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Natural disasters, fires and bad civic policy decisions took down many cool old buildings, making Bangor lucky to have its remaining historic buildings and other structures.
That mix of vintage and modern gives the city its eclectic architectural landscape, with contemporary buildings up against imposing 19th-century brick and granite facades.
Many architects were responsible for the look and feel of Bangor, but there are five notable Maine-born people who directly shaped the way the city looks today through the buildings they designed over nearly two centuries.
Wilfred Mansur (1855-1921)
Between 1882 and 1915, Wilfred Mansur designed many of the most prominent buildings in Bangor. Many of his buildings burned in the Great Bangor Fire of 1911 and others have since been demolished, but a large number remain and today help define the look and feel of downtown.
One surviving Mansur-designed building is the Nichols Block, the 1892-built structure at 187 Exchange St. that was one of the few buildings in that part of town to survive both the 1911 fire and the urban renewal era in the 1960s and ’70s. Today it houses the Bangor Arts Exchange, Black Bear Brewing and financial planning firm Thompson-Hamel.
Nowhere in Bangor is Mansur’s work more prominent than on Central Street, where three buildings that he designed remain. The Graham Building, at the corner of Central and Harlow, houses law firm Rudman Winchell. The Stetson Block, a complex of storefronts and offices at 1-35 Central St., is home to businesses including Bagel Central, the Briar Patch, 11 Central and the Grindhouse. The Central Block, located at 30-44 Central St., houses Central Street Farmhouse and The Rock & Art Shop.
Many of these buildings were designed in the Romanesque Revival style and feature complex brickwork and Mansur’s signature curved or half-moon shaped windows. Other Mansur buildings in downtown Bangor include the former Penobscot County Courthouse on Hammond Street, and the Columbia Building, located at the corner of Columbia and Hammond streets.
Other Mansur buildings include Wellman Commons, located on the former Bangor Theological Seminary campus on Hammond Street; Hose House No. 5 on State Street, a former Bangor Fire Department station that now houses the Hose 5 Fire Museum; and Hose House No. 6 on Center Street, now owned by St. Joseph Healthcare.
Mansur’s work can also be found in Aroostook County, including Preble Hall at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the Frisbie Block in downtown Houlton.
Charles G. Bryant (1803-1850)
Where Mansur was strongly associated with Romanesque Revival, Charles Bryant designed almost exclusively in Greek Revival, one of the most popular styles of the first half of the 19th century. He was born in Belfast but spent most of his life in Bangor, before decamping to the Republic of Texas in the early 1840s, where he died in 1850.
By far Bryant’s most famous and important building is likely the Bangor House, the grand hotel that opened in 1835 on Main Street and at the time rivaled hotels in Boston in terms of size and opulence. Today the Bangor House contains housing for low-income elderly and disabled people.
Other prominent houses designed by Bryant include the Jonas Cutting-Edward Kent House on Penobscot Street, the Nathaniel Hatch House on Court Street and the Charles G. Bryant Double House at 16-18 Division St. — one of the first duplexes to be built in the city.
George Orff (1835-1908)
Though less well-known than Mansur, Bangor-born George Orff’s buildings also help define the historic architectural style of downtown, especially with the 1871-built Adams-Pickering Block at the corner of Main and Middle streets. Orff worked in the Second Empire, a highly decorative style inspired by Baroque and Renaissance architecture, in which the Adams-Pickering Block is designed. Today it houses Ameriprise Financial and Bangor Window Shade & Drapery.
Orff also designed a number of homes, including the ornate Second Empire-style home at 88 Fountain St., known as the Jones P. Veazie House, and the simpler Horace Durgin House at 228 Center St. and Orff-Poole House at 58 Jefferson St.
It is also believed by the National Register of Historic Places that 39 West Broadway, also known as the Charles P. Brown House, was designed by Orff, though paperwork proving that has not been located. That house is owned by Stephen and Tabitha King, and is adjacent to their former year-round home at 47 West Broadway.
Eaton Tarbell (1914-1992)
While Mansur, Bryant and Orff designed buildings in styles that were popular in the 19th and early 20th century, Bangor architect Eaton Tarbell was rooted in the middle of the 20th century.
The Aroostook County-born Tarbell was a student of famed Harvard University modernist architect Walter Gropius, who designed landmark structures such as the MetLife Building in New York City and the Harvard Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tarbell was largely responsible for bringing modernist architecture to Maine, which until the 1950s was dominated by Georgian, Greek and Romanesque Revival architecture of the previous century.
Tarbell’s most famous building was arguably the Bangor Auditorium, which was built in 1955 and stood until it was demolished to make way for the Cross Insurance Center in 2013. From the 1950s through the 1980s, Tarbell designed many major buildings in Bangor, including Vine Street School in 1951, Fruit Street School in 1953, Bangor High School in 1964, One Merchants Plaza in 1974 and the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono 1986, which was later added onto in 2008 to become the Collins Center for the Arts.
C. Parker Crowell (1876-1959) and WBRC Inc.
Orono-born and University of Maine-educated C. Parker Crowell began his architecture career in 1902 in Bangor, though he rose to prominence after the Great Bangor Fire of 1911, when he designed two of the first buildings to go up after the disaster. They include the Kirstein Block at 44 Central St. and the Eastern Trust Building at 6 State St., built in 1911 and 1912, respectively.
Crowell went on to design both the William S. Cohen School and the James F. Doughty School in Bangor in 1940, and the former Bangor Daily News building at 491 Main St. in 1955, now the home of Cross Insurance. He also designed 13 buildings on the University of Maine campus in Orono, including Fogler Library, Stevens Hall, Deering Hall and several dormitories.
The architecture firm that Crowell co-founded in 1902 survives today as WBRC, after numerous name changes. In more recent decades, the firm has expanded to open offices in Florida, Maryland and Michigan, and has designed many notable buildings in Bangor, including the Gracie Theatre at Husson University, the Bangor Police Department, the Penobscot Judicial Center and multiple buildings at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.
WBRC has long been located in the Kirstein Block at 44 Central St., a building Crowell designed just months after the Great Bangor Fire.