Group hopes to restore Portland's Fort Allen Park to historic glory

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PORTLAND — Fort Allen Park, on the southeastern tip of the Eastern Promenade, is an inviting place, the sort where people come to sun and fly kites in summer and to run their dogs, off-leash, as winter dusk settles over the harbor islands.

“This is the jewel of the city,” Diane Davison said.

But the park could, and should, be even nicer, said Davison, president of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade.

Working with the city, her group is devising plans to restore the park to what they say were its glory years at the beginning of the last century. A series of public meetings, including one Wednesday, Feb. 15, have been scheduled to get feedback from the community.

Working with a pair of landscape architects, the group pinpointed a period believed to illustrate the best years of the park: from 1890 to 1930, when trees and shrubs lined walking paths that circulated pedestrians through the space, and the park’s bandstand and wrought iron fences were attractively painted.

After the 1930s, city redesigns chipped away at the grandeur of the park, landscape architect Martha Lyon said, culminating with a 1984 project that flattened the main horseshoe road into symmetry and taking out the central walking path from the road to the bandstand.

A plan proposed by Lyon and the Friends would bring back walking paths through the center of the park and between the overlook and the U.S. Navy memorial; planters and medium-sized trees throughout out the park, and a row of larger trees along the edge of the park that borders the Eastern Promenade.

The plan would also restore the horseshoe road to its original shape, make the overlook accessible to the handicapped, and calls for repairs to the bandstand, cannons, and fences around the park.

“I think it’s going to be a significant improvement, an improvement that all park users will be able to appreciate and enjoy,” Davison said.

Final plans must be vetted by the Planning Board, the Department on Public Services, and the Historic Preservation Board, because the park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Even with the city’s approval on the project, restoration efforts aren’t likely to begin right away, because the Friends will still have to raise money to fund it, Davison said.

The ultimate cost won’t be set until the plan has been approved, but the restoration could cost well over a million dollars, Lyon said. And while the city has already pledged some money to the effort, Davison said, much of the effort to come up with the cash will fall to the Friends.

On a recent afternoon, some park visitors weren’t so sure that the restoration is required, or that the hefty price tag is right for the current economic environment.

“I won’t know if it’s worth the money until I know what the money is,” said Einar Juhlin, a neighbor who comes to the park to walk nearly every day.

The number of people using the park justifies the expense, Davison said. The park is popular among locals and tourists, and operators of tour buses, duck boats, and other groups of visitors that stop there during the summer. A resurrected concert series, held at the bandstand, brought thousands of people to the park last summer, she said.

The Feb. 15 meeting begins at 5 p.m. in Room 209 at City Hall.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Andrew on Twitter: @ACullenFore.

Sidebar Elements

The cannons in Fort Allen Park in Portland need restoration, according to Diane Davison, president of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade. The group is working with the city and the public to come up with a plan to fully restore the park to what Davison said was its historic peak in the first decades of the 20th century.

A view of Fort Allen Park from a 1904 photograph that Martha Lyon discovered in the Detroit Publishing collection of the Library of Congress.

A concept drawing of the proposed Fort Allen Park restoration.