Studio 550 Art Center will soon be occupying the three-story, brick building across Elm Street from the Verizon Wireless Arena, filling one of Manchester’s most prominent, underutilized structures, and breathing life into the slow-to-develop Gaslight District. The building and its future occupant represent the immense potential–just now beginning to be realized–of the Downtown South area.
LivableMHT is planning to meet with Monica Leap of Studio 550 in the near future to discuss the plans for the art center, as well as the building. In the meantime, I took a peek through the windows this past weekend to see the progress that’s already being made on the building.
Even in these relatively early stages, the work being done is already impressive. Studio 550 has a couple photo albums on their Facebook page showing the existing conditions and an update from this month on the construction going on inside.
This building is especially interesting to me, not only because of its prominence and potential to jumpstart the Gaslight District, but because I’ve been inside the empty warren of rooms and spaces on the upper stories and rear of the building. While working as an intern at a local architecture office, a colleague and I measured and documented the interior of the building one uncomfortably hot day in the summer of 2005. The stillness and deterioration of the building was eerie, given its proximity to the revitalized downtown and brand new arena. It’s great to see the building–interior and exterior–being returned to its former glory and finally catching up with its neighbors.
Another interesting aspect of the building, built in 1890, is that it is three stories along Elm Street and four in the rear, with a sort of split-level seam about half-way back along Depot Street. The architectural details are the same on both halves, so it seems likely that it was never separate buildings later tied together, but it’s unclear if it was built all at once or in phases.
Along Elm Street, the building has a fairly typical set-up with housing or offices above retail–which is among the best preserved (through prior neglect, no doubt) Victorian storefronts in the city–but the rear looks like it could have been warehouse space. That would make sense given that Manchester’s Union Station used to be at the base of Depot Street and many of the buildings toward that end of the neighborhood are former warehouses. Former retail buildings in the area seem to be limited to the buildings along Old Granite Street, the building that now houses Murphy’s Taproom–the only other remaining building of the era on this portion of Elm Street–and the old Varick’s building on Depot Street, which also has a large warehouse space in the rear.
The first floor of the building will primarily house the art center–studios and galleries–along with a 24-hour diner with housing on the upper stories, bringing people to the Gaslight at all times of the day. With the handful of other restored buildings in the area and its focus on the arts and downtown housing, 550 Elm Street could signal the beginning of a renaissance for the Gaslight District.
This post is one in an ongoing LivableMHT series, Livable/Unlovable, that will comment on proposals, projects and other topics that are either good (Livable) or bad (Unlovable) from a livability/urban development viewpoint.