet Dubois, Mary L'Heureux and Carol Michaud were ecstatic at the results.

From left, neighbors Janet Dubois, Mary L’Heureux and Carol Michaud were ecstatic at the results.

When the owner abandoned the foreclosed property, neighbors complained about deteriorating conditions at the property. Because the City was unable to issue citations through normal enforcement efforts (due to lack of an entity that could respond to the Building and Health Department’s citations), the City decided to petition the Northeast Housing Court for an appointment of a receiver under the AHI. The receiver, in turn, would make the necessary repairs to bring the property out of its blighted state, up to Code, and into saleable condition.

The time-line was swift.

The Building Department’s involvement began in 2008. The owner was first cited for failure to remove snow and overgrowth on the property, and instructed to repair the roof. There was no response, and the City went in and removed some of the overgrowth in 2013.

Police received numerous calls regarding rodents and the habitat that the property had created for them. After no response from the record owner or property management company for the bank, the City initiated the receivership process in 2014, filing the receivership petition on July 25, 2014 after the owner failed to exterminate the property as ordered.

In late 2014, the court appointed the Charles Hope Companies of North Andover and Lawrence as the receiver. In fewer than four months of construction, the house has been completely turned around and is scheduled to go onto the real estate market with an asking price of $339,900.

Alan Hope, managing partner of the Charles Hope Company, likened his work to a “mitzvah” (a Hebrew term for a charitable, beneficial act). He pointed out that there is a school nearby and that the property made for unsafe walking conditions for children who walked to school. “We made the house livable. It meets code requirements now,” he said.

He also appreciates that the process is managed by courts where there is a “check and balance which non-receivership projects do not have.” He estimates that Charles Hope Company spent about $120,000 on the rehabilitation.

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The City does not have a contractual relationship with the receiver. The Northeast Housing Court appoints the receiver and approves its proposed budget for remedying the violations and bringing the property back to habitable use. The receiver is entitled to place a lien on the property for the amount approved by the court. This lien must be paid before any others that may be secured by the property.

“I am very excited to see 28 Jackson Street’s receivership come to a successful completion,” Mayor Driscoll told the Salem Gazette. “This program is a real benefit to all involved: the City puts a much needed residential property back into serviceable use, on the tax rolls. It is now clean, safe, and attractive.

“The neighbors benefit from the elimination of an abandoned, vacant, and derelict property in their neighborhood. And a family will benefit from being able to move into a great home in our community,” Mayor Driscoll added.

In addition to transforming the blighted property at no expense to the City, Salem stands to recover $1,400 in unpaid taxes and charges owed by the prior owner. According to Mayor Driscoll’s office, the 2015 tax bill on the property will be in the neighborhood of $3,700. This is in addition to the $1,400 in back taxes and fees owed to the City by the previous owner, which will be recovered from the sale proceeds. The 2016 property tax bill may be even higher.

The 28 Jackson Street house is the first of a number of similar “problem properties” the City has targeted for renovation through the AHI. Two other properties in Salem currently have a receiver appointed — 12 Hazel Street and 81 Derby Street — and both are in progress.

A look at the renovated home at 28 Jackson St., Salem.

A look at the renovated home at 28 Jackson St., Salem.

The 2008 financial crisis resulted in many properties being eligible for receivership because the status of their ownership is in limbo due to abandonment and foreclosure. Other properties that were initially identified for receivership by the City have been sold and are now being rehabilitated privately by the new owners. “Sometimes the pressure of a potential receivership filing can motivate absentee owners to sell or rehab,” Dominick Pangallo, Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, said.

There are fairly specific requirements in the statute for an abandoned property to be eligible for receivership. If residents want to recommend an abandoned property in Salem to the City’s Problem Properties Task Force for review and consideration for receivership, Pangallo suggests they report it to the Mayor’s office by calling 978-619-5600 or by emailing him at dpangallo@salem.com.

Mayor Driscoll said her office intends to use the AHI program and all the tools at the City’s disposal to address any vacant, abandoned or unsafe properties in the Salem community. “I am looking forward to the successful rehabilitation of 12 Hazel Street and 81 Derby Street next, and I want to thank the team from the Charles Hope Companies for being such good partners in the transformation of this house,” she told The Gazette.

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Salem Jazz & Soul Fest Volunteers Walk the Walk

The ninth annual Salem Jazz and Soul Festival last weekend served up more than just two days of back-to-back sizzling performances from the likes of Krewe De Groove, The North Shore Jazz Project All Stars and Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. The non-profit SJSF, with its mission of supporting musicians and music education, is entirely run by volunteers, and for the 80 or so who ran the two-day event, the festival also served up an opportunity to give back and do something meaningful on a personal level.

“People volunteer because they love the music and they love supporting music education for kids,” said Linda Goldstein, SJSF 2015 Volunteer Coordinator, who lives in Swampscott.

They also volunteer because they have benefited from the good work SJSF does and want others to have the same opportunity.

Alex Wang, 17 years old and a 2015 Salem High School graduate, attended jazz and recording camp at Salem State University thanks to a scholarship from SJSF. “I learned so much. The best way to get better at jazz is to surround yourself with people who are better than you. That’s what I did and I improved greatly,” he said.

He also learned about the power that music has to entertain and to bring people together. “If you’ve ever played in a band, you know how that feels. It’s an activity that you can’t compare to anything else,” he said.

Wang, who has played jazz piano for the Salem High School Jazz Band for three years, volunteered at the festival last year and this year. “This is me giving back,” he said with a smile.

As a University of Massachusetts freshman in Amherst next year, he will study music education and classical clarinet. He offered this advice to incoming high school freshmen who wonder whether to get involved in jazz band: “Jump in with both feet. Don’t test the water; just go in. Have fun!”

Mayri Ross and Alexander Wang worked their shifts in the merchandise tent.

Mayri Ross and Alexander Wang worked their shifts in the merchandise tent.

Mayri Ross, 14, couldn’t agree more. When she moved from her hometown Salem to Portland, Oregon, in 2011, she didn’t know too much about jazz, although she had a background in music since her father was “big on music” and her mother was a vocalist.

Mayri Ross

Mayri Ross

She took a beginning concert band class with no idea how to play an instrument, although she had a little knowledge of how to read simple notes. She picked up the tenor sax and learned to play well enough to join the school’s intermediate band and participate in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho.

“I met so many new friends. It was a really interesting experience that cemented my interest in jazz,” she said.

Knowing she would be visiting family in Salem and determined to devote her summer to learning more about jazz, she began researching how to combine the two. When she found that her hometown had a jazz festival, she looked at the volunteer shifts and signed up for the pre-shows and both days of the festival, where she sold festival clothing and souvenirs in the Merchandise Tent.

“I wanted to learn more so I could grow in my art,” she said, clearly delighted that the tent’s location was right next to stage.

View from the Merchandise Tent.

View from the Merchandise Tent.

As a jazz and blues singer, Volunteer Coordinator Goldstein likes the ideas of bringing free concerts to people and of supporting music education programs for area students. She came to SJSF through her volunteer coordination activities at North Shore Jazz Project, an organization that works to create an environment on the North Shore where music education, performance and appreciation can flourish.  Many NSJP members she knew were also involved in the Jazz & Soul Fest, and they solicited Goldstein to help with the festival. This is her third year and she loves it.

“It’s not real hard to get people to volunteer, which is nice,” Goldstein said. Her duties include managing the online site where people sign up to volunteer and figuring out ways to drive traffic to the site. She makes sure that she has coverage in all the spots she needs it and that people know where to go and what to do when they arrive.

She also makes sure volunteers know how much they appreciated. “At other concerts, volunteers get [the benefit of] free admission, but because this is a free concert, festival volunteers do it out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said. In return, they are treated to a cruise around Salem Harbor and the chance to win a gift card donated generously by local vendors Finz, Flying Saucer Pizza, Fran & Diane’s Kitchen, Front Street Coffeehouse, Longboards, Seafood Shanty and the Ugly Mug Diner.

Jackie Kinney, also from Swampscott, is another huge jazz fan who wanted to volunteer her time to a cause that was personal. As project manager for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, she has organizational skills built over a career-long period. “I’d love to be able to take those kinds of skills and move them into more of an arts and culture space,” she said.

Instead of a boxy, red volunteer T-shirt, Kinney’s was stylish, cropped and sleeveless. “I have done this for my youngest daughter. It’s a beautiful day, but it’s a hot day. I wanted to air things out so I grabbed my scissors and started to snip, snip,” she said with a laugh.

Jackie Kinney (right) and Linda Goldstein used scissors and ingenuity to create their one-of-a-kind volunteer T-shirts.

Jackie Kinney (right) and Linda Goldstein used scissors and ingenuity to create their one-of-a-kind volunteer T-shirts.

Sitting at the volunteer check-in booth, Kinney was jubilant. “I’ve been here for two hours and heard a terrific high school band. It’s fun and something I’d like to do more of,” she said, adding, “I want to get to know the people who organize this event, raise my hand, and ask, ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can I help?’”

For more information, visit http://www.salemjazzsoul.org.

Rosh Chodesh, Elul and Me

Every month, I look forward to Rosh Chodesh. This started in September 2001, soon after moving to Swampscott from Denver, when I was invited by some new acquaintances to join them at a Hadassah evening of study and community. The focus of the evening was Rosh Chodesh, and we all received a copy of “Moonbeams,” a guide to Rosh Chodesh celebration and ceremony. The cover charmed me with its watercolor image of a woman in tallit, backlit by a pink sky filled with clouds, stars and moon. Fresh from Denver’s two-year Florence Melton Jewish studies program, I was thirsty for traditional knowledge and also contemporary customs. “Moonbeams” had both, with poetry and other writings as a bonus. And it was so pretty.

Then in 2002, my daughter was bat mitzvahed. On a Sunday morning. On Rosh Chodesh. On Mother’s Day. The stars and moon had aligned. I was like the mother of a bride who wants a barefoot potluck wedding in a pasture in Vermont instead of the sit-down, catered affair I had envisioned for her. My connection to this event eclipsed hers. My daughter soldiered through it all, and still shudders at the recollection of the process and the day itself. For me, it was another sign that Rosh Chodesh and I had some sort of a special bond.

All this rose to a new level when I started attending morning minyan on a regular basis and realized that my favorite ritual, the blowing of the shofar, occurred more often than during the High Holidays. In fact, it occurred monthly, on the first day of every Jewish lunar month. Hearing its ancient call more than compensated for the fact that services that morning, with the additions of Torah, Hallel and Musaf, were twice their usual length.

Next came my learning to chant the Rosh Chodesh parsha from the Torah (so far just parts 1, 2 and 3 but I will master 4 before long). My beloved and dearly missed spiritual guide and minyan companion, Cantor Emil Berkovitz, inspired and encouraged me to study trope at the classes he taught on Sunday mornings. As part of the study, we learned the Rosh Chodesh parsha. Makes a lot of sense if you’re only going to learn one: you get to do it 12 (sometimes 13!) times a year. That’s a lot of bang for the buck. I have read these three parts of the parsha at most Rosh Chodesh services this past year, always using the yod I had bought for my daughter to use at her bat mitzvah.

It was Rosh Chodesh Elul some years back when I discovered that, for the entire month, we blew the shofar every morning (except, of course, Shabbat and the day before Rosh Hashanah). That’s how special Elul is.

Preparing us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Elul begins the month-long process of putting our spiritual homes in order to welcome the New Year, much as we clean our earthly homes to prepare for Passover. It is a sacred time of self-reflection and quiet, private assessment. It is a reminder that each of us matters and that tikkun olam (repairing the world) depends on each of us doing his best.

This morning, Rosh Chodesh Elul 5775, I stood at the torah. I chanted what others have chanted before me for thousands of years and what others will chant for thousands after. With my daughter’s yod lighting my way, I felt blessed by the feeling that in that one moment and by that one act, I was indeed being and doing my very best.

Lost in Place, Stuck in Time

Pictured above: Clara (Marya Lowry) puts the finishing touches on Breda (Nancy E. Carroll) as Ada (Adrianne Krstansky) lends support. (Photo credit: Gary Ng)

“By their nature people are talkers,” declares Breda, one of three sisters who live their cloistered lives behind the closed door of a cottage on the rugged Irish seacoast. But for Breda and her sister Clara, who have withdrawn from the world and lassoed their younger sister, Ada, into joining them, talking is more than an innate trait: it is also the glue that fixes them to each other and to a shared adolescent moment forty years ago that was so painful and humiliating, it literally stopped their developmental clock.

In Gloucester Stage’s splendid production of Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s “The New Electric Ballroom,” playing through August 15, director Robert Walsh (no relation) casts a believable, macabre spell over a cramped room where memory reigns and lives are unlived.

Breda, played with her usual spot-on gestures and intonation by the stellar Nancy E. Carroll, was the village “bad girl” in her youth. When a teen idol singer came to the local1950’s dance hall, the New Electric Ballroom, she, along with all the other young girls trapped in the fishing village, dreamed of escaping their dismal fate by latching onto his coattails. Her younger and more innocent sister Clara (an equally convincing Marya Lowry) fell under the same spell. The two, however, did more than just dream; they acted.

Both went to his dressing room after the performance, believing his sweet talk and promises. Both suffered unspeakable grief and mortification when they were rejected. However, rather than picking themselves up and carrying on, something in them snapped, tethering them to that moment for the rest of their lives.

Now in their sixties, the sisters spend their day as they have everyday for the last forty years: by reenacting every anguished moment of that encounter. Their younger sister, Ada (Adrianne Krstansky, heartbreakingly understated), who is in her forties and works at the local fish-packing plant, is stage manager and costume and sound designer for their play within a play.

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Above: Clara (Marya Lowry) and Breda (Nancy E. Carroll) square off over tea time. (Photo Credit:  Gary Ng)

Each day, Breda and Clara ceremonially don the clothes and make up they wore that fateful night in a ghoulish reminder of Bette Davis in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” In what feels like a cross between the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and a sadistic sacred sacrament, they take turns describing in painful detail the events of that night and then relive the shame and disappointment that followed. They exist in a snow globe, hermetically sealed in a blizzard of debilitating emotion. When Breda declares to the exhausted Clara, “It’s time for you to rest and then we’ll start over,” all hope for a different path leeches away.

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At right: L to R: Patsy (Derry Woodhouse) the fishmonger makes a point with Ada (Adrianne Krstansky) as Clara (Marya Lowry) and Breda (Nancy E. Carroll) look on. (Photo credit: Gary Ng)

Patsy (Derry Woodhouse), a fishmonger and the only visitor the sisters have, is a pivotal character in the play, coming to the sisters out of loneliness and a yearning to connect to another human being, however flawed and weird. “In a town of this size, we all have our place and mine was to have no purpose,” he states matter-of-factly. He is both endearing and pathetic as he withstands Breda’s abuse on the faintest possibility that she might invite him in.

When she and Clara finally do just that, the audience and Ada eagerly await Ada’s release from her sisters’ weird spell. This reviewer will not risk being branded a “spoiler” by revealing what happens, but the crucial moments showcase Mr. Woodhouse’s acting chops and bond the four characters in a surprising and indelible way.

The play is not as dreary as it might sound. The strong cast ably keeps the play grounded, despite its tendency to drift into farce and allegory. Under Robert Walsh’s direction and with Jenna McFarland Lord’s economical yet complete set, the characters are alive despite their suspension in time. And once again, Gloucester Stage rises above its summer theater peers, staging the sponge bath scene with real soap and water (and a nearly naked Patsy).

Enda Walsh has penned a smart, funny and lyrical work that subtly reveals its deeper message in a way that lingers and intensifies long after the curtain has come down. Highly stylized, the language at times evokes a dream world, where reality and fantasy merge.

Walsh, who authored the musical Once, garnered the OBIE Playwriting Award, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award and the Irish Times Best New Play Award for “The New Electric Ballroom.” With its New England premiere, the Gloucester Stage celebrates yet another home run in its superlative 36th season.

 

“The New Electric Ballroom” runs through August 15 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 E. Main St., Gloucester, Wednesday through Sunday. For tickets go to gloucesterstage.com or call 978-281-4433.

Soldiering On: A Father’s Legacy

Hale Bradt, 84, was 14 years old on August 14, 1945 – the day the White House announced the end of World War II. His father, Wilber Bradt, had shipped out to the Western Pacific on October 1, 1942, with New England’s 43rd Infantry Division.

Wilber had left an Army soldier—a captain—in the field artillery and would return as a lieutenant colonel and regimental commander of the 172nd Infantry Regiment, the famed Green Mountain Boys of Vermont. He had been wounded twice and was awarded three Silver Stars for personal bravery. Hale couldn’t wait to see his dad.

On December 1 – 108 days after VJ Day – Wilber took his own life. He was 45 years old.

Hale went on to serve in the Korean War in the U.S. Naval Reserve and became a Physics Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although he remembered his dad, they were the memories of a 14-year-old that became more distant with each passing decade. All that would change on his 50th birthday in 1980.

Prompted by an argument with one of his sisters, he went to his family home and rummaged through old documents in the basement that might shed light on her paternity. He found a cache of letters from his father – written before and during the war – that would alter the trajectory of his life and add an intimate layer to the story of America’s involvement in World War II and the effect it had on the soldiers who served and the families they left behind.

Those letters, plus additional context and interpretation by Hale, resulted in the handsome three-volume set, Wilber’s War, An American Family’s Journey through World War II, recently published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of V-J Day on August 14.

Speaking to The Salem Gazette from his home in Salem, Hale described finding 12 letters addressed to him as the ‘a-ha!’ moment when he knew he had to share his family’s private story with the public.

“They were so fatherly and well-written and descriptive. I found a guy who could really write. As a 50-year-old, I knew what good writing was. As a 12-year-old, I didn’t,” he said.

Wilber’s wartime letters to his wife, children and other family members first and foremost provide a rare peek at the stark reality of WWII combat in the Pacific Theater. “His letters are special because they are contemporaneous,” Hale explained. “A lot of the war stories are reconstructed after it’s over. Some of these were written in the foxhole in pencil.”

They are also unique because they tell the story of an Army soldier. “Most of the stories of the Pacific War are about the Marines and the Navy,” Hale said.

He spent the next three decades interviewing relatives, academic and military colleagues. During his M.I.T. sabbatical in Japan in 1983, he visited the beach Wilber where Wilber would have landed had the war not ended when it did. He even met Col. Seishu Kinoshita, the Japanese battalion commander Wilber mentioned in his letters about combat in the Solomon Islands, a fascinating tale he recounts in detail.

However, it was not just the combat stories that propelled Hale to undertake a decades-long journey to learn more about his father and his family; he also uncovered the narrative of Norma, Wilber’s wife and Hale’s mother, that illustrated the serious challenges faced by the military spouse during a long deployment.

No stranger to the world of writing (he authored two textbooks on astrophysics), Hale learned first-hand how complicated the publishing side is when he decided to self-publish Wilber’s War after a couple of attempts to get an agent. He whittled down Wilber’s letters from 450,000 to 150,000 words and authored an equal amount of annotation and text. The fascinating book is chockfull of pictures, charts, maps and historical documents. “I’m a little embarrassed by the three volumes. I’ve constantly told my students, ‘You can always say things shorter,’” he said with a chuckle.

On a more serious note, Hale said that although soldiers today serve a different type of deployment than in his father’s day (three sequential deployments rather than one long one that lasted three years, for example), the story of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is the same. “They’ve known about PTSD since the World War I and earlier. Everyone is vulnerable.”

Hale credits his older sister Valerie with encouraging him to write Wilber’s War even though she knew other family members might object. “She said, ‘Hale. You’ve got to tell this story. It’s everybody’s story.” The rest, as they say, is history.

For more information or to order “Wilber’s War”, go to wilberswar.com.