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Ira Keller, chairman, Portland Development Commission, c. 1965. Proof sheet of several images, detail. Portland Archives, no accession number.

Upcoming: Public Lecture

South Portland, South Auditorium, and the Architecture of Postwar Ambition

Architectural Heritage Center | January 23, 2021 online | $15, all proceeds to the AHC | Register here.

South Portland, on the edge of downtown, is perhaps the most potent example of how architecture makes the image of the city. At first a transitional neighborhood, the area became the site of the city's first implemented urban renewal project, South Auditorium. More than eighty acres were condemned and cleared by the then-new Portland Development Commission. The resulting buildings introduced a new, modernist form of urbanism that forever changed the city. While historians sometimes discuss South Auditorium as a local example of American postwar city planning trends, relatively few give attention to the ways that architecture shaped decision-making, and how South Auditorium was a unique kind of urban renewal rooted not in perceived urban problems, but in urban ambitions. Yet, this is South Portland's most important set of stories.

This talk will place a significant emphasis on four distinct ways that architecture in South Portland both shaped, and was shaped by, notions of what makes the good city in the postwar era. Opportunism and architectural anxieties led to urban renewal, and within the context of national trends and regional rivalries, Portland's civic leaders sought to make South Auditorium a re-founding that would change the city's image both for itself and for the outside world. Throughout, architecture was virtually personified, as if it sat in a seat of power alongside planners, developers, city commissioners, and mayors, shaping decisions at every level.

This talk is in conjunction with the exhibit South Portland and the Long Shadow of Urban Renewal. To register, click here.